Eye’s sked gives Letterman a lift

CBS dramas buoy 'Late Show'

NEW YORK — Hoping to give affils and David Letterman a boost, CBS Wednesday unveiled a fall schedule that features new high-profile 10 p.m. dramas almost every night of the week.

Having gone to great lengths to keep its sked a secret, the Eye’s 2002-03 lineup ultimately features very few real surprises. Returning shows anchor every night of the week; 9 p.m. shows are also the same on every night save Friday.

Eye skedmakers instead saved most of their muscle for the 10 p.m. slot, where the net has been weakest in recent years.

It’s a critical time period, however, since it leads into the local newscasts that affils — and a large roster of CBS-owned stations — use to generate a huge chunk of their annual revenue. Lower 10 p.m. ratings hurt local news ratings, which in turn can depress numbers for “Late Show With David Letterman.”

Eye’s new sked tries to address that problem by putting several new high-octane hours in 10 p.m. slot, including the much-anticipated “CSI: Miami.” Spinoff of the Thursday sensation will air 10 p.m. Mondays this fall, squaring off against NBC’s frosh success story “Crossing Jordan.”

Some industry insiders thought CBS topper Leslie Moonves might try to use “CSI: Miami” as a lead-in for a new show, possibly by skedding it in the first “CSI’s” original timeslot. Eye execs, however, wanted to make a strong Monday lineup even stronger; pleasing Letterman’s camp was a fringe benefit.

During Letterman’s recent contract renegotiations, “They asked us if we could please put (‘CSI: Miami’) on at 10, which we’ve done,” Moonves said.

Move is also good news for CBS sister cabler TNN, which will begin airing repeats of the first “CSI” this fall — Mondays at 11 p.m.

Meanwhile, “Without a Trace,” the Jerry Bruckheimer-produded missing persons hour that’s already generating strong buzz, will get the tough assignment of competing against “ER” Thursdays at 10 p.m. However, “Trace” gets the benefit of a strong “CSI” lead-in; moreover, it’s much more compatible with “CSI” than last season’s “The Agency.”

Eye’s also putting some drama firepower on Wednesday and Friday, with new 10 p.m. hours from John Wells and Michael Mann, respectively.

Wells and fellow “ER” producers Lydia Woodward and Chris Chulack are behind Wednesday’s “Presidio Med,” which revolves around a group of female doctors based in San Francisco. Skein competes against ABC’s “Meds,” which revolves around a group of HMO-hating doctors based in San Francisco.

Shades of 1994

Faceoff has shades of the 1994 first-season battle between “ER” and “Chicago Hope.” Moonves was the head of Warner Bros. TV at the time of “ER’s” creation.

Fridays at 10 p.m., CBS hopes Michael Mann will be able to recapture the end-of-the-week magic he found on “Miami Vice” with the cop drama “RHD/LA,” which will also be exec produced by Frank Spotnitz (Daily Variety, May 15.)

“It’s not something you’d expect from CBS,” Moonves said of the skein, which stars Tom Sizemore as the head of an elite Los Angeles crimesolving unit.

CBS is also making a change at 10 p.m. Saturday, skedding soph drama “The Agency” in the slot and shifting “The District” back to 9 p.m.

Eye’s only new drama not landing a 10 p.m. slot is “Hack,” which will instead air Fridays at 9 p.m. Moonves seemed particularly high on this “Equalizer”-like hour about a crimsolving ex-cop (David Morse) who now drives a taxi. David Koepp (“Spider- Man”), Gavin Polone (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and Thomas Carter (“Save the Last Dance”) are exec producers.

One of the most interesting plays on the CBS fall sked is the net’s decisions to try comedy from 8-9 p.m. Sundays, something it hasn’t done since it paired “Cybill” and “Almost Perfect” together in 1995.

This time, Eye will try combining the new half-hour “Bram and Alice” with vet Monday laffer “Becker.”

“It’s a little risky,” Moonves admitted. But with ABC, NBC and Fox all aiming for a younger crowd, the Eye topper hopes to capture the mature crowd that watches “60 Minutes,” particularly with “Bram,” which is the brainchild of former “Frasier” producers Christopher Lloyd and Joe Keenan.

“It has a real ‘Frasier’ feel to it,” he said. “This is a comedy for adults.”

With “Becker” finally off Monday, CBS will try to launch a new comedy behind “Everybody Loves Raymond”: The Mark Addy starrer “Still Standing.”

Other interesting CBS sked highlights:

  • Longrunning newsmag “48 Hours” will become “48 Hours Investigates” and will feature a new on-air look and emphasize more true-crime stories. Dan Rather will no longer anchor; no word yet on who’ll replace him.

  • Spring success “Baby Bob” has snagged a 13-episode order for midseason. Also on the bench: Legal dramedy “Queens Supreme.”

  • Skeins given the ax include “The Education of Max Bickford,” “First Monday,” “The Ellen Show,” “Family Law” and the long-dead “Wolf Lake,” “Citizen Baines” and “That’s Life.”