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CBS returns to comedy roots

New shows have female-friendly twist

CBS is going back to what execs believe the network does best.

Unveiling its fall sked to advertisers Wednesday, CBS said it is once again embracing its procedural roots — but with a female-friendly twist — and looking to expand its comedy franchise.

Decision to get back to its bread and butter comes a year after the Eye scheduled a handful of daring series in an attempt to generate more buzz. The strategy didn’t pan out: “Moonlight” isn’t coming back, “Viva Laughlin” quickly fizzled, and “Swingtown” was delayed due to the writers strike.

This year, CBS Entertainment prexy Nina Tassler said her mandate was less flashy: Focus on growing the Eye’s laffers, soften up its procedurals and bring more women to the network.

“We wanted to get back to great shows,” Tassler told reporters Wednesday morning. “Shows that we knew had legs. You look at (new shows) like `Ex List’ and `Worst Week,’ and they’re going to generate buzz.”

As promised, CBS kept its afternoon presentation at Carnegie Hall on the short side compared with upfronts past. Talent from across the company’s platforms came out to sell their wares: Rachael Ray promoted syndication, L.A. morning DJ Adam Carolla discussed CBS Radio, and “CSI” creator Anthony Zuiker discussed how his show is being exploited on mobile, the Internet and elsewhere.

CBS interactive chief Quincy Smith confirmed that the company has made a deal to develop online properties with the producers behind online sensation “Lonelygirl15” and British Web serial “KateModern.”

Craig Ferguson of CBS’ “Late Late Show” emceed the event after being introduced by CBS boss Leslie Moonves.

“Last time I had someone introduce me, it was the president of the United States,” said Ferguson, who recently hosted the White House Correspondents Dinner. “It’s nice to have someone with real power get on the stage.”

Aud reacted positively to most of CBS’ new offerings, with comedy “Worst Week” particularly earning a good response.

Eye has often been criticized for scheduling too many like-minded procedurals, but Tassler told reporters that the net has been evolving those shows by focusing more on relationships and ongoing storylines.

“We’ve added more character to them,” she said. “This year you’ll see some procedurals but noticeable changes in the development and evolution of characters.”

On the laffer front, CBS believes it has found an opening in the comedy space, adding a new block of half-hours from 8-9 p.m. Wednesday and broadening out the kinds of half-hours it does.

“We had a fantastic comedy year,” Tassler said of the Eye’s half-hour development.

On Monday, Eye is bringing in the single-camera laffer “Worst Week” to the plum post-“Two and a Half Men” 9:30 p.m. slot.

Meanwhile, net will lean on Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ “The New Adventures of Old Christine” to open the new Wednesday comedy block. Eye execs also felt that “Old Christine,” about a divorcee adjusting to her new life, worked well with newcomer “Project Gary,” which stars Jay Mohr as a recent divorce as well. (Execs quipped Wednesday that an “America’s Night of Divorce” tagline can’t be far behind.)

Net also doesn’t rule out potentially expanding the Wednesday block to two hours, as “Rules of Engagement” is still on the shelf.

“Expanding the comedy block was something we’ve wanted to do for some time, and we had the horses to do it,” said CBS senior exec VP Kelly Kahl.Meanwhile, another sweet slot in CBS’ sked, Thursdays at 10 p.m., went to the new Jerry Bruckheimer thriller “Eleventh Hour.” The Eye has had success in the past with a “Bruckheimer into Bruckheimer” strategy and employs it again here.

Other holes in the sked include Tuesday at 10 p.m., where proven player “Without a Trace” moves from Thursday. It will bookend the new 9 p.m. drama “Mentalist” with 8 p.m. anchor “NCIS.”

On Fridays, Eye opted to pair femme-leaning “Ghost Whisperer” with relationship drama “The Ex-List.” Latter reps one of the new entries that Tassler hopes will bring more women to the net. Tassler said the network even talked with creators about taking male roles and reconceiving them for women.

Beyond “Rules,” the drama “Harper’s Island” has also been ordered for midseason. Both shows will immediately go into production as well.

Gone are “Cane,” “Jericho,” “Kid Nation,” “Moonlight,” “Shark,” “Viva Laughlin” and “Welcome to the Captain.”

Tassler said she’s bracing for the onslaught of venom from “Moonlight” supporters, but she said she learned a lot from her recent “Jericho” experience: Bringing back a show because of a rabid fan campaign doesn’t necessarily mean ratings will follow.

At the morning sesh with reporters, Moonves said he was impressed with the Eye’s development given the disruptions and time constraints in this strike-interrupted pilot season.

“It’s been an interesting development season, needless to say, and a very interesting season overall,” Moonves said. “Our development turned out to be terrific. The compressed schedule forced people to concentrate more and work harder.”


CBS Primetime ScheduleCBS primetime schedule for 2008-2009
  8:00 8:30 9:00 9:30 10:00 10:30
Mon. Big Bang Theory How I Met Your Mother Two and a Half Men Worst Week CSI: Miami
Tue. NCIS The Mentalist Without a Trace
Wed. New Adventures of Old Christine Project Gary Criminal Minds CSI: NY
Thur. Survivor CSI Eleventh Hour
Fri. Ghost Whisperer The Ex-List Numb3rs
Sat. Drama repeats 48 Hours Mystery
Sun. * The Amazing Race Cold Case The Unit
* “60 Minutes” will return to Sundays at 7:00
Bold denotes new show

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