Stephen Colbert Scores With Advertisers in His CBS Upfront Debut

Comedian charms the Carnegie Hall crowd as network makes big plans

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Stephen Colbert's CBS debut couldn't have gone any better.

The comedian, who will succeed David Letterman when Late Show With Stephen Colbert debuts on Sept. 8, was the star of CBS' Thursday afternoon upfront presentation at New York's Carnegie Hall, held hours after the network announced its 2015-2016 lineup and made clear its intention to wrest the 18-49 crown away from NBC next season.

Those themes continued during the presentation, but the biggest news was that Colbert seemed to fit right in at his new home. He killed during his upfront appearance, first with a video showing the comedian the night he wrapped The Colbert Report deciding to find the real Colbert by going on a "voyage of self-discovery" only to get distracted by CBS programming. ("What? There's a CSI: Cyber now?")

He then charmed the audience onstage ("How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Turns out you take over a network talk show, and it's mandatory.") and joked that he'll be a perfect fit on the procedural-heavy network: "Most of my show will be me solving murders by zooming in on pubic hairs."

Colbert also paid homage to Letterman, saying that in tribute to the retiring legend, "We will do the best show we possibly can and occasionally make the network very angry at us." And, most importantly, he made a terrific impression with advertisers—or as he called them, his "adver-buddies"—promising that he'll go the extra mile to satisfy them: "You want young eyeballs and not just the kind Rupert Murdock buys on the black market."

Beyond Colbert's stellar debut, the network has plenty to be excited about next year. Putting together next year's prime-time schedule, which has few changes from last season, "was a lot easier than putting together the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight," said Les Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp.

After finishing just a hair behind NBC among adults 18-49 this season, the network has set its sights on winning the crown next season, thanks in large part to Super Bowl 50, which CBS will air on Feb. 7, 2016. CBS pulled out all the stops in highlighting what it said will be "the most historic broadcast event of all time," bringing eight Super Bowl MVPs on stage at Carnegie Hall, including Roger Staubach, Jerry Rice, Kurt Warner and Joe Namath.

Moonves also paid tribute to CBS News and saluted soon-to-retire Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer, who was on hand, making NBC the only network to snub its news division during upfronts.

Nina Tassler, chairman, CBS Entertainment, then unveiled the network's new series, noting that "CBS is the best environment anywhere to launch new hit shows." Of the five fall series she screened (the network didn't air trailers for midseason dramas Rush Hour and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders), the audience seemed most enthusiastic about its Modern Family-like comedy Life in Pieces, which will premiere after The Big Bang Theory—first on Mondays at 8:30 p.m. and then moving to Thursdays after Thursday Night Football wraps; Tassler called it "the best lead-in on television"—and drama Supergirl, which seemed like a departure for CBS but also unlike any other of the many superhero shows on the air.

Tassler called Supergirl "a show that could prove to be kryptonite for the competition" when it airs Mondays at 8 p.m. beginning in November—the competition includes fellow DC Comics series Gotham on Fox.

The network's other new comedy, Angel From Hell, starring Jane Lynch as a guardian angel who likes to drink during the day, seemed like it will appeal to Lynch's fans. It will air Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. beginning in November.

Drama Limitless (Tuesdays at 10 p.m.), which seems very on-brand for CBS, had a more polite reception, and response was also mixed on medical drama Code Black (Wednesdays at 10 p.m.), which seemed very similar to ER and Grey's Anatomy.

CBS kept its sales pitch to advertisers to a minimum. Jo Ann Ross, president, network sales, opened the presentation alongside her "doppelganger" Mayim Bialik, who was dressed as her Big Bang Theory character Amy Farrah Fowler. "Big data alone is meaningless if you don't have a big audience giving you access to those you want to target," said Ross, adding, "Broadcast television is the big bang, and CBS is the biggest." She also referred to CBS' recent report that it dominates among consumers but didn't oversell the point.

She didn't need to. Tassler, Moonves, Colbert and CBS' upcoming slate did all the heavy lifting for her. As Tassler noted, "It's going to be another big year for CBS."

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.