CBS Upfront Pitches the "Best BS You've Heard All Week"

Leslie Moonves and Glenn Geller offer up a slew of male-led comedies and procedurals, while making it very, very clear where their network ranked this past season.
Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS
Glenn Geller

After a season at No. 1 among viewers both young and old this year, CBS did not shy away from bragging during its Wednesday afternoon upfront presentation.

Both CBS Corp. president-CEO Leslie Moonves and CBS entertainment president Glenn Geller smiled as they slung barbs at the competition for the amusement of the crowd at New York's Carnegie Hall. With a program that went light on data and big on trailers and talent, Geller joked that it's the "best BS you've heard all week." (He was speaking about the last two letters of the network's name.)

Here are six other things to know from the CBS presentation:



No, the Hamilton Spoofs Aren't Over
CBS became the fourth network of the week to do a Hamilton bit during its upfront. Moonves acknowledged his net's efforts were not the first, but, he cracked, "Come on, ours is the best." And in truth, it was, beginning with a taped introduction by Mr. Hamilton himself, Lin Manuel Miranda, who welcomed the crowd to Carnegie Hall by teasing that the network upfront there was the "second-hardest ticket" in town. What followed was an impressive, highly choreographed rendition with James Corden at the center. The well-received spoof included such lines as, "We just want your Hamiltons."

Stephen Who?
As you may recall, last year's CBS upfront was all about Stephen Colbert. This year? It was all about Corden. As media buyers filed into the theater, the big screen flashed images and stats about Corden's viral bit, Carpool Karaoke. The presentation began with Carpool footage (featuring Adele, Sia, Bieber) followed by a largely amusing Carpool segment with Corden and CBS sales chief JoAnn Ross. Minutes later, the 12:30 a.m. star had moved from screen to stage, with that Hamilton song-and-dance number. When Moonves joined him on stage, the CBS chairman showered his "late night and internet sensation" with praise, noting: "We love that guy." Who he didn't praise, or so much as mention: Colbert.

 

Fortunately, Glenn Geller Remembers
So Colbert was not forgotten, after all. An hour or so into the presentation, Geller called Colbert "one of the most innovative comedians" and then welcomed the Late Show host to the stage. Colbert noted his CBS series had been on the air for nine months already, but made no mention of the creative overhaul currently being overseen by new executive producer Chris Licht. Instead, Colbert used the upfront platform to serve up some jokes, many of them at Donald Trump's expense. "2016 was a big year for comedy, and if Trump wins, 2017 will be an even bigger year for tragedy," he said before reminding the theater that his show is one where politicians can come through and engage in smart interviews. His first night's guest was Jeb Bush, he noted, and he had him on for "12 minutes ... half of his entire campaign." Other Colbert guests have included Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Paul Ryan. Or, as he said to laughs, "It's a regular who's who of who you wish were running for president."

Speaking of Geller ...
Sure, this is Moonves' show, but CBS' new entertainment chief did get his first shot at Carnegie Hall. Geller trotted out with a self-deprecating "bald guy" joke before introducing the network's comedy-heavy fall schedule. In what is either a sign of confidence or a throwback to an earlier era, his network ran lengthy clips and then brought out each cast to say a few words about their respective shows. The stars seemed to garner more enthusiastic applause than the shows, particularly Kevin James, Michael Weatherly and the stars of The Big Bang Theory, who pitched titles for CBS All Access' Star Trek series. (Among them: NCIS: Star Ship.) Of course, it was The Great Indoors star Joel McHale who drew the biggest laughs — and a few "oooohs" — as he took a few not-so-subtle shots at his former home, NBC, which begrudgingly aired Community for several years. After suggesting he was thrilled to be on a network that would actually advertise his show, McHale joked that "CBS has it all: strategy, hit shows and, what do you call it — viewers."

Put Your Money on TV
CBS ad sales president Jo Ann Ross -- who came out on stage with fur coat, cane and "What's up, bitches" greeting -- promised media buyers gathered at Carnegie Hall that she would not pepper them with pie charts and bar graphs. "Out of respect for your time and your intellect, we're going to give you only one acronym: CBS," she said. "The C stands for cut and the BS is for all the bullshit you've already heard this week." Moonves, for his part, continued to poke fun at his network's competitors. Once again, he took ABC's Jimmy Kimmel to task for making the same "old" joke about CBS at ABC's upfront Tuesday: "It would be funny if we hadn't beat ABC in the (18-49) demo for the last nine years." Of course, Moonves also offered broad strokes about the strength of broadcast in general and CBS in particular. He pointed to "a clear shift" of ad dollars "back to TV" from digital, which has been plagued by questions about measurement, viewability and return on investment. Moonves concluded by contending that CBS would continue to be "essential" in an increasingly multiplatform world.

CBS News Has Found Its Groove
In a year when the volatile presidential primaries have dominated news coverage, CBS' news division got an enthusiastic endorsement from Moonves — via a shot at competitors. CBS News, he said, is the "place to go when you're interested in keeping up with the news, rather than just keeping up with the Kardashians." Moonves boasted that digital news network CBSN is attracting consumers 30 years younger than many linear cable news networks, though executives have so far declined to release any data about CBSN users. The numbers for CBS This Morning, however, are known, with the morning show having its most-watched season in 28 years. Moonves brought CTM co-anchors Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Norah O'Donnell — along with Scott Pelley and John Dickerson — onto the Carnegie Hall stage for a bow.

Keep up with all the renewals, cancellations and new series pickups with THR's handy scorecard and follow the pilot crop status here. For full Upfronts 2016 coverage, go to THR.com/upfronts.

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