Upfront 07

CBS Happy to Show Competitive Strength

Sticks to Tried and True, With Just a Few New Shows for Fall

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Day three has its advantages, as CBS has long known. With NBC and ABC already having revealed their schedules, CBS was free during its upfront presentation to point out all the places where its schedule showed strength in relation to its rivals. CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler touted that "We're No. 1" more often than a high school cheerleader at the end of the state championship. CBS has always been the most competitive, and this year's upfront presentation underscored that that hasn't changed.
Photo: John Filo/CBS

'CSI: Miami' star David Caruso and Entertainment President Nina Tassler don sunglasses during CBS's upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall.

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An efficient show
The message from Chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves, digital chief Quincy Smith and Ms. Tassler was indeed about all the ways that CBS can deliver strength and stability. And the three were extremely efficient in hammering home that point, getting attendees in and out of Carnegie Hall in 70 minutes, the shortest presentation so far this week. And they still managed to cram in President-Ad Sales JoAnn Ross projected as an avatar and allow three minutes for Mr. Smith to spin through every possible overused web reference to assure the audience that CBS has a firm grip on some "highly geeky stuff." (The network is making rockets out of Sudoku puzzles, he assured attendees, to illustrate how CBS has moved from a "content" company to an "audience" company.) He then introduced a video demonstration of CBS's online partner Joost, that demonstrated how "Pirate Masters" and other shows can seamlessly use social-networking tools.

Mr. Moonves was also enthusiastic about consumer-generated media, showcasing a YouTube clip created by a fan that showcased David Caruso of "CSI: Miami" and his deadpan one liners.

When Ms. Tassler took the stage after an uncharacteristically brief Mr. Moonves, she was quick to reassure advertisers that with so many strong returning series, the few new shows she was ready to introduce were the ones that they really, really loved. CBS has just five new shows on the fall schedule. "And everyone is paired with a compatible proven hit," she said, in order to insure they have the best chance.

"We've got geeks, Cubanos, singers, swingers and unaccompanied minors," she said.

'El dia de la hump'
She then proceeded to take the audience through each night's schedule, relying on video of Mr. Caruso to introduce each night with a trademark phrase. ("Monday's so bright," the actor says, pauses, puts on sunglasses and continues, "you've got to wear shades." And then there was this: "In Miami we call Wednesday" -- pauses, puts on sunglasses -- "el dia de la hump.") As she went through each night's schedule, she noted how CBS was either first in 18- to 49-year-old viewers or first in overall viewers, and just how far of a lead they had over the competition when it was a truly impressive gap.

Monday features a new sitcom, "Big Bang Theory," which will be sandwiched between "How I Met Your Mother" and "Two and Half Men." "Big Bang" features two "Beautiful Mind"-like mathematicians trapped in geekdom who suddenly find that their next-door neighbor, a Cheesecake Factory waitress, might actually want to be friends with them, which got a few laughs from the audience. At 10 p.m., "CSI: Miami" will air, and given that it's up against "old reality" (ABC's "The Bachelor") and a new unproven drama (NBC's "Journeyman"), Ms. Tassler was pretty confident CBS would hold its own.

One of the network's bigger bet sis a Jimmy Smits-fronted ensemble piece, "Cane," about a Cuban-American family that built a fortune on sugar cane, the management of which is about to be handed to Mr. Smits' character, an adopted son, rather than to a biological son. Think a little bit "Sopranos," a little bit "Scarface." Mr. Smits, who is also a producer on the show, led the cast out on stage, which included Rita Moreno and Hector Elizondo, and told attendees this is his first upfront, despite his having been on hit shows such as "LA Law" and "NYPD Blue." "You can say I'm a 40-year-old virgin of the upfront ... all right, 50-year-old virgin," the actor said.

Feel-good vampire love story
Another drama, "Moonlight," is a feel-good love story about a vampire who falls in love with a mortal woman, so, of course, he is no longer comfortable as a monster. And his day job -- excuse me, his night job -- is to solve mysteries using his special vampire powers. Ms. Tassler was enthusiastic about this one, especially when its hunky lead, Alex O'Loughlin, came out on stage.

The singers Ms. Tassler was referring to? That would be the cast of "Viva Laughlin," a Hugh Jackman production based on the U.K. show "Viva Blackpool." "Viva Laughlin" features characters who sing popular songs as the story unfolds of a man trying to build a casino in the shadow of a more powerful casino owner. It sounds improbable, but the audience seemed receptive to it and the clips were short on singing and long on dramatic confrontations. Mr. Jackman addressed the audience via satellite from Australia, where he was filming a movie with Nicole Kidman, but noted how this is the first time he's been allowed to sing on film. (Mr. Jackman has appeared in several stage musicals.)

Though the aforementioned swingers won't show up until mid-season, "Swingtown," set in the '70s in a neighborhood where wife swapping is not considered unusual, definitely got a reaction. Ms. Tassler said they reason it was moved to mid-season was to be able to run the entire series without interruption.

What will undoubtedly prove to be one of the most polarizing shows on its schedule is "Kids Nation," a reality show that take 40 children aged 8 to 15 and drops them in an abandoned mining town without any grown ups, where they need to form their own government. How do they do? Let's just say the clips featured lots of tears and lots of yelling.

No talk of Katie Couric
While Ms. Tassler touched on other CBS strengths, such as "Late Night With David Letterman" and "60 Minutes," there was no mention of "CBS Evening News" or its managing editor, Katie Couric, other than as one of the correspondents for the Sunday news magazine.

Mr. Caruso came out on stage in person to help Ms. Tassler end the presentation, handing her a pair of sunglasses so they could say, in unison, "Thank you and" -- pause, put on sunglasses -- "see you at Tavern on the Green."
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