Wednesday at the upfronts: CBS has a hit on its hands, if the response of advertisers in Carnegie Hall is any gauge. While the network has made much of its daring new series, the one that seemed to make the best impression was a traditional show in the benighted sitcom genre: The Big Bang Theory, from Chuck Lorre, the man behind Two and a Half Men.
The show is sort of Beauty and the Geek meets Three's Company, with the same jiggle-and-giggle tone of Two and a Half Men: Two nerdy geniuses with a hot babe across the hall. The audience lapped it up.
If you listen to CBS executives, the new program to watch is Kid Nation, a so-called reality show putting 40 unsupervised kids, ages 8 to 15, in a New Mexico ghost town for 40 days. They are supposed to set up a government with their own rules. (We'd make a Lord of the Flies joke, but it wouldn't be very original.) CBS says it's unique and uplifting. Based on the clips, it could be engrossing if you get past the cringe factor of watching overwhelmed kids dissolve into tears with no Mommy or Daddy around. (Based on the hate mail we've received when we've objected to certain films and video clips that involve kids, many of you are altogether impervious to that cringe factor.)
The advertisers seemed less sure about the edgy stuff. Oddest is Viva Laughlin, based on a British show called Viva Blackpool. Hugh Jackman produces and intermittently appears in this series about a gambling-club owner. The twist is music. The characters sing, mostly covers (the clips included "Viva Las Vegas" and "Sympathy for the Devil," and it sounded like the characters were lip-syncing).
Another one that's generated some chatter is Cane, a Sopranos-style show based on a Cuban family in Miami. It stars Jimmy Smits, who isn't Cuban but has been coached to talk like he is. CBS hopes the show will lure in the Latino audience. It's set for 10 p.m. Tuesdays, so the government can't complain about the violence.
Also at 10 p.m. for the midseason, there's Swingtown, which is about swingers in 1976. Will it work? Seemed a bit off-putting in a Big Love kind of way—and it's hard to look good in those outfits that once seemed so cool. The bigger question is, who is buying ad time on this thing? Even a guy from a beer company that we buttonholed seemed to have issues with the idea.
CBS put on a pretty flashy show. Once again, Les Moonves appeared in the role of Big Daddy at both the press breakfast and the presentation, referring to himself in both cases as "the warm-up act." Yes, Nina Tassler runs the network and Les has ascended, but he can never resist speaking "briefly"—in paleontological terms—at Carnegie Hall. The crowd still likes to see Papa and so do the reporters, whether they want to admit it or not. All but invisible, on the other hand, was the once-hyped Ms. Couric. If you looked and listened carefully, her image and name did flash by—barely.
Tassler talked so much about the "steamy" CBS shows that Gov. Schwarzenegger would definitely consider her another "hot Puerto Rican." Actually, she's part Puerto Rican, and apparently, she's hot in more ways than one. When a reporter asked at the breakfast whether she wakes up in a cold sweat, she replied that she wakes in a hot sweat for reasons unrelated to network business. That was a quip worthy of Les—if he were a woman of a certain age (as opposed to being a man of a certain age).
So, this is where our coverage ends. As the experience winds down, we are left with a few impressions. NBC said it was going to introduce only a few shows because marketing a lot is impossible. Or maybe the network's development just didn't pan out. Either way, there's a lot of pressure on those few new shows to perform for the last-place network. ABC is willing to take that marketing challenge, and we expect it will prove to be a big challenge. CBS is in an enviable position of not having to market a lot of new stuff so it can show off its wares.
We'd also say that high definition TV makes a lot of the talent who might otherwise pass as attractive look like freaks. The Screen Actors Guild should strike immediately to demand its abolition for all nonsports programming.