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Star appeal high on Eye web’s list

CBS plans to be 'Survivor' of fall season with new demo group

This could be the year CBS finally shakes its rep as the Geritol Network.

Thanks to megamomentum from summer sensation “Survivor,” as well as a crop of new series widely regarded as the most promising among the Big Six, the Eye is poised to make major gains this fall with a demo group that’s often seemed completely out of the network’s reach: viewers under 50.

This Big Mo ought to continue during the second half of the season, when CBS airs its first Super Bowl in over five years — and “Survivor 2.”

Indeed, if the second “Survivor” does as well the first, and ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” starts to fade a bit (as many industry insiders believe it might), then the Eye could be doing its own version of “Survivor” winner Richard Hatch’s victory dance next May.

“CBS has a shot to win the season in viewers once ‘Survivor’ comes back,” says TN Media analyst Stacey Lynn Koerner.

But there’s more than sports and “Survivor” in CBS’ arsenal. The net is also counting heavily on a pair of high-profile newcomers — “Bette” and “The Fugitive” — to help turn around Wednesday and Friday nights, respectively.

Both shows have plenty going for them– though neither is a sure thing.

“Bette” has the star power of Bette Midler, a solid pilot episode and no real comedy competition opposite it Wednesdays at 8 (Fox is stunting episodes of “Malcolm in the Middle” in the slot during November.) “Survivor” has also helped warm up the timeslot.

“The only risk is, people either love Bette or hate her,” notes Koerner, who nonetheless believes that the Midler sitcom has a lot of potential.

Koerner is more upbeat about the Eye’s big Friday drama. “We love ‘The Fugitive,'” she says, predicting women 35-54 will give the Tim Daly (“Wings”) starrer a big lift.

One stumbling block for the revival of the classic franchise: Every other net (except ABC) is programming dramas Fridays at 8. And young men, a natural constituency for “The Fugitive,” probably aren’t going to stay home Friday nights to watch TV.

CBS will try to use its two new 8 p.m. cornerstones to help launch another pair of promising freshmen: the Wednesday laffer “Welcome to New York” and the Friday crime drama “C.S.I.”

The Christine Baranski-led “New York” is largely dependent on how well “Bette” does, according to Koerner; “C.S.I.” is more iffy.

Another key night for CBS this fall is Saturday.

The web had been doing pretty well in the evening until last season, when “Early Edition” finally ran out of gas and “Martial Law” failed to break out.

CBS’ big move on the night is shifting “Walker, Texas Ranger” back an hour to 9 p.m. to make room for Craig T. “Coach” Nelson’s return to series television as a hard-nosed police commissioner in “The District.” Early buzz on the show is positive; CBS is hoping “Walker’s” aud will follow it to 9 and then stay tuned for another kick-ass male lead.

At 8 p.m., CBS will try to woo women back with “That’s Life,” a lighthearted drama that’s given a so-so shot at survival.

Elsewhere on the sked, CBS remains solid Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays– returning last year’s lineup intact with the exception of new 8:30 p.m. Monday comedy “Yes, Dear.” The laffer features two failed NBC sitcom stars (Anthony Clark and Mike O’Malley) and a familial feel that could be at home on the Eye’s big comedy night. Most analysts, however, don’t give “Yes, Dear” much of a shot.

As for Thursdays, the Eye isn’t looking for miracles. “48 Hours” gets a reprieve from the 10 p.m. death slot opposite “ER,” while Dick Van Dyke takes “Diagnosis Murder” into the breach. Steven Bochco’s “City of Angels” returns at 9 with a revamped cast and another shot to prove itself.

The bottom line for CBS: It will probably get younger and will almost certainly finish the year a solid No. 2, behind NBC.

“To be No. 1, CBS needs to (get its median age) down to the upper 40s,” says Koerner. “They might be able to get there.”

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