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MAY
15
11 MOS

Quick Take: Tim Goodman on CBS

A look at the network's fall shows and programming strategies -- plus positive and negative signs.

Hostages
CBS
"Hostages," the only new fall drama on CBS.

I will say this for a fourth time, then at least one more time in the coming days: The obligatory disclaimer: As a TV critic, I’m not going to comment definitively on any of CBS’ trailers. Because that’s all they are – trailers. It’s hard enough to judge a series (particularly a comedy) based on a pilot episode, much less a cut-down trailer.

At best, whatever I say is a shrug. And don’t hold me to that.

PHOTOS: CBS' 2013-14 Season: 'Hostages,' 'Intelligence,' 'Mom' and 'The Millers'

Also, to understand how I feel about the upfront dog-and-pony show and the inability of networks to learn from the mistakes of the current industry model, you might want to read this.

OK, onward:

Positives:

CBS is the best-run broadcast network and has been for, oh, a lot of years. That particular race hasn’t even been close. This is why its executives can be smug, which they are. They deserve to be. They ought to bask in it. They ought to rub it in everybody else’s face. Why? Because way back when, CBS was the butt of every joke. Always. It was the network for old people. It was the network dismissed for its Old School laugh track sitcoms. Then it became the network of the Oh Not Another Procedural. All good laughs. Eventually it became the Network That Kicks Your Ass So Badly and So Often That It’s Now Tired of Joyfully Humiliating You.

I’ve said "CBS doesn’t restock; it reloads" so many times I went out and got a copyright for it. CBS never has that many slots to fill because it spills more hits than everyone else makes. Even with so few opening, when every network was in a mad dash to sign actors to make pilots for next season, an interesting thing happened: Hip series creators and actors all flocked to CBS. Why? Not just because they wanted to be on a winner (though if your critically acclaimed series keep getting canceled, at some point you long for some stability). No, they realized that having creative freedom is no longer the province of the last-place, desperate network – that you can make an acclaimed series on CBS and have, say, about 10 million more viewers than you would have at the other three.

That’s a nice little reward for being a successful network.

VIDEO: Watch Trailers for All of CBS' New Shows

As for the new season, I like the commitment to run two serialized dramas – Hostages and Intelligence – straight through, in their entirety. Hostages goes first, Mondays at 10 p.m. When that’s done, Intelligence gets its straight run. Yes, other networks are finally moving to this uninterrupted model, but some of them are cutting the runs in half, then airing the second half. What CBS is doing is running the whole season straight. Nice.

CBS is airing only four new comedies in the fall – two on Monday, two on Thursday, where the network has been able to sustain comedy blocks that the other nets are jealous of. The lone drama of the fall is Hostages.

At midseason, or more accurately whenever the hell it wants, CBS will add another sitcom, Friends With Better Lives, plus the aforementioned drama, Intelligence.

That season schedule? Clean. Easy to understand. Minimalist.

Negatives:

Honestly, there’s not much to say here. There are plenty of CBS shows I don’t watch or like, but that’s true of every network. (Besides, despite the perception of me loathing most network dramas, two of my favorites – Elementary and Person of Interest – reside right here.)

STORY: CBS Chief Leslie Moonves: 'We'll Try to be Less Smug'

The one area it seems CBS could use its considerable programming acumen to revolutionize, if you will, is Saturday nights. Right now, CBS shows sitcom reruns and drama reruns and the newsmagazine 48 Hours. The network is pounding its competition so thoroughly it doesn’t have to do any extra work – like, say, fixing Saturday for the industry – but I would be very interested to see CBS attempt it.

The shows (you can watch them here):

We Are Men doesn't look like something I'd watch after the initial batch of episodes CBS sends for review; Mom doesn't look like something I would watch even for review if I wasn't getting a paycheck (but again, not much of a CBS comedy fan for, well, years); The Crazy Ones could go either way but is certainly a sitcom that will need a number of advanced episodes to review fairly. And The Millers -- the one CBS comedy I wanted to see, since I think it's an incredible cast, top  to bottom, or sideways -- gave me some pause with the masturbation jokes and the fart jokes and the laugh track and whatnot. But it's a pilot. Greg Garcia is just coming off of making Raising Hope, Will Arnett and Margo Martindale are in it, plus Mary Elizabeth Ellis and J.B. Smoove, etc., etc. It would take a lot of incompetence to mess that up. The Millers, then, is one new show in particularly I'm going to cut a lot of slack. Everybody is proven. So, I'm going to opt for this very foreign and strange thing for me called "optimism."

As for dramas, I would definitely watch Hostages even if some of the strains of network familiarity are evident in the trailer -- it definitely looks ambitious and given the promise to run the episodes straight through is enough to seal in a season pass until the content says otherwise. Intelligence isn't a show where you have to study the validity of the premise all the time, as you might for Hostages. What that means is that you can just kick back and enjoy the ride, which is what the trailer promises and was enough to make me eager to see the pilot.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine