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CSI makes a return six years after the original series bowed out, and a new NCIS spinoff set in Hawaii will launch with the flagship show as its lead-in. Survivor is also returning after a year-plus off the air, and CBS is stacking three FBI shows on a single night.
The network is also part of a larger ecosystem at ViacomCBS — as evidenced by the move of two former CBS series, Evil and SEAL Team, to streaming platform Paramount+ in the coming season. (A third show, Clarice, is also likely to migrate to the streamer, but a deal hasn’t been finalized.)
CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl declined to go into detail about the decision-making behind the moves for SEAL Team (which will get a four-week run on CBS in the fall before moving to Paramount+) and Evil, but he told The Hollywood Reporter he sees an upside for the two series, both of which are produced in-house by CBS Studios.
“There are some win-win scenarios, and this feels like that to me,” Kahl said. “These shows get to continue telling stories, and they find a platform that’s probably a little better suited for the more serialized storytelling they do.”
In an interview with THR, Kahl discussed the network’s fall schedule, how it plays to what he sees as broadcast’s strengths and the toughest call he had to make ahead of Wednesday’s upfront presentation.
How do you and your counterparts at ViacomCBS determine what’s a CBS show versus what belongs on Paramount+ or another outlet? Are those conversations more detailed than they were a couple of years ago?
Our development is very much targeted toward CBS — that’s our sole responsibility. We’re very happy with what we’ve developed for the network this year. I do think there are going to be cases, both now and in the future, where we see shows that go on [the air], and after walking down the road a little bit, maybe we see it’s a better fit for another area of the company. But our focus is firmly on the broadcast network.
You ramped up your series buys a little — six this year versus four a year ago. Are there other factors to the uptick besides just seeing light at the end of the pandemic tunnel?
Last year was such an anomaly that it’s hard to compare anything. We had one pilot last year that was done [B Positive], and everything else was kind of educated guesswork. That said, we ended up with a couple great new assets out of it in The Equalizer and United States of Al. This year, we took a step closer toward a more traditional development cycle. I still don’t think we developed as much as hopefully we will going forward, since this cycle was a mix of things we rolled from last year and a few new things. Then we also went straight to series on several of these franchises. So it’s still a little bit of an outlier in terms of development, but I think the good news is we’re easing back toward normal.
Do you think the necessity of off-cycle development in the past year can become a more normalized thing in the future?
We’re always going to look at that opportunity. If there’s a reason why something comes in the door and there’s some urgency on it, and we don’t want to wait for the traditional cycle, we’ll always have that option. Everybody talks that game a lot, and the needle never seems to fully move that way. There still seems to be a cycle that moves around the upfronts, and I’m not sure that’s ever going to change fully. But I do think there’s a little more freedom to pick and choose.
How important is it to have Survivor back on the schedule this season?
It’s a show that’s so identified with us. It’s an anchor show. It felt like there was a hole in the schedule last fall, even as other shows were up and in production. They are back in production, and all reports are it’s going very, very well. We’re excited to get that back on as one of our anchors — and if you look at our Wednesday night now with Survivor on one end and CSI: Vegas on the other end, that’s a radically better night than it was a year ago.
Speaking of CSI, what was the impetus to revive it six years after the original series ended?
It’s a mixture of things. There’s certainly a bit of a nostalgia boom going on right now, and it was also the producers sitting up and realizing there were more stories to tell as the technology that was there when the show was on the air has evolved by leaps and bounds. That’s a lot of the fun they’re going to have with the show is we have some legacy characters and some new characters, and there’s going to be interesting comparisons to the way we used to do things versus the way we do them now. I think that’s really rich material, and at the end of the day I think people are going to be really interested to revisit some of these characters they love and meet some new ones.
Is it also a case where you can see people still coming to it, or coming back to it, on streaming?
It’s definitely part of it. That’s the underpinning of a lot of these franchises — doing a new NCIS, doing a new FBI, bringing back CSI. These franchises really work on three levels. They do terrific live numbers, they have significant delayed viewing, and they stream really well, both in the short term and long term. It’s always fascinating to me when you look at the top 10 or top 20 lists of these streamers, what do you see over and over again? You see a lot of broadcast shows. There’s something powerful about these shows that work on all levels. That’s what’s working on broadcast TV these days.
What was your toughest call in the run-up to this week, whether it’s a show you let go of or a pilot that wasn’t quite there?
The Unicorn was a tough one. It’s a show we all kind of loved, and with a terrific and amazing cast with Walton Goggins leading the way. There was a passionate group who really, really cared about that show. There’s one every year that kind of hurts, and I would say that’s probably the toughest.
NCIS has never aired anywhere other than Tuesday. What’s behind the decision to move it to Monday?
I look at it as a forward-looking move. Putting franchises together as we’re doing with FBI is certainly one way people enjoy watching TV these days, especially linear TV. It works, and it’s not new to us because we’ve used our franchises to launch other franchises over the years. So this move of NCIS to Monday lets us take a night that was doing OK but now kind of supercharge it. Dropping the number one scripted show on TV in the middle of a Monday night makes it an extremely strong night, and it gives us a chance to launch another piece of the franchise in NCIS: Hawai’i.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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