Upfront 07

Despite a Play for Edgy, Buyers Mostly See Safe at CBS

With Just Five New Shows, Schedule Showcases Network's Vaunted Stability

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- CBS took a playful swipe at its old-skewing, conservative image by rolling out a host of edgy fare, such as Cuban drug drama "Cane" and wife-swapping '70s show "Swingtown," during its upfront presentation last night at Carnegie Hall. And given the network's oft-repeated status as the most-watched network on TV (despite being beat in key demos by ABC in some of the competitive time slots), some buyers think CBS might be able to recuperate should any of said risks fall through.

Photo: Jeffery Staab/CBS
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Jimmy Smits (center), the star of new CBS drama 'Cane,' greets advertisers on stage with fellow cast members (l-r) Michael Trevino, Lina Esco, Hector Elizondo, Rita Moreno, Paola Turbay, Nestor Carbonell and Eddie Matos.

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"They have such a stable schedule, they should be able to experiment and not put their whole lineup at risk," said Bill Carroll, director-programming for Katz Media Group. "They indicated what their mission was at the beginning, and at least in principal, they achieved their mission."

Invoking 'Cop Rock'
CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler seemed to be putting her highest hopes on "Viva Laughlin," which will have its premiere in the risky 8 p.m. Sunday night berth this fall. The show is an American version of the BBC's "Viva Blackpool" and follows a Vegas detective on his various investigations with a key twist -- full-blown musical numbers. Eric Bader, senior VP-digital connections at Mediavest, couldn't help but invoke a certain failed Steven Bochco series that remains a favored punchline nearly 20 years after its early demise. "'Cop Rock' is not something to draw upon," he cracked.

Even riskier for the network is the mid-season "Swingtown," which has a steamy plot about a pair of swinging married couples and a host of HBO vets on board. The show was a hit with several buyers, but they weren't sure how it would fare on CBS. "It's a tough sell to those family-friendly advertisers who normally buy CBS," said Michael Parent, senior VP-broadcast at OMD.

'Repulsed' by 'Kid Nation'
There was also a bit of confusion surrounding "Kid Nation," the reality series that strands 40 children aged 8 to 15 in an abandoned New Mexico town and forces them to create their own society. "At first I was kind of repulsed a little bit when they showed footage of the kids crying in the town hall meetings," said one buyer. Mr. Carroll said he'd have to see a pilot before he could make up his mind on the unique show.

With "The Amazing Race" and "The New Adventures of Old Christine" benched until mid-season, the fall is a crucial time for CBS to score with a new comedy. As far as Mr. Parent is concerned, "The Big Bang Theory" could be the one. "It's one of the better comedy pilots I've seen in the last five years." The Jimmy Smits drug drama "Cane" could also finally be the first "Scarface"/"Sopranos" clone to become a broadcast hit in years. "It's easier to see how that's going to do reasonably well," Mr. Carroll said.

Just don't place any bets on vampire romance "Moonlight," which debuts Fridays after "Ghost Whisperer." Said one buyer bluntly, "I wouldn't loan money to that."
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