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May 19, 2010

Upfront review: CBS goes Hawaiian

Upfronts_blogIn the land of the CBS upfront, "NCIS" is bigger than "Avatar."

CBS president and CEO Les Moonves made the point at the network's annual presentation at Carnegie Hall that the most-watched drama on TV trumps James Cameron's mega-grossing film

"More people watched 'NCIS' this season than watched the highest-grossing film of all time, 'Avatar,'" Moonves said.

Though I doubt viewers would line up at theaters to pay $15 to watch "NCIS," it's a memorable sales line nonetheless.

The boast was one of several markers by which CBS drove home the idea that the most-watched network (seven out of the past eight years, don't you know) was the best home for Madison Avenue's ad dollars. 

CBS has reason to be proud this year, having launched three successful new shows this season ("Undercover Boss," "The Good Wife," "NCIS: Los Angeles"), which is the most you can reasonably expect from any broadcaster, especially one that was already doing well to begin with.

"Our winning ways are only going to continue," Moonves said. "All the trends are positive. We're selling our content at top dollar all over the world -- except possibly in Greece."

The presentation was very solid. One bit I liked was from when ad buyers were still taking their seats. CBS projected recent and enthusiastic Tweets from fans about the network's shows. This is routine stuff for The CW, but it's particularly effective for CBS, a network that some think of as heavily-viewed, but not necessarily passionately viewed.

102854673-61ba303d03b92bc3129919ba496bda3f.4bf46d3d-full "Big Bang" star Jim Parsons made an appearance on stage, in character as Sheldon, to pitch CBS advertising, while making a couple references to his lingering bitterness over NBC canceling the original "Star Trek." This bit paid off later, when William Shatner took the stage to tout his new show "$#*! My Dad Says" and Sheldon came back out, in awe of his hero. The duo walk off together and entertainment president Nina Tassler makes the point about how they're a great match -- "Big Bang" is leading into "My Dad Says" on Thursdays in the fall. Yup, it's an upfront presentation with an actual narrative arc.

Let's get to the trailers.

None of them bombed, several did well. Chuck Lorre's new comedy about an overweight couple, "Mike & Molly," made me think, "It's 'More to Love' -- the sitcom!" but it seemed sweet and harmless.

"$#*! My Dad Says" is exactly what you think it is and had the funnier trailer of the two, though it was basically a succession of punchlines. I kept going back and forth about whether Shatner is right for the character. The rude, caustic lines seem a bit misplaced for him -- he's Shatner, and it's tough to write a character that's bigger than he is. CBS did a fine job thematically linking Sheldon's geekdom and Captain Kirk, but the humor in "My Dad Says" feels best paired with fellow profane family comedy "Two and a Half Men." If "Molly" doesn't work out, perhaps it will be (unless "Big Bang" has dibs).

"Defenders" and "Blue Bloods" both had solid trailers, very CBS.

The network saved their biggest, and likely their best, for last: "Hawaii Five-O." Tassler said it had a "ridiculously sexy and crowd pleasing cast."

The trailer surprised me. I was expecting more of a crime procedural set on Oahu, but "Five-O" is more of a high-energy, high-action show. Some said it felt very Jerry Bruckheimer. But I would add that it feels like the big screen "Con Air"-style Bruckheimer, not the grim procedural "CSI" version. It looked potentially fun, and ad buyers seemed enthused (I've posted the opening titles, which feel like they're trying too hard; the trailer is better, I'll post it when it's released).


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