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May 20, 2009

Live blogging the CBS upfronts

Only cbs “That’s not in our DNA” a CBS spokesperson recently said when rejecting reporter’s request to confirm an upfront-related news leak -- a true “CSI”-network reply if there ever was one.

In of rapid change, CBS reveals in their traditions, especially during the upfronts. Making radical schedule moves? Not having the annual press breakfast on the 19th floor? Moving its presentation from the classic Carnegie Hall?

“Not in our DNA.”

CBS is like your buttoned-down neighbor who gets porch-delivery of the Wall Street Journal and eats three square meals a day. It should be no surprise their breakout new series this season features a man running around sunny California wearing a suit and vest. One half expects Alex O’Loughlin in “Three Rivers” next fall to try sporting a monocle.

All this traditionalism works for CBS, however. The network is the only major broadcaster to grow this year, a fact that ad buyers expect to have tattooed on their foreheads by the time they leave the CBS presentation. With that brag in their pocket, CBS’ DNA, or style, doesn’t even matter -- Les Moonves could throw a foam party at Carnegie Hall and he’d still move inventory.

[Insert a "How I Met Your Mother"-style smash cut to: Foam-covered, topless, drunken New York ad buyers yelling, "Wooo! I'll give you an adult demo!"].

Point is: In a horror-show economy, there’s something psychologically comforting about tradition at the upfronts. Jeff Probst intoning, “the tribe has spoken” is ridiculous at the end of every “Survivor,” but the phrase is ritual and just wouldn’t be “Survivor” without it. So if your network sales staff wants media buyers to spend like its 1999, it’s not the worst idea to have your upfront presented like it’s 1999.

And the award for the largest video screen goes to...

Lights go down at 4:00 p.m. on the dot. Your buttoned-down neighbor is punctual. 

Moonves: "This is where we put the 'up' in 'upfront week.'"

Noting an LA Times article that said CBS was doing great, but isn't sexy, Moonves says, "Who says we're not sexy? My wife thinks i'm sexy. Nobody likes hearing they're not sexy." 

Uh oh. Maybe they're going to do a foam party after all.

"You know what I really love? Successfully launching new shows year after year. We don't make Page Six as much as the other guys, but we make the Nielsen Top 10 a lot more."

Promoting broadcast as a whole, Moonves throws out a line about the Super Bowl ratings on NBC and another about Fox's "American Idol."

"Where but on the 'American Idol' juggernaut on Fox can you get the rapt attention of 50 million fans every week?" Moonves asked, which is pretty far down the list of things one expects him to say at the CBS upfront.

But then, lowering the boom on NBC, Moonves says, "there's a big difference between the model being broken and not being able to find any new hit shows for years."

Ouuuch. And not entirely fair ("The Office" averaged a higher rating this season than "The Mentalist.")

 "CBS can offer something the other guys can't -- lots of plus signs and up arrows. We're the only network showing growth in any any category. Flat is not the new up, despite what you heard."

On stage, there's brief appearances from Simon Baker and Lawrence Fishburne... regarding "CSI," this morning entertainment president Nina Tassler said producers will be searching for ways to bump up the show's falling ratings, and didn't rule out cast additions.

JoAnn Ross, head of sales, comes out to stick a couple more jabs at NBC.

"[NBC said] they're no longer programming for ratings, they're programming for [profit margins]. That means they're no longer programming for viewers. Don't believe the hype."

Neil Patrick Harris comes out to read rules from "The Bro Code" for how to behave at the upfront party, such as "bros before hos" and "what happens at the upfronts, stays at the upfronts" .... gaaahhh....

Ll cool jNFL clip package combines football action and an orchestra performing, which doesn't really amp the excitement the way the network might think it does...

CBS drama clips. The network has one new crime drama, one new legal drama and one new medical drama. All procedurals. It's the sort of asymmetrical "one from Column A ..." programming approach that makes CBS' new lineup a little unexciting this year. Tassler admitted as much during the press breakfast, reminding us that "ER" and "CSI" weren't the first medical or crime show, just brought fresh twists to it. It's all in the execution....

"The Good Wife" clips ... looks pretty good, actually ... I like the idea of exploring a character who's on the other side of a media scandal. You always wonder what it's like for the wife standing next to the disgraced politician.

"Three Rivers" ... I dunno ... do viewers really want to watch a weekly show about people giving organs to other people? It's like "Cry Me Three Rivers." The clips look like "Grey's Anatomy" for viewers who never want to think about sex again. (Yeah-yeah, Alex O'Loughlin, I know...).

"NCIS: Los Angeles" trailer ... doesn't really give you a strong feel for the show, but it's tough to bet against it  ...

Suddenly "NCIS" spinoff star L.L. Cool J. jumps on stage to starting rapping. He encourages ad buyers to put their hands in the air.... kind of a tough crowd for that...

Nina Tassler returns to stage to call his performance "fresh." I'm not sure what to write here.

Clips for midseason show "The Bridge" starring "Battlestar Galactica" veteran Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol). He's an unusual actor to lead a CBS show and looks great in this.

Trailer for "Undercover Boss." It's sort of like Fox's "Secret Millionaire," but with a clearer sense of purpose for the wealthy guy slumming in disguise. Gets a strong response.

Okay, you can't judge much from clips. It's a little odd that the biggest emotional reaction came from "Boss," a midseason reality show, instead of the dramas. But last year "Worst Week" played great in the room and "The Mentalist" didn't make much of an impression.

Okay, done.


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