CBS packed Carnegie Hall on Wednesday afternoon with an upfront that played like one of its Tuesday action-dramas. It was slick, well-paced, a little hokey in parts, and the hero — broadcast television — won in the end.
By now, Leslie Moonves and Co. are a well-oiled machine when it comes to putting on the razzle-dazzle at the upfront. Kelly Kahl, the network’s longtime scheduling guru, did an able job filling in for CBS Entertainment president Glenn Geller, who is on medical leave. There is no media CEO who likes playing to a big crowd more than CBS Corp. chairman-CEO Moonves, and it shows every year. It didn’t hurt that this year CBS has some notable successes to show off, from the surge for Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show” to the steady progress of “CBS This Morning” in chipping away “Today” and “Good Morning America’s” longtime advantage.
It also didn’t hurt that CBS’ shows generally looked good and played well to the crowd. “The Big Bang Theory” prequel spinoff “Young Sheldon” looks like a home run, especially because it doesn’t look like a pale imitation of its progenitor. Pint-size star Iain Armitage (“Big Little Lies”) also made a big impression.
Here are 10 other things we learned from the CBS upfront:
1. Leslie Moonves likes to deliver a good jab. “A year ago who would have predicted that Stephen Colbert would be winning late-night and Bill O’Reilly would be doing a podcast in his underwear,” he said, as a photo of O’Reilly in boxers flashed on the big screen above.
2. With all the changes in advertising sales, the industry has finally caught up with CBS’ contention that demographics aren’t the end all and be all of TV. “The idea that there’s one coveted demographic is so dated … you know, like “American Idol,’ ” Moonves said.
3. Colbert took a well-earned victory lap. He opened the presentation with a top-hat-and-tails song and dance number built around CBS series titles. He followed that with a few minutes of standup, which meant a few minutes of Trump barbs. “There’s only one word to describe this president, and the FCC has asked me not to use it anymore,” he said.
4. “Late Late Show” host James Corden got his showcase a little later, following the big plug for CBS All Access’ upcoming “Star Trek: Discovery.” Of course, Corden came out in Vulcan ears and a classic Trek uniform. He ribbed CBS for “boldly going where only six TV shows and 13 movies have gone before.”
5. Corden also confirmed that he will be back in New York next February to host the 2018 Grammy Awards telecast. As if there was any doubt.
6. CBS didn’t wear out its welcome with the wonky advertising-speak or too much talk about cross-platform dynamic targeted ad insertion yada yada. Nor did they hammer the digital competition quite as hard as its Big Four rivals earlier this week. But CBS advertising sales chief Jo Ann Ross did flash a screen shot of a YouTube video depicting a sinking ship with an ad for a cruise ship placed underneath. Ross promised the crowd of media buyers that CBS only delivers “real people watching your commercials in hit shows with zero fraud, all from a source you can trust.”
7. David Boreanaz looks like he was born to play the hero in a CBS action-drama. He was well-received in the clip for “SEAL Team.” As Moonves noted earlier in the day, Boreanaz is 2-0 in his TV career, having scored in “Angel” and “Bones.”
8. Shemar Moore may have no problem with pages of scripts on his new action drama “SWAT,” but the fan-favorite “Criminal Minds” alum may want study up on the call-sheet. Moore stumbled over the pronunciation of co-star Daniel Moncada’s last name as he brought him out to the stage. But we’ll give him a pass — the show is brand-new, after all.
9. “60 Minutes” plans to pull out all the stops and prestige points in marking its 50th anniversary year in the fall. And it is even getting a fortification from Oprah Winfrey, who is signing on as a contributor. All of this is happening as NBC News’ new recruit, Megyn Kelly, is trying to launch her own 7 p.m. newsmagazine. As Kahl talked up “60 Minutes’” strength in the Sunday slot, he couldn’t resist adding:”Good luck, Megyn Kelly.”
10. CBS subtly and not-so-subtly acknowledged the criticism it has received about the relative lack of diversity on its schedule. “Superior Donuts” star Jermaine Fowler, an African-American comedian, got a brief standup slot at the upfront, and he didn’t shy away from the elephant in the auditorium. “I’m the first black lead of a CBS sitcom in like a decade,” he said. “With shows like ‘Amazing Race,’ ‘Code Black’ and ‘Big Brother,’ you’d think…”
And two bonus barbs from Colbert:
Noting CBS’ plethora of crime dramas, he mused about “the hot new star of ‘Criminal Minds,’ James Comey. Next season every episode is just him writing stuff down and getting fired.”
And: “Vladimir Putin just finished bingeing the first season of ‘Young Sheldon.’ ”