The term “stick to your knitting” is something of a double-edged sword for CBS — reflecting the network’s enviable stability, but also evoking images of the heavy granny constituency that watches “Blue Bloods,” when media buyers have a vampiric thirst for youth. Given that, the one major flyer the network is taking — ordering “Supergirl,” a series that would be a more natural fit for its younger sibling the CW — becomes the linchpin of its hopes for fall, along with the launch of Stephen Colbert’s turn in the “Late Show” chair.
Those were, frankly, the most exciting moments in an upfront presentation touting a lineup otherwise immersed in spinoffs. To its credit, CBS knows how to put on a show, and after a “Big Bang Theory”-inspired gag with sales chief Jo Ann Ross, Colbert came on to plug his arrival, engaging in a bit of extended shtick with CBS CEO Leslie Moonves. Colbert’s clever bits included serving notice how pliable he would be with advertisers and stating that the Tiffany Network was actually named after founder William Paley’s favorite stripper. (Cinnamon Network, apparently, was the runner-up.)
Because CBS had so few new programs to display, the network actually engaged in what felt like a filibuster, bringing on former NFL stars to signal that it will broadcast Super Bowl 50 as well as another eight-week infusion of “Thursday Night Football.” Then again, the demographics of top media buyers (still somewhat skewed toward middle-aged guys) have always made trying to butter them up by filling the cocktail party with famous athletes a good idea, if a tired one.
The centerpiece, not surprisingly, was the “Supergirl” clip, which certainly looked like Warner Bros. TV has front-loaded the pilot, and that Melissa Benoist was a good choice for the role. Still, whether that sort of show can muster the kind of broad appeal CBS requires remains a mystery for which no one can claim X-ray vision. By contrast, had the project alit at CW it likely could have gone behind “The Flash” and happily coasted for years.
Beyond that, CBS developed two single-camera comedies, which somewhat underscores the difficulty it’s had building on “Big Bang’s” success. The one that landed the coveted “Big Bang”-adjacent real estate, “Life in Pieces,” actually looks like the companion to “Modern Family” that ABC struggled to find. “Angel From Hell,” starring Jane Lynch, appears compatible with “Mom,” although that show’s ability to anchor an hour is highly suspect, potentially meaning a weaker Thursday now that “Two and a Half Men” has hummed its last tune.
Other than that, the dramas had a decidedly same-old, same-old feel, which is of course calculated. Indeed, why expect anything different from a network with three hours of “NCIS” on its fall schedule, another “Criminal Minds” spinoff for midseason and the dreary “CSI: Cyber” joining “The Good Wife” on Sundays? That said, “Limitless,” despite being adapted from a movie, comes across as a rehash of “Intelligence,” the show CBS tried with Josh Holloway; and “Code Black” looks like 2015 for “ER” — a comparison CBS Entertainment chair Nina Tassler overtly made.
Tellingly, CBS has held in reserve a trio of existing sitcoms — “Mike & Molly,” “2 Broke Girls” and “The Odd Couple” — along with “Person of Interest.” All of those can probably fill in adequately when failure strikes, but three are clearly on the downward arc of their TV life, and the fourth is “The Odd Couple.”
Moonves pointed to CBS having “the most stable and consistent schedule,” and that’s certainly true. That’s also why with so many shows, new and returning, which resemble something else already on its lineup, the main question hovering over the Eye network is whether it can stretch its profile beyond its spinoff/chalk-outline comfort zone enough to not just get “Supergirl” off the ground, but keep her airborne.