While most other networks are building or maintaining audience shares, CBS' is dropping and it could finish this season in fourth place behind Fox on some key demographics.
As other networks benefit from the robust marketplace, CBS can't cash in because the network is virtually sold out due to make-goods that it must give advertisers for ratings shortfalls.
And just as everything appears to be crashing down at Black Rock, CBS is in real danger of losing its guiding force, Broadcast Group President Howard Stringer.
Mr. Stringer is believed destined to run a new TV programming venture being developed by Beverly Hills, Calif.-based talent agency Creative Artists Agency and several Baby Bells.
Mr. Stringer led CBS through its highs and lows, and has been key in maintaining the highs, including his recruitment of late night star David Letterman.
Many believe Mr. Stringer's departure would give impetus to a CBS merger. Last year, Chairman Laurence Tisch tried to merge with QVC and turn control of the CBS over to QVC Chairman Barry Diller. Mr. Diller is rumored to again be one of several suitors interested in CBS, presumably as part of an investment group that would take over the network.
Others said to be interested in a run at CBS are Viacom, Walt Disney Co., ITT Corp. and Turner Broadcasting System. Turner is also said to have renewed merger talks with General Electric Co. about its NBC unit.