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In a Flyover State: An Eye for This Kinda Stuff

As the annual development crapshoot reaches its crescendo this week, I see some truths worth sticking to 5/14/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Thinking this is finally the year for the Chicago Cubs to win
it all. Sleeping with Colombian hookers on the government’s
dime. Punching fire extinguishers. Hiring Lindsay Lohan to
star in your new TV movie.

When you make those decisions, everyone
except you knows how they will turn out.

Then there are decisions that absolutely
no one—and I mean no one, no matter how
smart they are or how long they’ve been doing
their job—knows what the result will be.

Ladies and gentlemen: I give you the practice
of picking new TV shows to put on your

That annual development
crapshoot—to the tune of a
couple hundred million dollars
across the broadcast networks—
reaches its crescendo
this week across multiple stages
in New York. To get to this
point, some really, really smart
people used different combinations
of research, ego, black
magic, experience, alcohol,
gut instinct, fear, peer pressure,
drugs, tarot cards, prayer and
whatever else you can think of
to hammer out a fall schedule. And in the
failure-based business that is television, they
will be just as curious as you and I to see how
everything plays out.

Through all the uncertainty, however, I do
see some truths worth sticking to. Like for
NBC: Get rid of your whole Thursday comedy
lineup, and anything that looks like it.
If you follow Twitter, those shows look like
hits. But if you follow ratings, they’re the pits.
That comedic feel doesn’t work on broadcast,
and they aren’t selling in syndication, either.
I’m excited to see what highly regarded NBC
Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt has up
his sleeve for this fall. He probably has to get
some traction, or I’m guessing the “Bonnie
Hammer to the network” rumors will start
flying by November.

As for Fox, I’d also dump that “Fox attitude”
crap when it comes to comedies. When you
actually did, you came up with New Girl, which
last week completed the best season of any
comedy on television. Instead of cynical and
irreverent, it is funny and incredibly warm. It
is what Modern Family was before this season,
when the ABC show was still funny, before it
got a little meaner. Either way, New Girl is an
ensemble hit, with the upbeat and broader feel
Fox needs to fi nally grow up and embrace.

ABC has tons of struggles in the ratings to be
sure, but I like where they are headed. Revenge
is the soapy kind of stuff they should be doing
in drama, and their comedy development
wasn’t awful this year (I know, I know…Work
). My money is on Paul Lee to sort this out.

So what do you do? It’s simple. Look at CBS.
I’m like a broken record: On broadcast TV, if
you develop shows with the goal of getting
your pals in New York and Los Angeles to rave
about them, they are probably not going to
work. Get the 48-year-old women in Kansas
City on board? Game on. On broadcast, buzz
isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Making
broad hits and not getting fired.

Think there’s too many cop shows or lawyer
shows or those kinds of procedurals on the
air? Think big, dumb and funny is no way to
go through life as a sitcom? You’re wrong. Go
ahead and avoid them. At CBS they’ll keep saying,
“Thank you sir, may I have another?”

Believe me, CBS Entertainment president
Nina Tassler could go to a cable network like
AMC or Showtime and develop cutting-edge
stuff that would charm the pants off of Emmy
voters and be the talk of cocktail parties in the
Hollywood Hills and the Upper West Side. She
has that creative club in her bag. It’s just that
she and her boss are smart enough to keep the
cover on it most of the time.

From what I hear, the CBS upfront will be
just like the ones in past years: old school. And
guess what? As soon as it stops working, then
they should change it.

When it came out recently
that CEO Leslie Moonves pulled
down more coin last year than
the combined salaries of the New
York Yankees, Manchester United
and the entire continent of Asia,
some scoffed. I’m not sure why.
Sure, you could wonder why
he hasn’t yet diversified out his
portfolio by grabbing TV Guide
Channel (bad MSO deals) or
Hallmark (bad financial structure)
or launched his own new cable
network to leverage his library, or
say that buying CNET does not
a digital strategy make. But as far as recognizing
the media landscape today and creating and
preserving value for shareholders—all while still
being so hands on at the CBS network itself—it’s
mighty hard to argue Moonves isn’t the best at
what he does.

Oh—and by the way, CBS did not pitch
me this story. If you know me, you know I
don’t write columns off of pitches. Plus, one
of Moonves’ top corporate flacks is a devoted
Red Sox fan, and I started this column right
after Boston swept my Twins. So if anything,
just to piss him off right now, I’d like to write
a hatchet job—maybe even calling Moonves’
college degree into question. But what kind of
yahoo would falsify that?

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on Twitter: @BCBenGrossman