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Nets Prime the Pump

Broadcast networks unveil ambitious slates
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CBS
For a net that’s enjoyed success with high drama, ratings gold is Elementary.

In a development no one could have anticipated, the 125-year-old English detective Sherlock Holmes last week murdered Horatio Caine, and in so doing sentenced the hammy Miami cop to an eternity of syndication.

With very few holes to fill in its prime-time lineup, CBS last week opted to close the books on CSI: Miami after a 10-season run, thereby freeing up the Sunday 10 p.m. time slot for the more popular series The Mentalist. With Simon Baker out of the way on Thursday nights, CBS now has a plum spot available for its newest procedural drama, Elementary.

One of just three new dramas on the fall docket, Elementary is a postmodern interpretation of the Holmes-Watson mysteries. Starring Jonny Lee Miller as a detective struggling with drug addiction (recall that Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes was an uninhibited cocaine enthusiast) and Lucy Liu as the “sober companion” meant to keep him out of harm’s way, Elementary shares strands of DNA with the former occupant of the Thursday 10 p.m. time slot. Chief among these is Holmes’ flair for deductive reasoning and unconventional investigative techniques.

In an era of British leads, Miller may be the only Englishman who’s allowed to declaim his lines in his native accent. (CBS is all over the linguistic map. An Australian, The Mentalist’s Baker speaks in the standard mid-Atlantic accent, while Michael Emerson of Person of Interest is an Iowan who seems British.)

With the benefit of a Person of Interest lead-in, Elementary should have no trouble drawing a crowd. The broadcast competition on Thursday night amounts to ABC’s Scandal, which has drawn a consistent 2.0 rating in the 18-49 demo since it premiered in early April.

Buyers are particularly enthusiastic about Vegas, a period piece based on the life of Sheriff Ralph Lamb, a fourth-generation rancher charged with the unenviable task of bringing order to Sin City in the 1960s. Nick Pileggi (Casino, Goodfellas) wrote the pilot and is an executive producer of the series, which stars Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis. Vegas fills the Tuesday 10 p.m. time slot left vacant by the canceled Unforgettable.

“That one looks really good,” said a national TV buyer. “There aren’t too many 10 o’clock shows that are developed with a male audience in mind, and it’s going to run up against two really ‘girly’ shows. Private Practice is maybe three-quarters female and Parenthood is two-thirds. This could be big.”

While period pieces seem to have a hard time finding an audience on broadcast TV—Pan Am and The Playboy Club are only the latest in a string of historical dramas that failed to live up to the hype—Vegas appears to be that rarest of animals: a network series for adults.

According to Networked Insights lead analyst Sean Reckwerdt, CBS’ decision to deviate from its procedural-heavy model could prove to be a winner. “While there is not nearly the same amount of conversation as there are for the all the other networks, the Vegas conversation trends very positively,” Reckwerdt said, adding that viewers are eager to see Quaid square off against mob heavy Chiklis.

Having survived the battle of CSI spin-offs, CSI: New York shifts back an hour to the Friday 8 p.m. slot, where it will lead into the third new CBS drama, Made in Jersey. Starring Janet Montgomery as a street-smart Italian- American lawyer, the series will compete with a mixed bag of dramas, including NBC’s Grimm, Fox’s Fringe and The CW’s Nikita.

Given its unparalleled stability, CBS’ biggest moves have less to do with adding new series to the lineup and more to do with shifting established shows. Freshman phenom 2 Broke Girls will push Two and a Half Men from its Monday 9 p.m. slot, forcing Ashton, Ducky and the pothead kid to Thursday nights at 8:30 p.m. In reuniting Men with The Big Bang Theory, CBS programming chief Kelly Kahl said he has created a “super comedy hour.”

Men and Bang are the two highest-rated comedies on TV, but at the same time, both shows are getting long in the tooth. As such, the move to consolidate the ratings on Thursdays also presents an opportunity for growth on Monday.

Joining the powerhouse Monday night block is CBS’ lone new half- hour of the fall, the workplace/buddy comedy Partners. The new strip will lead into 2 Broke Girls, which closed out its first season with an average delivery of 11.3 million viewers and a 4.3 rating in the dollar demo.

CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves has never been shy about projecting his goals for the upfront bazaar (as in years past, he’s already proclaimed that his network will command double-digit CPM increases), but buyers strongly suggest that the market simply will not support that kind of extravagance.

“The speed of the market is closely aligned with how far apart either side is on a number,” said Chris Geraci, president of national broadcast for OMD. “There are expectations that won’t be realized, and that will probably take some time to set in.”

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