CBS Hopes To Remain No. 1 With Six New Shows

After more than a decade of struggling to get to No. 1, CBS Wednesday night said goodbye to one of the shows that helped it get there, even as it previewed six new shows to media planners, buyers and advertisers it hopes will solidify its dominance.

The six new series feature a mix of concepts and genres that rivals ABC and NBC are tapping--most notably the "aliens among us" series type and the "woman who can communicate with those beyond the grave to help set things right" species of TV program, which CBS tags as "paranormal drama with an emotional twist." Plus, there's another action series from Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who in addition to his past work on the network's top-rated "CSI" is also producing the freshman NBC series "E-Ring."

In name, the new shows joining the CBS fall lineup are: "Threshold," (Carla Gugino, who was recently seen in the movie "Sin City," leads a team of government alien hunters); "Criminal Minds," (Tony Award winner Mandy Patinkin and Thomas Gibson, of "Dharma & Greg," head an FBI profiling unit that solves bizarre murders and kidnappings); "Ghost Whisperer," (Jennifer Love Hewitt stars in a role inspired by real-life medium James Van Praagh, as a young newlywed who not only sees dead people, but helps them seek earthly closure); "Close To Home," (which stars Jennifer Finnigan of CBS soap "The Bold and the Beautiful" as a prosecutor juggling family life and legal strife);"How I Met Your Mother," (an ensemble comedy featuring Alyson Hannigan of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" the TV series and the "American Pie" movies and Neil Patrick Harris of Doogie Howser fame helping a friend win over the women he will marry); and "Out Of Practice," (a comedy about a family of physicians starring Stockard Channing and Henry Winkler.)



The lineup was introduced by Les Moonves, CBS' chairman, and Nina Tassler, CBS's entertainment president. But before they took the stage, four cast members from "Avenue Q"--the quirky Broadway musical comedy featuring foul-mouthed muppets--performed a song called "It Sucks To Be Me," with the muppets representing the four network chiefs, including one Aussie-accented muppet named "Rupert Monster."

That was followed by Moonves digitally inserted into Hillary Swank's role in "Million Dollar Baby," where he trains to be a network champ by knocking a punching bag with NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker's face superimposed on it. When Moonves later handed the podium over to Tassler, he gave her a tip: "Jokes about Zucker are always funny."

Clearly, Moonves relished his digs at NBC as he proceeded to count the ways that CBS is No. 1. (At one point, he stopped to play a clip of NBC's "Late Night" host Conan O'Brien saying the network is aiming for fifth place next year.)

"What makes this season historic is that we are number one with adults 18-49--the demo the other guys used to say was the only one that counted," Moonves said, adding that CBS will win the 2004-2005 season by nearly three million viewers ahead of second-place ABC--the largest margin any network has held in 16 years. He and Tassler pointed out that CBS is also number one in adults 25-54 for the second consecutive year, and is number one in adults 18-49 with regularly scheduled programming for the first time in 30 years. CBS is also in a virtual tie with Fox for first in adults 18-49 with all programming, Moonves said.

As to whether the new crop of shows can hold that momentum, media buyers were fairly positive that it could, despite the loss of "Everybody Loves Raymond."

"They have 'Two and a Half Men,' which has a solid track record," noted Shari Ann Brill, vp/director of programming at Aegis Group's Carat USA. "They're in very good shape."

Brill and others noted that "Ghost Whisperer," "Threshold," and "How I Met Your Mother" also seemed like strong bets for next season.

One media buyer did note that "Threshold," which is scheduled to air Fridays at 9 p.m., could have difficulty because of the time slot.

"'Threshold' is targeted to younger viewers, and they tend not to be available on Friday nights," said one media buyer. "Still, it's a good excuse to get a [Digital Video Recorder.]"

In terms of the similar themes being run by the networks for the fall, John Rash, svp, director, broadcast negotiations with Campbell-Mithun, Minneapolis, said the networks are reaching for a zeitgeist that has been influenced by war and fears of terrorism.

"The 'communicating with the dead' and 'alien invasion' themes that are popular this year reflect a strong escapist sentiment," Rash said. "Before, reality shows were the dominant escapist fare, but it doesn't deal head-on with the issues that people are universally concerned about. As for which show will do it best, it's hard to say without seeing the full pilot--but clearly, this is the direction television is going in."

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