CBS goes traditional route

Net's upfront different because it's normal

CBS on Wednesday gave advertisers what they've been craving so far during the annual upfronts: a return to normalcy.

The network unveiled the first fall schedule that seemingly bears no scars from the writers strike, along with new shows that return to the network's crime-and-comedy roots.

After taking a creative detour in the fall with such outside-the-box concepts as singing gamblers and vampire detectives, CBS is adding new two new crime procedurals, opening up another night of comedy and going after female audiences.

As promised, the CBS presentation at Carnegie Hall in New York offered no frills -- no gag reels, no Who concerts -- and touched on several media divisions under the CBS Corp. umbrella: radio, outdoor advertising, online, syndication. It began with CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves likening the company's assets to a symphony orchestra, a nod to the hallowed performing space.

Various CBS talent took the stage to represent different divisions, including talk show host Craig Ferguson (outdoor), daytime talk show host Rachael Ray (syndication), "CSI" creator Anthony Zuiker (online) and radio personality Adam Carolla.

CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler emphasized the fact that CBS was first to bring its scripted series back in originals after the strike to solid ratings and came to the upfronts with all of its pilots/presentations produced -- the only network to do so in the compressed post-strike pilot season.

"Our goal is to be out in front of everyone," Tassler said. "Rather than simply telling you about our new shows, we are proud to be able to show them to you today."

CBS presented footage from all its new series -- dramas "Eleventh Hour," "The Mentalist" and "The Ex List" and comedies "Worst Week" and "Project Gary"; the clips from "Worst Week" received a rousing reception from the crowd.

At these post-strike upfronts where actual footage of fall shows has been a rare commodity, CBS' fully stocked reel received high marks from advertisers.

"They gave a better sense of what the shows are," Starcom CEO John Muszynski said.

Given the network's success coming out of the gate quickly after the WGA strike, CBS is mulling the possibility of launching some shows before the traditional late-September premiere week, Tassler said at a news conference Wednesday.

She touted "Worst Week" and "Project Gary" as "two of highest-testing new comedies we've had in years."

"We've been looking to expand, to build out to another night ... and we had the goods to it this year," she said.

Single-camera "Worst Week," about an engaged couple, is a somewhat odd fit to CBS' multicamera Monday night lineup. It is believed that the rookie was given the prime post-"Two and a Half Men" slot as part of a deal that made the UMS-produced comedy a co-prodution with CBS Par.

Tassler outlined CBS' new emphasis on stronger female characters, with the female-driven "Ex List" replacing "Moonlight" on Fridays and drama "The Unit" adding a new female character.

"Women drive network television," she said. "Women watch our procedurals and comedies, and we wanted to build on that. We've added more female faces to the network."

Even during the development processes, the network looked at characters written as men and tried to see if they could be rewritten as women, Tassler noted.

"Ex-List" stars Elizabeth Reaser as a woman told she's going to get married in a year to a man she's already met. She then goes about contacting all her former boyfriends.

When asked how the show will last more than one season if her wedding is in one year, Tassler said, "Fortunes change."

"Ex List," "Worst Week" and "Eleventh Hour" are based on foreign formats, underlying the recent trend for the broadcast networks to go for pretested concepts.

As for the serialized midseason drama "Harper's Island," about a group of friends terrorized on an island off the Seattle coast, Tassler described it as a cross between "10 Little Indians" and "Scream."

Regarding the cancellation of fan favorite "Moonlight," she said the falloff suffered by "Jericho" in its second season was a factor in the decision.

"We had a very passionate fan base, and that's a good thing, but we had to make some tough calls," she said.

CBS is not launching any new unscripted shows in the fall, but it is shooting Mark Burnett's game show "Jingles," which could serve as a replacement.

Back at the presentation, without the CBS upfront staple -- a party at Tavern on the Green -- attendees awkwardly congregated in front of Carnegie Hall after the show, before spilling out into the street.