TV Upfronts: CBS Execs Declare Midseason Dead, Stress Year-Round Strategy

"The September to May schedule doesn't quite work the way it used to," CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves says ahead of the network's upfront presentation.
Monty Brinton/CBS
Les Moonves

A blizzard of quality content and more viewing platforms than ever before have upended the TV business. And CBS executives made their own declaration Wednesday morning ahead of their upfront presentation. The network is officially retiring the term "midseason," CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler told reporters gathered at the company's midtown Manhattan headquarters for its annual pre-upfront breakfast.

Promising "more original content all year round," Tassler pointed to the network's upcoming Halle Berry miniseries Extant -- bringing the Oscar winner "to network television is a big event," she said.

And CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves, who as usual opened the presentation, reminded reporters that summer drama Under the Dome, which bows its second season June 30, was "the highest-rated drama this year."

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"That's pretty amazing," added Moonves, that "the highest-rated drama was on in the summer." (He of course meant in total viewers, acknowledging that NBC's The Blacklist was the highest-rated drama in the all-important adults 18-49 demographic.)

CBS' commitment to a year-round schedule comes after Fox Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly earlier this year declared pilot season dead, though that network still ordered plenty of them. It underscores the proliferation of high-quality original content available on broadcast, cable and increasingly streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon. And as viewers avail themselves of VOD platforms, Moonves said, "the September to May schedule doesn't quite work the way it used to."

(Moonves, always broadcast's biggest cheerleader, also stressed that more ad deals will have to be done on delayed viewing up to seven days, a point he'll no doubt stress in front of ad buyers at the network's Carnegie Hall presentation Wednesday afternoon.)

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For 2014-15, CBS has the early season advantage of eight primetime football games on Thursday night, which will afford the net a significant early promotional platform. As such, CBS will shift The Big Bang Theory, TV's top-rated show in the advertiser-desired 18-49 demographic, to Mondays at 8 p.m. where it will give Chuck Lorre's sophomore comedy Mom a lift. New drama Scorpion will bow at 9 p.m. and CBS will move NCIS: Los Angeles to Mondays at 10 p.m. -- a time slot that has been a trouble spot for the network, with recently canceled dramas Hostages and Intelligence both failing there.  

"We didn't do as well [Mondays at 10] last season as we would have liked," admitted scheduling chief Kelly Kahl. "We have pretty high standards." NCIS: Los Angeles, he added, will help to "get back in the game in a big way."

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Big Bang will move back to Thursdays after football ends in late October. And while CBS executives are pleased to have the NFL in primetime -- it's DVR-proof programming that also facilitates less need for in-season reruns -- Kahl noted that the network's strength is its stable entertainment lineup.  

"It's going to greatly enhance our lineup," Kahl said. "But it's not going to define us."

CBS will bow five new shows in the fall including the Tea Leoni-headlined Madam Secretary (which will be sandwiched between 60 Minutes and The Good Wife on Sundays), NCIS: New Orleans (Tuesdays at 9), Kevin Williamson's crime thriller Stalker (Wednesdays at 10), and new comedy The McCarthys (Thursdays at 9:30 after football wraps).    

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CSI: Cyber will air Sundays at 10 in the spring. Vince Gilligan/David Shore drama Battle Creek, Matthew Perry's The Odd Couple and multiple returning series including Mike & Molly and The Mentalist, do not yet have premiere dates. All in all, CBS will return 21 series to the schedule next season.

"For us," said Tassler, "it really is about having great content all year round."

And Kahl noted that while he "congratulates NBC" on "a great season," CBS has more top 40 shows in the 18-49 demographic than any other network. "In terms of entertainment programming, which is what is sold this week, we are right up there."

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And Moonves couldn't help but get a dig in about the other networks' upfront roastmasters, who lampooned the competition, and in the case of ABC's Jimmy Kimmel, his own network.

"It's sort of not fair," Moonves said. "I'm certainly not going to have David Letterman come out and put down the other networks. I like it much better when the executives put down each other. Although I found Kimmel's lines to be extremely funny -- and right on in many cases."

Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie