CBS seeks balancing act for fall

NEW YORK — CBS this fall will attempt a tricky balancing act, eyeing younger demos without chasing its core older viewers to cable.

The dual-audience strategy comes after a rebuilding process this year that stabilized CBS’ ratings but aged its audience, hurting the network’s ad sales performance.

In a presentation to advertisers at Carnegie Hall, CBS Entertainment prexy Leslie Moonves outlined plans for building on the ratings growth next fall.

“Our schedule is one of continuity and change,” he told advertisers, promising it will “strengthen our base and get younger, more urban and more exciting.”

All told, CBS is picking up seven new shows, plus two more migrating from ABC’s Friday night schedule, while leaving its Saturday and Sunday intact. As reported, the pickups range from network-staple cop, law and private-detective dramas (“Brooklyn South,” “Michael Hayes” and “Dellaventura,” respectively), to a high-concept family show about an alien nanny (“Meego”) and a still-in-development Wednesday newsmag with Bryant Gumbel, the Eye web’s new $5 million-a-year news star.

Eye web execs claim the new sked truly reflects their goal of programming broadly, with a younger Friday, continued older-skewing Thursday shows, female series on Monday and Wednesday and more male appeal on Tuesday. Saturday and Sunday remain intact, targeting rural and women viewers.

Moonves seemed most pumped about challenging ABC’s “TGIF” Friday family block with four sitcoms, including two of the Alphabet web’s own shows, “Family Matters” and “Step by Step,” and “George & Leo,” marking Bob Newhart’s return to series TV after a five-year absence.

He is also confident about prospects for Steven Bochco’s “Brooklyn South,” although the drama will face a serious fourth-quarter challenge launching against ABC’s “Monday Night Football” and targeting male viewers. That might trouble production company 20th Century Fox, but Monday remains one of CBS’ stronger nights, and NBC on Monday will try a newsmag against it.

Columbia TriStar also may be displeased with the 9 p.m. Tuesday timeslot for “Michael Hayes,” the David Caruso drama that will now face both “Frasier” and “Home Improvement.” But the series had been on the list for midseason backups before CBS decided to deep-six its Tuesday movie, and a midyear berth could have presented an even weaker timeslot.

As for Friday, Moonves believes ABC’s new shows will appeal more to teens, while he’s going for kids and adults.

Overall, Madison Avenue reaction to the sked was positive.

“They have the best programming overall, but scheduling’s a problem,” said Steve Sternberg, senior partner at BJK&E Media Group. “Tuesday is tough, but I’d be surprised if they don’t win Friday,” which could help lower the web’s demo profile.

“It’s serviceable, but not breakthrough,” said Marc Goldstein, president of GM MediaWorks. “I think they’ve accepted the fact that slow and steady is going to win the race, and this is another step toward slow and steady.”

“The overall schedule certainly improves,” said Paul Schulman, president of Paul Schulman Co. “They laid the groundwork this year, and CBS is hopeful that the building blocks they put in place can be used to launch their new development.”

They expressed doubts about the Eye web’s Tuesday drama slate and the tough 9 p.m. Wednesday timeslot for the Gumbel newsmag against formidable competition.

“Hayes,” starring former “NYPD Blue” lead Caruso as a cop-turned-federal-prosecutor, and “Dellaventura,” with Danny Aiello (“The Last Don”) as a police-detective-turned-private-investigator, replace CBS’ Tuesday movie, with a lead-in from Paramount’s action-adventure “JAG,” picked up from NBC this season.

Among the highest-profile casualties were the Ted Danson starrer “Ink,” a key element of CBS’ self-proclaimed star strategy last season that was plagued with creative problems from the start. “Emotionally, that was one of the hardest calls I had to make,” Moonves told reporters Thursday, although few were surprised at the cancellation.

“It started out behind the eight ball and never truly got out from under it,” making prospects for a relaunch questionable. Also canceled were “Pearl,” “Dave’s World,” “Moloney,” “EZ Streets,” “Almost Perfect,” early-season casualties such as “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “Public Morals” and midseason replacements such as “Temporarily Yours” and “Feds.”

So far, the only backup series ordered is Disney-produced “Style & Substance,” a Martha Stewart parody with Jean Smart, originally produced with Kathleen Turner for ABC last season. But CBS is expected to trot out three or four new series behind the Winter Olympics in February.

Following is the complete CBS schedule, with new shows in boldface followed by their studio suppliers:

Monday: 8, “Cosby”; 8:30, “Everybody Loves Raymond”; 9, “Cybill”; 9:30, “George and Leo” (Paramount Network Television); 10, “Brooklyn South” (20th Century Fox).

Tuesday: 8, “JAG”; 9, “Michael Hayes” (Columbia TriStar Television); 10, “Dellaventura” (Rysher Entertainment).

Wednesday: 8, “The Nanny”; 8:30, “Murphy Brown”; 9, “Bryant Gumbel” (working title) (CBS News); 10, “Chicago Hope.”

Thursday: 8, “Promised Land”; 9, “Diagnosis Murder”; 10, “48 Hours.”

Friday: 8, “Family Matters”; 8:30, “Meego” (Warner Bros.); 9, “The Gregory Hines Show” (Columbia TriStar/CBS Prods.); 9:30, “Step by Step”; 10, “Nash Bridges.”

Saturday: 8, “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”; 9, “Early Edition”; 10, “Walker, Texas Ranger.”

Sunday: 7, “60 Minutes”; 8, “Touched by an Angel”; 9, CBS Sunday Movie.

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