Several networks have claimed that they are No. 1 in some demo or another during upfronts this week. Today it was time to hear from the only network that can believably make the claim of being No. 1 this year—CBS, which grabbed the season victory in the 18-49 demo most important to advertisers while continuing its total viewers win streak—as the network unveiled its fall schedule.
And CBS will try to stay on top next year with a big return to humor, scheduling eight comedies this fall, including new series with former sitcom stars Kevin James and Matt LeBlanc.
During a breakfast meeting with reporters, CBS Corp. CEO and chairman Leslie Moonves noted that CBS will finish the season No. 1 not just in total viewers (for the eighth straight year), but also the 18-49 and 25-54 demos. While the network routinely wins the season in total viewers, its 18-49 victory this year over NBC—which held the 18-49 crown for the past two season—is significant, as CBS is frequently dismissed by competitors as having geriatric viewers (most recently by Jimmy Kimmel during ABC's upfront yesterday).
As for other networks highlighting their success in specific demographics during upfronts, Moonves noted, "different people brag about statistics that they just made up last week."
Moonves joined the chorus of broadcasters who are swinging back this week at the debatable claims coming from digital companies. "There's a lot of stats that aren't true," said Moonves. "We see [ad] money coming back to the network. The bloom is off the rose [for digital]."
Cable isn't giving CBS a run for its money either, he added: "Basic cable does not have the reach or clearly the ratings that we do."
The CEO put in a plug for his network's morning news show—"CBS This Morning is for people who want to keep up with the news, not keep up with the Kardashians"—before passing the baton to CBS Entertainment president Glenn Geller and Kelly Kahl, senior evp, CBS primetime, to discuss the new schedule.
"Our development strategy this year was really focusing on comedy," said Geller, who took over last September for Nina Tassler. Added Kahl, "It feels good to get back to a better balance between drama and comedy."
At the beginning of the fall, The Big Bang Theory will again start the season on Mondays at 8, to help launch Kevin Can Wait at 8:30, starring Kevin James as a newly retired cop who is adjusting to family life. "We think we've found the perfect star to come back to CBS," said Geller. "It's exactly what you would expect from Kevin James."
Comedies will continue with Two Broke Girls and The Odd Couple (which moves away from Thursdays for the first time), while Scorpion slides back an hour to end the night.
When Big Bang Theory returns to Thursdays after Thursday Night Football ends, Kevin Can Wait will move to 8, and sitcom Man With a Plan—in which Matt LeBlanc spends more time with his kids after his wife goes back to work—will air at 8:30.
NCIS: New Orleans will move back an hour at 10 on Tuesdays, so that new drama Bull—starring Michael Weatherly, who just signed off of NCIS last night—can slot in between NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans. Weatherly channels Dr. Phil McGraw in a show based on McGraw's previous career, leading up a trial consulting firm. "He feels like the perfect kind of character for a CBS procedural," said Geller.
On Wednesdays, CBS is "happily not changing anything," said Kahl, with Survivor, Criminal Minds and Code Black. Code Black returned because it provided a 20 percent C3 bump, and its ratings were consistent from the second episode to the last one. "We won Wednesday nights with this exact lineup," said Geller.
Thursday Night Football will kick off the season, though CBS only has five games this season, down from eight games the previous two years. After football, Big Bang Theory will return to 8, and will lead into The Great Indoors, starring Joel McHale as an adventure reporter who is put in charge of millennials in his magazine's digital department.
Mom will remain at 9, followed by Life in Pieces, which won't have the advantage of Big Bang Theory as a lead-in this year. Ending the night is new drama Pure Genius, about a tech whiz from Silicon Valley hires a surgeon (Dermot Mulroney) to start a state-of-the-art hospital.
Fridays "is kind of our blue sky Friday nights, and it's getting a little more blue sky-ee," said Kahl, with MacGyver, a reboot of the '80s series, featuring Lucas Till stepping in for Richard Dean Anderson, starting the night at 8. Stalwarts Hawaii Five-O and Blue Bloods will follow.
Saturday will be repeats as usual, followed by 48 Hours. "Our shows repeat better. They're designed that way," said Kahl.
Sundays start with 60 Minutes, with NCIS: Los Angeles relocating to 8 from Mondays. Madam Secretary slides back an hour to take over The Good Wife's former 9 p.m. slot, and Elementary, which Kahl said was "the unsung hero on our schedule" because of its big delayed ratings boost, will end the night at 10.
Two new shows have been held for midseason: Training Day (set 15 years after the 2001 Denzel Washington/Ethan Hawke film. This time, Bill Paxton is the veteran detective and Justin Cornwell is the young African-American cop assigned to be his new partner as part of an elite LAPD squad) and Doubt (Katherine Heigl is a defense attorney who falls for one of her clients, even though he could be guilty).
One freshman show that won't be back on CBS next year is Limitless. "We're in discussions with other buyers at the moment," said Geller, adding that the show could "potentially" go to another network.
That's what happened with Supergirl, which is headed to The CW next season. "The ratings did start a little higher and they came down a bit. I think it found the right home," said Geller.
While most networks took only sporadic shots at their broadcast competition this week, CBS execs had a lot to say about the (poor) performance of their network peers. As he discussed the schedule, Kahl called out many so-called hit shows for their plummeting ratings during the season, including Blindspot, The Blacklist, How to Get Away With Murder and Quantico.
CBS Fall 2016-17 schedule (new programs in bold)
8-8:30 p.m. — The Big Bang Theory (until November)
8:30-9 p.m. — Kevin Can Wait (moves to 8 p.m. in November)/Man With a Plan (starting in November)
9-9:30 p.m. — Two Broke Girls (new time)
9:30-10 p.m. — The Odd Couple (new time)
10-11 p.m. — Scorpion (new time)
8-9 p.m. — NCIS
9-10 p.m. — Bull
10-11 p.m. — NCIS: New Orleans (new time)
8-9 p.m. — Survivor
9-10 p.m. — Criminal Minds
10-11 p.m. — Code Black
8-11 p.m. — Thursday Night Football (until November)
8-8:30 p.m. — The Big Bang Theory (starting in November)
8:30-9 p.m. — The Great Indoors (starting in November)
9-9:30 p.m. — Mom (starting in November)
9:30-10 p.m. — Life in Pieces (new time, starting in November)
10-11 p.m. — Pure Genius
8-9 p.m. — MacGyver
9-10 p.m. — Hawaii Five-O
10-11 p.m. — Blue Bloods
8-10 p.m. — Crimetime Saturday
10-11 p.m. — 48 Hours
7-8 p.m. — 60 Minutes
8-9 p.m. — NCIS: Los Angeles (new time)
9-10 p.m. — Madam Secretary (new time)
10-11 p.m. — Elementary
The Amazing Race, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, Doubt, Training Day, Undercover Boss