The CBS programming machine was well oiled at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday as the network unveiled its 2016-17 lineup.
Some of the shows looked better than others, some of the clips played better than others, but one common trait was undeniable — they all looked like CBS shows.
Glenn Geller made his upfront debut as CBS Entertainment president, demonstrating that he’s a graduate of the cool-and-confident CBS executive finishing school. And nobody sells the virtues of broadcast TV like his boss, CBS Corp. chief Leslie Moonves.
The upfront is a chance to “celebrate the vitality and power of the medium we love and the business we create together,” Moonves told the crowd in his once-an-actor-always-an-actor voice. Noting the change in the mood among advertisers toward digital advertising (as every network exec has hammered this week), Moonves flashed a knowing smile and added: “Everyone is now coming to that same conclusion that we came to a long time ago. Broadcast television is the best medium.”
Here are 10 things we learned from the CBS upfront presentation:
• James Corden does a mean “Hamilton.” CBS offered the second musical number of upfronts week inspired by the Broadway smash. Corden led a troupe of dancers in an energetic rap tailored to the occasion. “Yes we want your Hamiltons/Your Benjamins and Washingtons” and “They believe in democracy/we believe in GRPs.”
CBS one-upped NBCUniversal on its “Hamilton” number with Jimmy Fallon by getting Lin-Manuel Miranda to tape a preamble video leading into Corden’s performance (taking no chances with the Tony Awards just around the corner). Talking about the CBS upfront, he quipped: “I hear its the second-toughest ticket in town.”
• CBS has built what it hopes is a strong slate of new comedies around recognizable leading men: Kevin James, Matt LeBlanc and Joel McHale. Each came out on stage with their cast members to woo the crowd of media buyers. “Friends” alum LeBlanc had the smoothest delivery. “Les Moonves gave me a job on a multi-camera comedy back in 1994 and … we had a pretty good run.”
• Last year Super Bowl 50 got the big non-entertainment showcase. This time around it was CBS News. Moonves talked up the division’s growth across “CBS This Morning,” “Face the Nation” and “CBS Evening News.” Anchor Scott Pelley and the “This Morning” team of Charlie Rose, Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King came out for a bow and a thank-you. Pelley cut to the chase: “There is no democracy without great journalism.”
• Not surprisingly, Corden’s successful “Carpool Karaoke” segment from “The Late Late Show” was heralded. The presentation opened with a pre-taped vid of CBS ad sales chief JoAnn Ross in the car with Corden belting out Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money.”
• Overall CBS’ presentation was light on jabs at its rivals, even though Fox took a playful shot at Moonves in its Monday presentation. Moonves was sporting enough to flash the image of him as a “Gotham” villain that Fox mocked up. McHale, the former “Community” star,” delivered the most cutting line: “At CBS the slogan is ‘No live musicals, no shows with Chicago in the title, just ratings.’”
• Moonves showed off a teaser clip of the new “Star Trek” coming to CBS All Access next year. It was basically a Federation logo writ large, a crumbling asteroid and titles promising “New Heroes, New Villains, New Worlds.”
• Stephen Colbert came out to mark his nine-month anniversary as the host of “The Late Show.” He joked that no babies have been born since his show began “because your commercials are better than sex.” And then he quickly scooted off the stage by reminding the crowd: “I’ve got a theater full of 18-35 year olds with disposable income waiting for me over on Broadway.”
• “NCIS” alum Michael Weatherly is perfectly cast in the legal-themed procedural “Bull,” which looks like a down the middle base hit (at least) — in part because the show is perfectly scheduled in the Tuesday 9 p.m. hammock slot between “NCIS” and “NCIS: New Orleans.”
• It’s been nearly a decade since “Kevin Can Wait” star Kevin James ended the run of his previous CBS laffer, “The King of Queens.” But some things never change. His new show is still set in Queens. And he’s still a roly-poly regular guy with a rail-thin sassy wife. But this time, as he pointed out — he’s got kids.