CBS Entertainment chief Nina Tassler didn’t mince words in touting her network’s biggest advantage over its competition during the Eye’s upfront presentation Wednesday at Carnegie Hall.
“We own the best environment for launching new shows — bar none,” she said, citing the 19 returning series CBS uses to strategically surround its rookie launches.
For all its stability, CBS unveiled one of the biggest surprises of upfront week by shifting Monday staple “Two and a Half Men” to Thursday in the fall.
“Men” will be paired with “Big Bang Theory” from 8-9 p.m. The move bolsters the Eye in the lead off hour of primetime’s most lucrative night of the week, and it is an effort to signal a next-generation shift for its Monday comedy block as frosh hit “2 Broke Girls” slides into “Men’s” former 9 p.m. slot.
The network is also adding another half-hour, “Partners,” in the Monday 8:30 p.m. berth following “How I Met Your Mother.” Two highly touted new dramas, “Vegas,” and “Elementary,” will land at 10 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. Another new drama, “Made in Jersey,” was scheduled Friday at 9 p.m. between “CSI: NY” and “Blue Bloods.”
CBS was rumored to be considering a four-comedy lineup on Thursday. Instead, the network moved “The Mentalist” from its Thursday perch to Sunday 10 p.m., where it is replacing the canceled “CSI: Miami.”
The few additions CBS made to the primetime lineup is a reflection of the strength the network has long had across its schedule, which features more top 25 hits in the 18-49 demo than any network and is tops among all the broadcasters in total viewers. In season standings, it closely trails Fox in 18-49 and leads all networks in 25-54.
The Eye also deserves points for originality when it comes to introducing its execs at upfront events. A pretaped segment set in the diner from “2 Broke Girls” featured cameos from Tim Tebow, David Letterman and Regis Philbin before it segued to the sitcom’s stars, Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, strolling on the stage in character. “How do we get money from this crowd,” Behrs asked Dennings.
“Did someone say ‘money?’ ” answered JoAnn Ross, prexy of ad sales at CBS, who walked on stage wearing the same hideous orange-and-mustard waitress uniforms the “Broke” stars wear on the show.
Not to be outdone, CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves was ushered in by what could only be described as hip-hop/opera mashup performed by a soprano and rapper and “NCIS: LA” star LL Cool J. “Mad respect to my main man LL Cool J,” said Moonves, his command of urban slang bolstering his street cred.
CBS’ decision to slot only four new series gives it the luxury of carefully targeting its promo resources during the crunch of fall premiere weeks. Midseason series yet to be slotted into the sked include new comedy “Friend Me” and drama “Golden Boy,” as well as a new reality competition series and new unscripted series “The Job.”
The shuffle of “Men” to Thursday may offer a hint as to the CBS agenda for midseason, where the network is well-poised to shift into a higher gear on the strength of its Super Bowl telecast, not to mention the AFC championship game and the Grammys. All three will air within a four-week period in early 2013, setting up a massive promotional platform for the network that could pave the way for starting a four-comedy lineup on Thursday in February, Kelly Kahl, CBS’ skedding guru, acknowledged.
“That could be a move post-Super Bowl, depending on how things shake out,” he told Variety .
If the network doesn’t end up launching a Thursday comedy block out of the Super Bowl, it could also elect to give a lift to a returning series in need of more exposure — “Person of Interest” could fit that bill — or launch an entirely new series, as CBS did last time it aired the Super Bowl in 2009, with reality show “Undercover Boss.”
Comedy veteran “Rules of Engagement” may also be in the mix for a midseason berth, but CBS hasn’t decided yet whether to bring it back for another season.
Coupling “Bang” and “Men” is unorthodox considering they are the No. 1 and 2 comedies on TV among viewers 18-49, capable of being used as launch pads at the top of an hour for new programming. But as Kahl explains it, the appeal of “Bang” was so broad that other comedies they tried to pair it with like “Rules” couldn’t retain enough of the lead-in. With “Men” up to the task, it also helps audience flow into the 9 p.m. hour.
“I think it’s a reflection of the confidence in the show that we can put it on one of the more important nights of the week and help ‘Person of Interest’ grow in season two,” said Kahl. “We weren’t driven by we have to get more comedies on. We had the guns to go to four comedies if we wanted to.”
CBS’ moves on Monday and Thursday are also an acknowledgement that neither “HIMYM” nor “Men” is expected to remain on the network for more than another few years even though both are seemingly stronger than ever.
Since adding Ashton Kutcher this season, “Men” has only grown, from 11.6 million total viewers and a 3.5 rating in 18-49 last season to a 4.3/12.9 million this season. But by providing “Men” with a stronger lead-in, CBS may also be looking to shore up the show, which has been softening over the past few months after registering huge increases early in the season driven by Kutcher’s first on-air appearances.
“Mother” is also way up, averaging a 4.2 rating in adults 18-49 and 9.9 million viewers this season, compared to 3.5 rating/8.5 million viewers last season.
Putting “Broke” in at 9 p.m. is a big vote of confidence in TV’s top freshman comedy, but Kahl notes that the series was beginning to pull even with “Men” in the ratings, and doing even better among women 18-49.
At a time when primetime in its entirety seems to be in a ratings dip, CBS can tout increases to multiple series. Even warhorse “CSI” has improved its new time period of Wednesday at 10 p.m. by 23%, which Tassler credits to the addition of Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue.
“As you look at ‘NCIS’ and ‘CSI,’ this is what we do with our shows,” she said during a morning sesh with reporters. “We continue to develop well into the entire run of a series.”
With both shows featuring strong male characters, “Vegas” and “Elementary” tested well with men, according to CBS execs, which could help them in time periods that otherwise skew female. Vegas faces NBC’s “Parenthood” and ABC’s “Private Practice” on Tuesday while “Elementary” is up against NBC’s “Rock Center with Brian Williams” and ABC’s “Scandal.”
Moonves appeared at the morning presser as well, where he made a point of responding to jokes about CBS having an older audience delivered by Jimmy Kimmel at ABC’s Tuesday upfront. As many media types also noted, CBS is easily beating ABC in the 18-49 demo, and has been for some time.
“I’m a big fan of Jimmy Kimmel but somebody should tell him ABC is so far behind us in 18-49 that joke went away 10 years ago,” he said. “He should freshen up his material.”
8:00-8:30 PM HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER
8:30-9:00 PM PARTNERS (N)
9:00-9:30 PM 2 BROKE GIRLS
9:30-10:00 PM MIKE & MOLLY
10:00-11:00 PM HAWAII FIVE-0
8:00-9:00 PM NCIS
9:00-10:00 PM NCIS: LOS ANGELES
10:00-11:00 PM VEGAS (N)
8:00-9:00 PM SURVIVOR
9:00-10:00 PM CRIMINAL MINDS
10:00-11:00 PM CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION
8:00-8:30 PM THE BIG BANG THEORY
8:30-9:00 PM TWO AND A HALF MEN
9:00-10:00 PM PERSON OF INTEREST
10:00-11:00 PM ELEMENTARY (N)
8:00-9:00 PM CSI: NY
9:00-10:00 PM MADE IN JERSEY (N)
10:00-11:00 PM BLUE BLOODS
8:00-9:00 PM CRIMETIME SATURDAY
9:00-10:00 PM CRIMETIME SATURDAY
10:00-11:00 PM 48 HOURS MYSTERY
7:00-8:00 PM 60 MINUTES
8:00-9:00 PM THE AMAZING RACE
9:00-10:00 PM THE GOOD WIFE
10:00-11:00 PM THE MENTALIST