CBS Upfront Presentation Puts on the Hard Sell

Brings Out Katie Couric, James Woods

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NEW YORK ( -- This year CBS' upfront presentation featured a little less CEO Leslie Moonves and a lot more hard sell. With only four big shows to unveil to advertisers thanks to fewer holes to fill, the network used the presentation to roll up the sleeves of its tight black T-shirt and flex its muscle. The effect was powerful and slightly intimidating, but probably necessary. CBS's stability often results in it being taken for granted and given short shrift in the buzz stakes.
Katie Couric wowed the crowd at the CBS upfront presentation.
Katie Couric wowed the crowd at the CBS upfront presentation.

"Christine' vs. 'Earl'
From the stage at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, Entertainment President Nina Tassler made a pitch for the Monday night comedy block, soon to be joined by the James Burrows/David Crane ensemble "The Class," and said CBS expected to be much stronger with the departure of "Monday Night Football" from ABC (the show is moving to cable's ESPN). Ms. Tassler claimed that the Julia Louis Dreyfuss comedy "The New Adventures of Old Christine" was the hit comedy of the season, not NBC's Thursday night comedy "My Name Is Earl." (See full schedule here.)

For perhaps the first time in a long time, CBS News got a seat at the upfront. Current "CBS Evening News" anchor Bob Schieffer appeared on stage to herald a "new era" in the news division, and said he hadn't expected to stay in the anchor seat for more than a couple of weeks. Mr. Schieffer, of course, has resurrected ratings on the third-place newscast after Dan Rather relinquished the anchor desk and will remain a feature of the program even when NBC "Today" host Katie Couric takes over this fall.

Katie Couric
Ms. Couric came out to wow the crowd, joking, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate." In a short speech about how thrilled she was at not only reading the evening news but joining the "60 Minutes" team, it became abundantly clear that the show is going to look a whole lot younger come fall. Ms. Couric will be joined on the long-running Sunday night newsmagazine by CNN host Anderson Cooper (gray hair notwithstanding) and emerging star Lara Logan.

Jo Ann Ross, president-sales, CBS, said the network would launch a new site,, to help advertisers see more of what's being offered. Joking about all the network's multimedia options, Ms. Ross said a new CBS "Shrimpcam" set up at CBS party venue Tavern on the Green to make sure no one was double dipping.

This year, there were far fewer barbs directed at NBC or anyone else for that matter, and that gave CBS the higher ground. That doesn't mean it ceded any territory on the scrappy front. Expect the network to fight hard to maintain its Thursday-night dominance. The most-talked about drama of the night, "Shark," starring James Woods, is aimed directly at NBC's "ER" at 10 p.m. Make no mistake, Mr. Moonves means to kill his former progeny. (He helped create the show while working at Warner Bros.) Mr. Woods also took the stage, fielding a call from his 80-year-old mother.

Dig at My Network TV
The night did not go without one humorous dig at My Network TV, a new News Corp.-backed network whose programming is heavily indebted to the Hispanic TV "novela" genre. CBS played a reel about a new show called "CSI: Ay: Ay: Ay." The hilarious clip featured the characters telling each other they wanted to make love and that they were having babies.

The funniest line of the night goes to whoever created the turn-off-your-devices clip, which listed the cellphone, PDAs and a list of made-up digital gadgets. "Anybody who's anybody is already here," read a booming voice. The message, unfortunately, was ignored by the stressed-out agency executives and marketers who find it so hard to disconnect even for a moment.
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