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Two days after picking up 15 scripted shows, CBS is adding three new ones to its 2020-21 broadcast slate.
Handing out its first new series orders, the network on Friday added the Chuck Lorre comedy B Positive as well as Silence of the Lambs sequel Clarice and a reboot of The Equalizer. Additional series orders from CBS’ pilot crop are expected to come at a later date.
B Positive, starring Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) and Annaleigh Ashford (Masters of Sex), was the lone broadcast pilot this season to have completed production before the near-industrywide production shutdown amid the novel coronavirus. With the pickup, the multicamera comedy about a newly divorced dad in search of a kidney donor gives Lorre four shows on CBS: B Positive, Young Sheldon, Mom and the recently renewed Bob Hearts Abishola (all of them via the prolific producer’s Warner Bros. TV overall deal). Marco Pennette (Mom) penned the script and executive produces; Kether Donohue and Sara Rue co-star.
Clarice, which already had a massive series production commitment attached, is from one of CBS TV Studios’ top producers, Alex Kurtzman (the Star Trek franchise). The drama stars Rebecca Breeds (Pretty Little Liars) as Clarice Starling and takes place six months after the events in Silence of the Lambs. Kal Penn, Nick Sandow and Michael Cudlitz co-star in the series penned by Kurtzman and his Star Trek: Discovery colleague Jenny Lumet. The project is a co-production with MGM Television, whose parent company produced the Jodie Foster favorite. The pickup gives Kurtzman another show on CBS after Hawaii Five-0 wrapped its run this season. He also oversees all of CBS All Access’ Star Trek originals and the streamer’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. Secret Hideout’s Heather Kadin exec produces Clarice.
Rounding out the orders is the Equalizer reboot. Queen Latifah takes on the role that was originally played by Edward Woodward on the CBS drama that ran for four seasons in the mid- to late-1980s. (The Equalizer also was rebooted as two feature films with Denzel Washington in 2014 and 2018.) The reimagining will see Latifah’s character use her mysterious background and extensive skills to help those with nowhere else to turn. Chris Noth and Lorraine Toussaint co-star in the project from Castle creators Andrew Marlowe and Terri Miller. Latifah, John Davis, John Fox, Debra Martin Chase, Richard Lindheim (co-creator of the original Equalizer TV show), Shakim Compere and Liz Friedlander exec produce the series, which is a co-production between Universal TV and CBS TV Studios.
All three pilots had been considered strong contenders to score a series order, given that Lorre and Kurtzman are among the network/studio’s most valued producers and the title and star power that Latifah in a well-known format bring. Last season, CBS ordered eight new series (split evenly between drama and comedy). The network will return 18 scripted shows next season, with veterans Criminal Minds, Elementary, God Friended Me, Hawaii Five-0 and Madam Secretary all having ended their runs earlier this season. That would give CBS room for at least six new dramas and three new comedies if it wishes to keep its total scripted volume the same as this season.
Among the biggest questions in town is what the 2020-21 broadcast season will look like as the novel coronavirus pandemic has shut down production for two months already — effectively wiping out the traditional pilot season. With no clear indicator for when production can resume, the traditional September fall season launch is already in jeopardy. Sources anticipate a January launch could be more likely given the current state of the world.
While CBS is taking a very business-as-usual approach to its renewals and series orders, it’s unclear if the network’s total volume in terms of new series orders will be different this season. While many network and studio insiders are anticipating a return to production in July — around the time when most veteran shows return to work — a later fall launch date would likely mean reduced programming needs.
The news of the CBS orders comes on what typically is the busiest day of the year at broadcast networks — the Friday before upfronts. However, with traditional upfront presentations that were poised to take place next week canceled, the news cycle has been dramatically slower as each network takes its own approach to next season given the country’s uncertain landscape.
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