CBS rolls the dice with new sked

Eye unveils a broad revamp

This article was updated at 10:00 p.m.

NEW YORK — As CBS’ competitors dramatically rejigger their primetime slates, the Eye followed suit Wednesday, announcing a fall lineup that reps its biggest schedule upheaval in years.

The network will play musical chairs in order to make room for five new dramas and two new comedies. CBS has altered every night of the week except Thursday.

That’s a marked departure for the Eye, which has stuck with generally stable lineups in recent seasons. Unveiling the schedule at the net’s Black Rock headquarters to reporters, CBS topper Leslie Moonves defended the moves, contending that “the risks are smart ones.”

“We are being aggressive,” he said. “(Network legend) Fred Silverman used to say, ‘When you’re strong, you have to be more aggressive.’ We don’t feel like we’re making drastic changes.’ ”

Later, at the net’s upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall, Moonves and CBS Entertainment prexy Nancy Tellem announced that the eighth installment of “Survivor,” skedded for early 2004, will be the franchise’s long expected All-Star edition.

Among those likely competing for a $2 million prize will be past contestants and winners such as Richard Hatch and Susan Hawk. “All-Star Survivor” could possibly debut after CBS’ presentation of Super Bowl XXXVIII in January.

‘Survivor’ fever

With a live house band and showman Moonves at the helm, the Eye’s upfront presentation to advertisers at Carnegie Hall later in the day started out brash and loud.

Early on, the Eye got topical by showcasing CBS News’ Iraq war coverage and bringing out Dan Rather alongside the news org’s embedded journalists.

Then, as always, the Eye spent an inordinate amount of time knocking the competition while touting its own strengths. NBC and ABC in particular did not get off easy.

While the CBS upfront may have been less glitzy than those of the other nets, it drew some of the biggest applause of the week. Even with all the talk of advertisers being over reality, media buyers went crazy when the All-Star “Survivor” was announced.

Top media buyers said the Eye looked like it had a home run.

“They played their schedule like a chess board. I hate to say there are no risks, but it looks good,” said one top exec from Carat.

With CBS likely to finish the season just six-tenths of a ratings point behind first-place NBC (vs. a 1.4 point difference last year), Moonves said he felt the Eye was “within striking distance” of the Peacock.

“I’m not making any claims, but a break or two here or there, and you never know what’s going to happen,” he said.

Looking in particular to shore up its weak Wednesday and Friday performances, CBS’ major moves include shipping “JAG” to Friday nights at 9 p.m. That will make room for spinoff “Navy CIS,” which takes over the mother ship’s old slot (Tuesdays at 8 p.m.).

“It is frankly a combination of ‘JAG’ and ‘CSI,’ ” Moonves said of the drama, which focuses on crime investigators inside the Navy. “We are not going to deny that we like that genre.”

Perhaps as a nod to the mood of the country, Moonves called the new show “very patriotic.”

Wednesday comedies

CBS will also make another attempt at expanding comedies beyond Monday, moving “The King of Queens” to Wednesdays at 9 p.m. That’s followed by new laffer “The Stones” at 9:30.

The two comedies at 9 p.m. aren’t likely to receive much audience flow from their lead-in, newsmag “60 Minutes II.” But Moonves said he believed that “King of Queens” was a self-starter.

” ‘The West Wing’ is going down and ‘The Bachelor’ is going down (ratings-wise), so it is the comedy alternative,” he said of the laffer block.

The “King of Queens” shift allows the net to slide “Yes, Dear” into the Mondays at 8 slot, followed by “Still Standing,” which falls back an hour (from 9:30 to 8:30 p.m.). New comedy “Two and a Half Men” takes over the plum post-“Everybody Loves Raymond” slot at 9:30.

” ‘Two and a Half Men’ we think is by far our strongest new comedy of the year, and may I be bold enough to say I think it’s anybody’s strongest comedy of the year,” Moonves crowed.

New dramas also include David E. Kelley’s “The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.,” which lands Wednesdays at 10 p.m., while “Joan of Arcadia” and “The Handler” find homes at 8 and 10 p.m., respectively, on Friday nights (with “JAG” sandwiched in between).

With NBC moving “Law & Order: SVU” to Tuesday nights, Moonves called Friday night a “jump ball.”

“With ‘SVU’ gone, ‘JAG’ is now the biggest hit on Friday night,” he said. ‘Friday night is now wide open.”

Then there’s newcomer “Cold Case,” which will debut Sundays at 8.

As for Eye comedy staple “Becker,” the Ted Danson laffer did not appear on the fall sked, but the Eye is still mulling a midseason order.

Gone from sked

Gone are “My Big Fat Greek Life” (Moonves’ reason: “You saw the ratings, and you saw the show,” he sniffed), “The Agency,” “Presidio Med,” “Bram and Alice” and “Robbery Homicide Division.” “Touched by an Angel” also said farewell this season, while “Baby Bob” won’t return, although leftover episodes will be burned off this summer.

On the reality tip, “Star Search” will likely return later in the season.

Also discussed at Moonves’ breakfast press conference and CBS’ upfront presentation:

  • Moonves said he doesn’t plan to string “Everybody Loves Raymond” viewers along with an is-it-the-final-season-or-is-it-not uncertainty, despite star Ray Romano’s insinuation that next season will be the show’s last.

    “We are not going to do a ‘Friends’ thing, with a fake-out every year,” he said. “Given the amount of money that (Romano’s) being paid, he might want to do another year.”

  • Moonves took his usual round of jabs at the competition, pointing out the slate of older stars starring in NBC series this season.

    “All I know is I heard NBC’s announcement, and they have Whoopi Goldberg, John Larroquette, Ryan O’Neal and Jimmy Caan,” he said. “That sounds like a CBS schedule to me. Those are our actors. Where’s the sizzle?”

    The exec also knocked ABC for proclaiming that the Alphabet web will end the season in a virtual tie with CBS among adults 18-49.

    “I don’t know what they were smoking, but that is wrong,” he said. “Just wanted to set the record straight because I’ve been known to do that once in a while.”

    In response, an ABC spokesman noted that the season hadn’t yet ended, so anything’s possible.

  • Quote of the day, from Moonves: “We are very proud of Hitler.”

    After cracking up assembled reporters and CBS execs, Moonves clarified that he was referring, of course, to the Eye’s May miniseries.

    (Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.)

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