CBS chief Les Moonves rallied the troops today as his company prepares for the possibility that its stations will go dark as early as Thursday at 9 AM ET on Time Warner Cable systems in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. There’s “a very real threat” that it will happen — and “possibly” also affect Showtime —  Moonves said in a memo to employees. Negotiators got a little additional time to cut a deal when the FCC informed them that the stations couldn’t go dark until Thursday, not Wednesday night as they had assumed, to comply with rules that bar such a move during a ratings sweeps period. Still, both sides continue to talk tough. “It’s not like Time Warner Cable doesn’t have the money,” Moonves wrote today. “Cable is a very, very profitable business, and Time Warner Cable can certainly afford to pay CBS a fair rate for our programming without passing any added cost on to its customers.” The way he figures it, TWC charges subscribers “more than $20 a month for broadcast programming.”

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CBS “only realizes a tiny fraction of that,” and needs more because “our costs for programming, news operations and sports contracts are growing all the time.” TWC pays higher rates to cable channels that attract far fewer viewers. “That makes no sense.” TWC chief Glenn Britt has led pay TV’s charge to hold the line on big price increases, and has dropped some small channels such as Ovation. It has said that CBS wants the cable company to pay “over 600% more than we pay in other areas from coast to coast for the same programming.” But Moonves maintains that, with CBS’ high ratings, “we carry our own weight.” If the stations go dark, then “you’ll know that we are in the midst of a crucial struggle we intend to bring to a satisfactory conclusion.”