TV news for the week of December 11, 1998 -- Leslie Moonvies questions November sweeps' numbers and change is in store for Lifetime

By Joe Flint
December 11, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

Now that November sweeps have ended with CBS pulling off a victory over NBC among total viewers, you’d think the Eye’s TV president, Leslie Moonves, would be beside himself with joy, right? Think again.

”Sweeps is a ridiculous way to measure your season,” says Moonves, who points out that the nets’ use of one-off specials and big movie events skews the numbers. ”Stunting all over the place does not show how well you’re doing.”

According to Moonves, CBS’ November schedule reflected 92 percent of its normal lineup. ABC, on the other hand, programmed 86 percent of its regular schedule, while NBC and Fox went with the trash-and-burn approach — the Peacock ran only 79 percent of its regular fare, while Fox aired a mere 77 percent of its core schedule.

Sweeps also means the networks end up pitting their best (or at least their biggest) productions against each other, rather than spreading them throughout the year. For instance, ABC’s Oprah Winfrey-produced David and Lisa faced off against NBC’s surprisingly strong The Temptations two-parter and Fox’s premiere of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. ”It’s dumb,” complains Moonves.

The result: Network numbers fell virtually across the board. Only The WB posted significant gains, but it’s starting at a much lower audience base, and when you’re that far down to begin with, the only direction to go is up (unless, of course, you’re UPN).

Lifetime Television, which has been one of the most profitable cable nets, needs a new president now that five-year veteran Doug McCormick will be exiting at the end of this month. Although McCormick has overseen Lifetime’s growth — including the successful launch of three original series, Any Day Now, Maggie, and Oh Baby — the unofficial word from the network’s owners, Disney/ABC and the Hearst Corp., is that they’re looking to take the programming in a different direction. Look for a woman to finally head up the channel whose slogan is ”Television for women.”

There’s much speculation that McCormick’s departure is a response to the oncoming threat from Oxygen, a women’s cable channel being launched by former Nickelodeon guru and Disney/ABC cable prez Geraldine Laybourne with backing from Oprah Winfrey and veteran TV producer Carsey-Werner-Mandabach. The biggest irony of the situation: Under the deal Laybourne struck with ABC on her departure, Disney is also an investor in Oxygen; so, as far as Lifetime is concerned, the company just may end up being its own worst enemy.