It isn't enough for CBS to be the most-watched network. At the presentation of its new fall schedule, network execs announced they want their shows to be talked about, too.
It's a new version of an old tune. For years, CBS has had the largest number of viewers, but many of them were old and not as desirable to advertisers. Recently, the network has gotten much more competitive for the 18-to-49-year-old crowd that Madison Avenue pays most for. Yet shows such as ABC's Ugly Betty get a lot more ink and watercooler chatter than the higher-rated Two and a Half Men or Survivor (CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler drove the point home to the audience at Carnegie Hall by citing how Betty's ratings have dropped 40 percent since its premiere).
With a solid foundation of dependable hits, Tassler says this is the year she can afford to take a few programming risks to improve her share of buzz. Even if CBS' new shows fail, its regular program lineup will deliver ratings close to what it did this past season. A close look at the schedule reveals it's really not that risky. Hey, perception is everything.
The network's boldest bid is on Sunday night, where it's launching Viva Laughlin after 60 Minutes. The musical drama about a businessman with a dream of opening a casino will draw the inevitable comparisons to the famous ABC flop Cop Rock (a Steven Bochco series from 1990 - think Hill Street Blues on Broadway). CBS chairman Les Moonves insists Viva Laughlin is no Cop Rock, but the network soft-pedaled the show's musical aspects in the clips it showed at the presentation.
The network's other potential attention-getter, Swingtown, won't debut until mid-season. But that series, a retro look at alternative lifestyles in the '70s, seemed more intriguing.
CBS is also trying to stir things up with Kid Nation, a new reality show which has 40 kids starting up their own town with no adult supervision. The network's Survivor has always been popular with children, and Kid Nation also has the potential for family viewing. But it has one glaring weakness in that the stakes aren't all that high: The kids only go home if they want to.
Cane, the soapy drama with Jimmy Smits, has some Latino cast members who are muy caliente. But the show looks like it could have been in the CBS lineup in any of the last five years. Ditto for Moonlight, the Friday series about a vampire detective, which should do just fine after Ghost Whisperer. And on Monday, the network turned to Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre for another comedy, The Big Bang Theory.
The one surprise move on the schedule was the return of Without a Trace to Thursday night ( Shark moves to Sunday). CBS execs clearly believe that with ER fading on NBC and ABC trying out a new show ( Dylan McDermott's Big Shots) to follow Grey's Anatomy, Trace can dominate the ratings on Thursday at 10 pm. With the high ad rates on that night paid by movie studios, car companies and retailers, that can translate into tens of millions of dollars in revenue for CBS. - Stephen Battaglio
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