Upfront Critique: CBS

  • by , Featured Contributor, May 21, 2009




At every upfront, CBS tries sooooo hard to be hip.  This year, Neil Patrick Harris comes out and does a "Bro Code" rundown, LL Cool J dusts off his rapper microphone, and they move the after-party from stodgy Tavern on the Green to the dark and indie-feeling Terminal 5. But when you're No. 1 for nearly everything, the one thing that you're probably not, is hip.</p><p>




Case in point: new CBS star LL comes out to do a high-energy version of "Mama Said Knock You Out" and urges the crowd to "put your hands in the air." (It's a blatant violation of NPH's Bro Code from earlier in the event, where he postulated that "No Bro should ever dance with his hands above his head.") The crowd, crazed on a rush of exhaustion and ennui, watched him do it.  Sorry, LL, this crowd doesn't exactly "participate" unless they can a) get their own personal picture taken with you; or b) it's last call.


This is the golf clap network, not the hip hop network.


So CBS isn't hip. They are, however, the only network that can claim a positive trend, so maybe that's better. Stable is blue-chip, and right now, blue-chip is pretty darn rare, which would make it hip.  See how everything comes back around to Huey Lewis ?


Les Moonves came out swinging; talking smack about the power of Fox's "American Idol" and about NBC -- wait --  was he just complimentary?  Isn't that what happened to Steinbrenner with the Yankees before Hank took over?


Wait a minute -- there he is.  Les, you old horse trader! You had me going for a minute.  "Flat is not the new up," and "there's a difference between not being able to find a hit show for years and the model being broken" are two instant classics.  Big crowd reaction to the model shot.


And Jo Ann Ross surely must've read about the uncomfortable Hammerstein Ballroom chairs somewhere - she took the trouble to call attention to the plush red velvet of Carnegie Hall's seats, which is a clear indication of broadcast's true value over cable:  touchiness.


OK, then she compares NBC to a t-ball team where the score doesn't count, while criticizing its admission that it's programming for the profit margins.  She concludes by claiming, therefore, that  NBC is no longer programming for the viewers.  You show me a t-ball team that doesn't have a kid who thinks that they can stop time and then you'll have a t-ball team that doesn't care about the final score.


Now we come to the celebrity portion of our evening. 


Rookie-of-the-Year Simon Baker comes out to flirt with the crowd and give Jo Ann a hug and kiss.  Laurence Fishburne comes out to drop some minutia about his CBS relationship on us.  He had once done a guest spot on M*A*S*H (crowd reaction, muted golf nod) and also appeared on "Pee Wee's Playhouse" (crowd: "Wooooo." Really?  None of that for M*A*S*H?  Wow.)


Bro Code interlude.  May I suggest another one, Neil?  Bro Code Article 520: No Bro shall talk into his lapel microphone when trying to do the "Voice of God."


Time to see some new shows.  "The Good Wife" with Julianna Margulies roughly playing Mrs. Spitzer and how she moved past her politically ruined husband's affair to reclaim her own life within the cutthroat world of a law firm.  Even as political scandals go, this isn't particularly "huggy."  (Julianna, take a bow from the third row.)


The lone new sitcom on the CBS schedule stars Jenna Elfman in "Accidentally on Purpose," a comedy about an unplanned cougar pregnancy and the "young candy" frat boy holdover who tries to own up.  How many seasons are there in an average pregnancy?  (Jenna, it's your turn to woo the crowd from Row 3.)


The last two new fall series are dramas: "Three Rivers" is about a Pittsburgh surgical transplant team starring Alex O'Loughlin, whose contract with CBS must apparently be spelled out in blood, and "NCIS: Los Angeles," headlined by Chris O'Donnell and the aforementioned Mr. Cool J.  The NCIS spinoff will be the lead-out for the mothership this fall. 


But the biggest audience reaction of the night was for one of its midseason replacement shows "Undercover Boss." This reality show takes a real-life CEO and sends him to work in the trenches of his own company.  Perspectives are broadened, big reveals are presented; lives are changed.  Feel-good reality for a bad economy?  CBS had better hope something on their schedule underperforms before the economy recovers, or it may not get the same viewer reaction once "happy days are here again."


The last-minute announcement that should also work for the Eye Network:  "Medium" comes home.  Or at least the production company and the broadcaster develop a synergistic production/distribution relationship.  CBS has a habit of resuscitating unloved NBC dramas ("JAG" comes to mind) and giving them a pretty stable place to settle for the long haul.  Somehow, can't you just picture Les Moonves dressed like Linus as a Shepherd, claiming that this show "isn't so bad -- all it needs is a little love" as he wraps his blanket around it, and it comes to life.


Patricia Arquette, come on down for your bow.  Or at least celebrate being "thrown off the Titanic" and finally finding a spot in the starting lineup.  Welcome home. 


Sorry -- Only CBS.  Sometimes, you can't tell the network mottos without a scorecard.

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