The upfront presentations of ’09 are done and we now know how the fall season has shaped up. There are a surprising number of new scripted shows and only one new reality entry: Shark Tank on ABC, a version of a British program in which entrepreneurs pitch ideas to investors.
We’ve offered a previous report on ABC, NBC, and Fox. CBS went last, so here’s a report on its presentation and some picks based on the always misleading clips shown at the upfronts:
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Modern Family, ABC’s new sitcom about an extended clan that includes an older dad with a very fine younger wife, may be too smart to survive.
CBS is the only network that could claim to have grown over the challenging past season. “Despite what you may have heard, flat is not the new up,” CEO Les Moonves told advertisers gathered at Carnegie Hall.
Moonves continued to insist that the business is not broken and, of course, he couldn’t resist taking a shot at his competitors. “There’s a big difference between the model being broken and not being able to find any hit shows for years,” he declared—and the audience of advertisers burst into applause. The CBS schedule has been called un-sexy (most recently in the Los Angeles Times) but Moonves had this to say: “When you come right down to it, winning is the only sexy thing out there.”
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Medical drama Three Rivers is one of CBS’ few new shows.
The network trotted out Mentalist star Simon Baker, so actually there was more than one sexy thing out there. CBS is moving his show to 10 p.m. on Thursday nights, part of Moonves’ plan to take advantage of NBC’s decision to schedule Jay Leno at that hour five nights a week. Thursday is television’s biggest night in terms of ad dollars, and CBS has wheeled over a pretty big gun to aim at its competitors.
One unexpected move came when CBS picked up Medium, the psychic show discarded by NBC. The show had caused heated conflict between NBC and the aspiring king-of-Hollywood, agent Ari Emanuel, over the number of episodes the network would have to order. CBS (which ordered a full season’s worth) mocked NBC for giving up the show when it draws higher ratings than others the network kept—specifically Southland, Law & Order, Chuck, 30 Rock, and Parks and Recreation.
That’s true, but NBC prefers to let go of an increasingly expensive aging show in favor of some new ones. CBS executives said Medium will go between their two Friday night dramas. “If Ghost Whisperer and Numb3rs had an offspring, it would be Medium,” top scheduler Kelly Kahl told reporters.
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Fox’ Family Guy spinoff The Cleveland Show may be funny enough to reach more fans than its predecessor.
CBS added only four new shows, and those are at the opposite pole from the weird fare that it tried last season. (Remember Swingtown and Viva Laughlin?) There’s an NCIS spinoff with Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J, and The Good Wife starring Julianna Margulies as that mysterious character: the wife of the disgraced politician. In this case, she’s a lawyer who gets back to work after the husband (Chris Noth) goes to the pokey. And there will be a medical drama called Three Rivers starring another sexy thing, Alex O’Loughlin ( Moonlight).
So, with the upfronts behind us, here’s my take on the shows that seemed the most fun to watch. (Bear in mind that based on the clips, I thought Bionic Woman was going to be a smash):
WANT TO CHECK OUT
NBC: Community, an ensemble docu-sitcom with Chevy Chase (but that’s not why it looks good) about a group of losers at a community college.
ABC: Modern Family, a sitcom about an extended clan that includes an older dad with a very fine younger wife, a gay couple that has adopted a Vietnamese baby, and your Middle American family with a dad that tries too hard to be cool. This show may be too smart to survive (and would fit in well with NBC’s comedy block).
CBS: Not that much new to pick from here. We’ll go with medical drama Three Rivers because America needs Alex O’Loughlin to be on television.
Fox: Sure, I’ll check out Glee, but The Cleveland Show, a spinoff of Family Guy, looks funny and broad enough to reach those who aren’t Family Guy fans.
NOT SO SURE
NBC: Day One, an apocalypse show. All stocked up with apocalypse, thanks.
ABC: The sitcoms that will surround Modern Family on Wednesday night, including: Hank (a sitcom with Kelsey Grammer—love him, but probably not in this); The Middle (sitcom with Patty Heaton—love her, but probably not in this); Cougar Town (Courteney Cox as a single mom dealing with aging—good premise but loses points for the revolting title).
CBS: Accidentally on Purpose (Jenna Elfman in a sitcom version of Knocked Up).
Fox: Hard to say whether there’s really something to avoid here. Both Past Lives and Human Target look like they could go either way.
Kim Masters is the host of The Business, public radio's weekly show about the business of show business. She is also the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everybody Else.