TV Upfront

CBS Upfront Diary: Yet More 'Hamilton' and a Special 'Carpool Karaoke' Guest

'What's Up Bitches,' CBS Ad Sales Chief Welcome Advertisers

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Late-night host James Corden performed a spoof of 'Hamilton' during the CBS upfront at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday.
Late-night host James Corden performed a spoof of 'Hamilton' during the CBS upfront at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday. Credit: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS
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If CBS wants to shake its image as an older-skewing network, it probably shouldn't have opened its presentation with Sinatra's "My Way" reworked as "Eye Way."

But the No. 1 broadcaster quickly livened things up with a special "Carpool Karaoke" guest, none other than its ad sales chief, Jo Ann Ross. In a pre-taped skit, Ms. Ross and late-night host James Corden rapped along to Kanye West's "Gold Digger" and planned Ms. Ross' entrance at the upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall.

"What's up bitches," Ms. Ross said, strutting on stage in fur coat and top hat and carrying a bedazzled cane.

Not to be outdone by other broadcasters playing on hit musical "Hamilton" in their presentations this week, CBS gave its own "Hamilton" performance and a taped message from the musical's creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Mr. Corden lead the performance, replacing the hip-hop lyrics with lines like: "Yes we want your Hamiltons, your Benjamins and Washingtons"; "Some folks huff and fret that the network is 'just a dinosaur'/that brainless B.S. – as you might guess makes us kinda sore"; and "The 'cool kids' like Apple and Netflix get lotsa buzz but when they need maximum eyeballs all the cool kids come to us."

"Anyone else sensing a Hamilton theme this week?" said CBS CEO Les Moonves, adding in characteristic fashion that the network's performance was the best of the bunch.

Mr. Moonves said there was no need to follow the upfront norm of bashing other networks, because CBS is in first place. But that didn't stop him from responding to jabs made by rivals in their pitches.

"Jimmy Kimmel told some really stale jokes about how old we supposedly are," Mr. Moonves said, adding that the jokes would have been funny if CBS wasn't beating ABC in the 18-to-49-year-old demo.

He also said his feelings were hurt when Fox made him a villain in one of their shows. During Fox's presentation on Monday, the network showed a picture of Mr. Moonves altered to look like Lex Luther, calling him Lex Moonves.

Of course there was a Donald Trump joke. Mr. Moonves said in the past he took jabs at networks like NBC and made fun of Trump when he was leading "The Apprentice." "Now all these years later and this guy may be the next President of the United States," Mr. Moonves said.

Mr. Moonves also echoed other networks' criticism of metrics for digital video execs and said there had been a clear shift of advertising back to network TV.

Glenn Geller made his upfront debut as president of entertainment at CBS, making a big push for the network's expanded comedy slate.

Two of the clips shown for new comedies -- "Kevin Can Wait" and "Man With a Plan" -- felt awfully similar, with two dads, one played by Kevin James the other by Matt LeBlanc, becoming full-time caregivers; shenanigans ensue.

Joel McHale will also have a new CBS comedy in the fall, "The Great Indoors," where he plays an adventure reporter for an outdoor magazine who must adapt to the times when he becomes a desk-bound boss managing a group of millennials in the publication's digital department.

Mr. McHale took the stage bashing NBC, the home to his former comedy, "Community."

"It feels weird to be on a broadcast network that will actually advertise my show," he said.

CBS spent some time talking about its direct-to-consumer service, CBS All Access, which will stream its first original show, a remake of "Star Trek" in January. The cast of "The Big Bang Theory" provided some advice on how CBS should tackle the remake, among them, calling it "NCIS: Starship."

Mr. Moonves also confirmed rumors of a spinoff of "The Good Wife" that will stream on the subscription platform.

And Stephen Colbert was on hand to do a standup routine that largely fell flat, saying marketers' commercials are better than sex and that he would sell his soul to an advertiser if the price is right.

"2016 has been a big year for comedy, and if Donald Trump wins, 2017 will be a big year for tragedy," Mr. Colbert said.

CBS knows the best way to advertisers' wallets, though, is through their stomachs. At the after-party at The Plaza Hotel, media buyers and clients got full run of the Todd English Food Hall -- complete with lobster rolls, a raw bar and freshly made lavender donuts.