TV Upfronts: 7 Takeaways From the CBS Presentation
Leslie Moonves and his team peddle big comedies, knock rivals and trot out David Letterman, Robin Williams.
Madison Avenue buyers loaded into CBS' upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall Wednesday afternoon for a sell made easy. The network will round out the season as the No. 1 net in all key demographics. Most impressive is the 18-49 demo, which CBS overtook for the first time in more than 20 years. As CBS Entertainment chief Nina Tassler would later point out, CBS has hits in every key demo, on every night and in every genre.
Head honcho Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. CEO, couldn't resist taking his shots at the competition; their lesser ratings and more behind-the-scenes drama. "We think great drama belongs in primetime not at 7 o'clock in the morning," said Moonves as the screen showed stills of Ann Curry's tearful goodbye from Today and an embrace between NBC's Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno.
As part of the star-packed 90 minutes, the network also trotted out A-list talent including the cast of The Big Bang Theory, David Letterman and Robin Williams, star of the net's new Thursday night comedy The Crazy Ones. The former Mork & Mindy star observed that a lot has changed since he's been on television. Pitch meetings, he recalled, were "just a bunch of executives and a mound of cocaine" at that time.
Here are the seven takeaways from the CBS presentation:
1. Enough with the Old Jokes - Moonves is sick and tired of hearing competitors bash CBS as the "old" network. (Jimmy Kimmel got a big laugh about his "grandmother's Mentalist hemorrhoid doughnut" at the ABC upfront.) As Moonves pointed out, CBS will finish the season as the No. 1 network among the 18-49 viewers that the other networks covet for the first time since the 1992-93 season. "When making your buys," he told ad buyers, "please don't hold our youth against us."
2. Laughing All the way to the Bank - CBS' comedies played particularly well, reassuring for a network that has publicly stated that comedy was a major priority this development season. While Greg Garcia's The Millers starring Will Arnett and Margo Martindale drew the week's biggest laughs, Robin Williams' The Crazy Ones was a close second with the series set at an ad agency striking a chord with the Carnegie Hall audience.
3. Who Needs a Jimmy - After joking that everyone has a "Jimmy" but CBS, Moonves trotted out the host for whom he has and will continue to be committed: David Letterman. The mere fact that Moonves got Letterman to show up at his upfront presentation was impressive enough; but the CBS CEO did one better. He got the long-running late night host to stand before a theater full of advertisers and praise his network as well as his boss for offering him a stable home. The latter followed a lengthy, forceful hug by Letterman -- a move that garnered big laughs given the late night shake-up taking place at NBC. Of course, Letterman couldn't play it totally straight, which is why he closed out his brief appearance on a light note, telling Moonves that he was "honored to be here for your pledge drive."
4. One Year More - Lest the room needed a reminder of CBS' stability, the network opened the presentation with a tribute to it's long-running hit comedy, How I Met Your Mother. And with a ninth and final season forthcoming, it isn't going to go out quietly. The network turned to the dynamic cast for a taped parody of One Day More -- the second of upfront week! -- which the actors finished from the Carnegie stage. Of course, the HIMYM cast changed it to One Year More, and incorporated lines like "no one our knew our names, except for Doogie and that band camp chick."
5. About That Super Bowl Blackout - Now that the longest 33 minutes of his year is behind him, Moonves can laugh about it. Sort of. Extolling the success of the past year "when the true power of our network came shining through," said Moonves as a picture of the darkened Super Dome flashed on the screen, "well except for a few minutes at the Super Bowl." He added dryly: "Trust men it wasn't that funny at the time."
6. News is a Priority - CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley and CBS This Morning co-host Norah O'Donnell were on hand to talk up the third-place news division's rising ratings. And they used the opportunity to remind media buyers that CBS gets it right (a direct reference to mistakes made by other news organizations during coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing) by "verifying what we learned," said O'Donnell.
7. Smug Indeed - Kimmel may have been on to something. Twenty-four hours after the late night host jokingly dubbed CBS a bunch of "smug motherf---ers" at ABC's upfront presentation, Moonves stood on stage and touted his net's strengths -- and his rivals' weaknesses. At one point, he displayed a chart in which CBS outranks all of the competition this season by more than 4 million viewers. "I think its cute how all the other networks are so close together," he quipped of the lesser-watched nets. To make his case more succinctly, Moonves boiled it down in a single faux tweet. On the screen, @MoonMan1 had tweeted: "Upfront message easy. CBS wins everything. #DropTheMic." After the laughter died down, Moonves suggested he doesn't know what "dropping the mic" means but that NCIS: Los Angeles star LL Cool J told him it was "dope."