The No. 1 broadcast network delivered a welcome jolt of energy to its day in the TCA press-tour spotlight when CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, one of network TV's most boisterous showmen and champions, took the stage Monday morning for the first time since 2005 (filling in at the last minute for entertainment president Nina Tassler, called away for a friend's funeral). Bluntly bullish on CBS's prospects for the new season ("We're confident we're going to be up this year"), Moonves credited stability as a primary factor for the network's long-term success.
"It's great to be able to renew 20 shows. It really is. ... When you can do that, it makes it easier to launch shows when you're launching them in positions that are behind successful shows. Obviously, it doesn't work all the time [RIP, Vegas and Golden Boy], but it leads to a degree of being able to win year after year." Moonves suggested the streak won't last forever, pointing to NBC's fall from grace when it couldn't find new hits to replace Friends and ER. But given the lackluster state of so much of this new fall season, it's hard to imagine any rival unseating CBS anytime soon.
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Moonves became most animated when discussing projects that break from the CBS procedural formula, like the summer hit Under the Dome (renewed to absolutely no one's surprise) and another serialized shorter-run "limited series" Hostages, a 15-episode thriller that will air on Mondays at 10/9c for the first half of the season. "You're not going to see us veer off differently," Moonves cautioned. "What you're going to see is we're experimenting."
This trend of not-quite-miniseries has the potential to shake up an otherwise moribund season, the way Fox's The Following (for all of its flaws) did last midseason. With fewer episodes, there's more opportunity to pack more story into each hour, and as Hostages exec producer Jeffrey Nachmanoff noted: "It lets you really shape an arc without having to stretch out and tap dance." The Hostages pilot is one of the season's more exciting and twisty, starring Toni Collette as the president's doctor who's put in extreme peril (as is the commander-in-chief) when terrorists threaten her family, and I felt even more confident in its ability to sustain a high-wire act when it was revealed that the action of the first season will encompass a two-week period (roughly, a day per episode).
Some quick thoughts on the rest of CBS's new-season panels:
THE MILLERS (Thursdays at 8:30/7:30c) Sitcom inspired by series creator Greg Garcia's (Raising Hope, My Name Is Earl) own outrageous parents, not unlike how Everybody Loves Raymond was informed by its star and producers' home lives. This is a much broader, sillier, even cruder comedy, but with exec producer/director James Burrows at the helm, and a cast including Will Arnett as the newly divorced son of Beau Bridges and Margo Martindale, who promptly split upon hearing of their son's situation, this is a shameless spectacle of blue-chip talent proudly going for lowbrow belly laughs, including toilet and fart humor, which Garcia refused to apologize for. He mentioned sitting among Hollywood royalty at the recent AFI tribute to Mel Brooks, watching everyone "dying laughing" at the famous Blazing Saddles campfire scene. Not that The Millers is pretending to operate on that classic level. But as a companion to The Big Bang Theory on Thursdays, it's a step up from the played-out Two and a Half Men (which moves to 9:30/8:30c).
WE ARE MEN (Mondays at 8:30/7:30c) So-called comedy about the friendship among four unlucky-in-love losers (Tony Shalhoub, Jerry O'Connell, Kal Penn and newbie Chris Smith) nursing their romantic wounds in a singles' apartment complex. O'Connell's colorful Speedos (prominently displayed in the off-putting pilot) got the first question, and it went downhill from there. Expect Mike & Molly to be taken off the back-up bench before November sweeps.
THE CRAZY ONES (Thursdays at 9/8) The most high-profile new player in CBS's expanded two-hour Thursday comedy block, showcasing Robin Williams' return to weekly series TV, as a manic (what else) Chicago ad exec running an agency with his more uptight daughter (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Williams riffed to uneven effect before the tough TCA crowd, although it was impossible not to laugh when someone asked about him being a "sad clown," prompting an hysterical routine that brought him out of his chair: "Oh My God, what are those big feet doing in the bed?!?" The show could use a few more crazy moments like that, and exec producer David E. Kelley admits, "the half-hour genre is not my turf" (which is why he teamed with Modern Family vet Jason Winer to set the partially improvised tone). Good news: Outtakes of Williams cracking up cast and crew, a highlight of the pilot, are likely to be a staple at the end of most episodes.
MOM (Mondays at 9:30/8:30c) The latest from producer Chuck Lorre's empire — a word he shuns, noting in his self-deprecating manner, "Empires are always overrun and defeated" — this is a biting yet endearing sitcom about two generations of recovering-addict single moms: Anna Faris as Christy, an overwhelmed single parent, and Allison Janney as Christy's own prickly mom. Lorre likened Mom to two memorable shows from his storied past — Grace Under Fire and Cybill — which also dealt with women trying to start their lives over. "It's really easy to root for [Christy]," says exec producer Gemma Baker, and Faris's performance is appealing enough to turn her from movie to TV star. Adding to the show's early luster: news that Justin Long will appear in an arc as Christy's love interest (shades of New Girl) and that Octavia Spencer, who became a fan while attending the taping of the pilot, will do a guest spot as a woman who has even bigger problems than Christy. With talent like this signing on, Mom could evolve into a new Monday anchor, should audiences finally tire of the shrill mess 2 Broke Girls has become.
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