Dispatches From the Upfronts
Unlike unreasonably smug ABC and eternally cocksure Fox, CBS refrained from overtly mocking NBC during its Wednesday presentation at Carnegie Hall. Maybe the Tiffany Network made a conscious decision to keep it classy, or maybe its top bosses, grateful for God's mercy, made a principled decision to speak no ill of the wretched.
In any case, when it came time for Les Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp., to loosen up the crowd with a joke, he had bigger birds to roast than the Peacock. Moonves told us he was feeling bullish about all of CBS's properties in countries all around the world—"except for Greece, maybe." Though he got a strong chuckle there, Moonves lost a few people with a subprime-time quip: Some of his clients in the financial services sector were "looking for ways to buy and sell the same [ad] spot simultaneously."
Well, I thought it was funny. Do you think that's funny? Can we talk about what's funny? Can we get some guidance from Nina Tassler, CBS's president of entertainment? Introducing her two new sitcoms, Tassler had me on the edge of my seat: "You can't talk about what's funny without acknowledging …"—who could it be? Plautus? Molière? Don Knotts?—"… Chuck Lorre!" That's right, the Two and a Half Men creator—the guy who keeps Charlie Sheen in bail money—has a new sitcom. Titled Mike and Molly, it will chart the romance of two bright-eyed, blue-collared Chicagoans who meet at Overeaters Anonymous. I've seen an exclusive early draft of the episode in which Mike and Molly consummate their love: The fatty-fatty two-by-fours can't get through the bedroom door and so they do it on the floor. Sorry, but that rhyme is on the level of what the actual pilot will actually offer, with its lines about "hugging a futon."
CBS's other new sitcom, far less unexciting, is $#*! My Dad Says, adapted from a book titled Sh*t My Dad Says, which was itself adapted from the Twitter page "shitmydadsays." That is, if we take the instantly legendary story of Justin Halpern at face value, this is a show based on the cranky epigrams and pithy ramblings of a profane septuagenarian who has "welcomed" his twentysomething son back home: 3:04 p.m., Dec. 20, 2009: "Fine, let's take a vote. Who wants fish for dinner? ... Yeah, democracy ain't so fun when it fucks you, huh?"
It should be apparent that the original material required some massaging for its journey to the Thursday-night lineup of this most middle-American of networks. (On TV, the father will be moving in with the son, and he will be listening well when a lisping homosexual at the DMV tells him, "No matter how old your kids get, it's never too late to be a dad.") It should be more obvious yet that the casting department knew in an instant whom to speed-dial. In days gone by, when a great actor reached a great age—Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud come to mind here—he would take another go at the great Shakespeare tragedy about the mad king and his three daughters. In 2010, when a casting agent needs a great ham actor in his 70s, there is only one place to go, and $#*! My Dad Says is William Shatner's King Lear. The show's tag line seems to be, "The Shat hits the fan."
CBS has three dramas set for fall—The Defenders, which is about Las Vegas law-firm lizards; Tom Selleck's Blue Bloods, which is about an Irish-American police-department patriarchy in New York; and a remake of Hawaii Five-0, which is about to be huge. The ad guys were whistling its theme song all along the walk to the afterparty, which was held under a tent at Lincoln Center, where these little deep-fried mac & cheese thingies were the best hors d'oeuvres going.
Wiping the truffled crumbs of one such canapé from my mouth, I asked Shatner how he thought CBS should refer to $#*! My Dad Says on air. Moonves had told me that there was an "ongoing discussion" about whether they'd go with "Stuff My Dad Says" or "Bleep My Dad Says" or "[Bleeeep] My Dad Says," but the star wants to be very specific about the vague noun: "We say spit; why can't we say shit?" said Shat. "Shit is a very natural function of the body. We shouldn't discard it."
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.