CBS execs have set their eyes this fall on conquering one final frontier: The elusive 10 p.m. timeslot.
While CBS topper Leslie Moonves has engineered an impressive turnaround at the network over the last few years (thanks to mainstays “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Survivor” and “Everybody Loves Raymond), the Eye has yet to find much success in the final hour of primetime (save “Judging Amy”).
But that will change this fall if Moonves has his way.
The net has scheduled four new dramas throughout the week at 10 p.m., led by Monday’s highly anticipated spinoff “CSI: Miami.” Net also will offer up “Presidio Med,” “Without a Trace” and “Robbery Homicide Division.”
Not only would a stronger performance at 10 p.m. help the networks’ overall ratings, but it would go a long way toward sending more eyeballs to the networks’ beleaguered stations at 11.
Then there’s also the issue of a certain cantankerous latenight talkshow host, who’s complained for years that his ratings have been hurt by a poor CBS primetime lead-in.
“It’s the strongest group of 10 o’clock dramas we’ve had in years, which clearly will help our network, will help our affiliate late newscasts and will help with David Letterman,” Moonves says.
As a matter of fact, during Letterman’s difficult contract renegotiations with CBS, the host’s lawyers wanted to include a clause that would guarantee that “CSI: Miami” would get a 10 p.m. slot. CBS refused to include that wording, but still decided to put the show at 10.
“Ten o’clock has been something very important to us,” Moonves says. “It’s something that NBC has done extremely well with the ‘ER’ and ‘Law & Order’ franchise. It was an area where we needed to build and it was now time. Obviously the station group is a very important part of our network.”
Beyond the 10 p.m. issue, CBS will again take a stab at opening up a second laffer block (frosh entry “Bram and Alice” and critically ignored returnee “Becker”) but in the difficult Sunday post-“60 Minutes” slot.
“One of the difficulties we’ve had is launching another comedy block,” Moonves notes. “We have an unbelievably strong block on Monday night, and we were looking for another place to do it. Tuesday and Thursday are very solid. We had tried Friday and it didn’t work so we looked at Sunday as another opportunity.”
The “Becker” move was also necessary to open up another slot on CBS’ Monday night sked. With the addition of “Still Standing,” the Eye has a cohesive four-comedy block about average guys who somehow managed to land beautiful wives.
Then there’s CBS’ crime gamble. Four out of the Eye’s five new dramas (“Presidio Med” is the lone holdout) revolves around a crime theme. Blame it on the ongoing popularity of procedural dramas a la “CSI” and “Law & Order.”
“It wasn’t like we said, ‘OK, let’s go out there and do crime programming,'” Moonves says. “There was no game plan but these were the best pilots that fit in with our schedules.”