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TV Upfront

CBS Upfronts Diary: The More Things Change...

By Published on .

Stephen Colbert, host of 'The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,' headlined the opening production number of the CBS Upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall.
Stephen Colbert, host of 'The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,' headlined the opening production number of the CBS Upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall. Credit: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS

Despite the acknowledgement from CBS CEO Les Moonves that TV is changing at a faster rate than any ever before, the Eye Network displayed some legacy beliefs during its upfronts presentation at Carnegie Hall, like the importance of the primetime schedule and the primacy of broadcast TV.

CBS did have some indisputable successes this year, including the rise of Stephen Colbert to the top spot in late-night talk. Colbert opened the presentation with a musical number lauding CBS, then thanked President Donald Trump for the success of his show.

"There's only one word to describe this president, and the FCC has asked me not to use it anymore," he said.

Colbert went on to say that President Trump doesn't like the language he uses on his show because kids are watching. "Who says CBS is for old people?" Colbert cracked.

Moonves praised Colbert, admitting that he likes him more now that he is No. 1 in late night.

"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 a pair of boxers appeared on the screen.

Like other TV networks this week, CBS took the opportunity to remind the audience about the safety and reliability of its content for marketers compared to digital competitors.

It showed a shot of a YouTube video of a sinking ship with an ad for a cruise line appearing at the bottom of the screen. "We do not let this kind of ship happen to you," said Jo Ann Ross, president-network sales, CBS.

CBS spent some time praising its news division, arguably of more interest during a sustained high-velocity news cycle. And for the first time, it turned over a part of the presentation to CBS Interactive, the unit that runs the direct-to-consumer streaming product CBS All Access. Perhaps more than any show that will air on the network this season, the most anticipated trailer of the day was for "Star Trek: Discovery," which will stream on All Access in the fall. (Traditional TV viewers will be able to see the premiere, but no more.)

"Star Trek" is one of several shows that will get a reboot next season, a fact James Corden pointed out when he took the stage. "Way to reinvent the wheel," he said.

Regarding the return of shows like "Will and Grace" on NBC and "Roseanne" on ABC, Corden said, "This is like your own personal Groundhog Day. There must be an easier way to do this. Can't we just play the tape from 2002?"

In the same presentation where Moonves acknowledged the need to move beyond TV's longstanding age and sex demographics and turned the stage over to the network's over-the-top service, CBS ended with Kelly Kahl, exec VP-primetime, walking through the schedule.

"People occasionally ask me what good is a schedule any way?" Kahl said. While viewers are increasingly time-shifting, Kahl said two-thirds of CBS' viewing still takes places live.

CBS's schedule also "says a lot about what we are as a network," Kahl said, arguing that the week as a whole shows stability.

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