TV Upfronts: CBS Execs Plug Stability, Super Bowl and Stephen Colbert


The most-watched network peddled familiar titles and an entirely new late night lineup.

Madison Avenue buyers filed into CBS's upfront presentation Wednesday afternoon to hear a familiar pitch: CBS is the biggest, most stable network in television.

The Tiffany net will round out the broadcast season as the No. 1 network in total viewers for its 12th time in 13 years. "I love that stat," CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves crowed from the Carnegie Hall stage, before rattling off a few more. Among them: CBS was only 124,000 viewers shy of Super Bowl-assisted NBC in viewers age 18-49, putting it back at No. 2 in the key advertiser-targeted demographic. Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler came out minutes later to tout still more CBS-friendly statistics, stressing the network's breadth (it has 15 of the top 20 scripted shows) and consistency (the most watched net on six out of seven nights a week).

But Moonves also used the presentation to stress the network's commitment to a multiplatform approach, citing CBS All Access and noting that CBS has more viewers today than 10 years ago thanks to a plethora of viewing options. "That little fact shatters a lot of myths about network television," he said, having spent his morning press conference trying to shatter a few others.

The network's — along with the presentation's — jolt of something new came with a fresh late-night pairing, James Corden and Stephen Colbert, both of whom added star power to an otherwise low-key, snark-free hour-plus and earned hearty laughs from the crowd. Here are the takeaways.

Colbert Is Back ... and Still Hilarious 

Colbert likely dispelled any lingering doubts among media buyers about how he'll transition from the conservative blowhard persona he played for 14 years on Comedy Central with a funny, at times biting and humble monologue that included a couple zingers and an appropriate hat tip to his predecessor. “I can't believe I have the great good luck and enormous privilege to take over a show that was built 22 years ago from scratch by David Letterman,” he said. "The best way I can think to honor him is starting in September, we will do the best show we possibly can and occasionally make the network very angry at us.” Poking fun at the network's batch of crime procedurals, Colbert claimed his show will be “me solving murders by zooming in on pubic hairs.” And he promised media buyers “young eyeballs, and not just the kind Rupert Murdoch buys on the black market.”

Corden Goes Earnest, Gets Laughs

Tassler and Moonves seem genuinely thrilled with Corden’s first 26 shows, which, they reminded the audience, have birthed several viral hits, recurring bits (Tassler suggested she was ready for her turn at "Carpool Karaoke") and a wholly original vibe. But the earnest Brit came onstage with a different message: Late-night shows take time to find their groove, and his show will improve in the weeks and months to come. Then he began thanking his supportive executives, Moonves, Tassler and CBS TV Studios chief David Stapf, in a windup to a well-received joke about how Late Late Show was offered to him as a consolation after he failed to land his dream job: the starring role on CBS’ Supergirl. “I know what you did to get that role and it was disgusting,” Corden joked, with a head-nod to series’ star Melissa Benoist, seated in the audience. “We were asked to do stuff, and I didn’t do it because I have morals. Nina loved it, but …”

Supergirl, a Super Priority

Supergirl may have been iffy as it wound its way through the development process many weeks earlier, but no longer. The pricey DC Comics drama, which played well in the theater (and tested through the roof a week a week earlier in Los Angeles), scored a plum Monday night time slot, and a highly enthusiastic plug from Tassler. The superhero drama fits squarely into her desired female empowerment narrative. And she noted from stage: "She's our kind of supergirl." Of the other shows, Monday night comedy Life in Pieces played well, and a brief but strategic mention that exec producer Bradley Cooper would appear in Limitless earned predictable cheers from the female audience members.

The NFL Is Bigger on CBS

Football was given significant airtime and major superlatives during the presentation, with a lengthy promotional push for the network's coverage of the upcoming 50th Super Bowl, which is set for Feb. 7, 2016. Jim Nantz and Jim Brown introduced eight Super Bowl MVPs, including Roger Staubach, Franco Harris, Joe NamathEmmett Smith and Marcus Allen. Moonves also reminded media buyers that the “historic” Super Bowl will be the 19th time CBS has broadcast the big game, and his is the only network with two NFL packages, Sunday afternoon and Thursday night. “Having two NFL packages has been a huge strategic advantage for us,” said Moonves, explaining that CBS added 62 more original hours last season.