Eye takes steady sked route

Primetime shakes up; few risks

NEW YORK — The Eye will try to retain its status as America’s most-watched network next season with a sked that shakes up several nights while taking few big risks.

CBS Television prexy Leslie Moonves and CBS Entertainment president Nancy Tellem took the wraps off the tightly guarded 1999-2000 lineup in a presentation to advertisers at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday that served as part fall preview and part celebration of the Eye’s first seasonlong household ratings victory in five years.

Indeed, Moonves for the first time officially declared victory for the 1998-99 season, opening the Eye upfront with a pre-taped “Star Wars” takeoff that featured the CBS exec (dressed as Luke Skywalker) destroying an evil NBC Deathstar.

CBS topper Mel Karmazin made a cameo appearance in the film, informing Moonves’ Jedi Knight (a few seconds too late) to cancel his search-and-destroy mission against the Peacock since he had just purchased NBC.

While the 1999-2000 CBS lineup (Daily Variety, May 19) features new programming on four nights and changes on every weeknight, Moonves said the Eye sked was solid at its core and contained “nothing too risky.”

“We have taken stability and handled it in the most progressive way,” Moonves said. “We’re being a little bit aggressive but not at all messing with stability.”

Some Madison Avenue insiders read the Eye sked differently, with most reacting positively to the net’s basic moves.

“I don’t see stability on this lineup. It’s the appearance of stability,” said Steve Sternberg, senior veep of broadcast research for TN Media.

Nonetheless, Sternberg praised the Eye’s decision to shift “Chicago Hope” as well as several other changes.

“It’s smart,” he said. “I think (‘Hope’) is definitely going to be younger (in aud composition) than ‘Diagnosis Murder,’ ” which aired in the slot last season and will shift to 8 p.m. next fall.

In addition to recruiting creator David E. Kelley to take a more active role in “Hope,” CBS has inked thesp Lauren Holly to join the medical skein next season.

Sternberg said he had hoped that at least one net would take on NBC’s “ER” at 10 p.m. Thursday, but was nonetheless glad to see CBS (as well as every other net) aggressively challenging the Peacock on Thursdays at 9.

NBC “is weaker than ever at 9,” Sternberg said, adding that with “ER’s” vital signs slipping, CBS and ABC are missing a chance to launch a drama at 10. “As long as they both keep putting newsmagazines at 10, you’re extending ‘ER’s’ life span.”

As expected, CBS is adding one comedy (“Ladies Man”) and one drama (“Family Law”) to its powerful Monday sked.

The move of “60 Minutes II” to Tuesdays at 9 p.m. following the red-hot “JAG” should help the CBS newsmag, which has done solid numbers Wednesdays. On Thursdays, newsmag “48 Hours” may get a boost from “Chicago Hope.”

“Our news division is very happy” with the new Eye sked, Moonves said.

With “Judging Amy” at 10 on Tuesdays, the Eye is hoping to plant its flag as the drama alternative opposite ABC’s fading “NYPD Blue.”

While CBS is keeping its Saturday and Sunday skeds the same, the net is bringing in “Diagnosis Murder” exec producer Lee Goldberg to beef up Saturday’s “Martial Law.”

For midseason, CBS plans to debut the new Stephen Bochco urban-skewed medical drama, tentatively titled “City of Angels,” in January, Moonves said.