CBS Pushes Comedy Stars Like It’s 1999

Kevin James, Matt LeBlanc to carry new sitcoms for this fall; network executives tout the Eye’s stability and top-flight programming

Why This Matters

New shows include human Swiss Army knife MacGyver; good cop-bad cop reboot Training Day; millennial-mocking The Great Indoors; competition series Hunted.

STRATEGY: Use relative lack of program churn to insert newbies adjacent to solid performers.

Monday night will be comedy night on CBS, and Tuesday will be as well. The network is doubling its sitcom load from last fall from four to eight, and leaning on a couple of eminently recognizable, if dated, names and faces in the comedy sphere to carry new concepts.

Kevin James, formerly of The King of Queens, again will play a henpecked working-class husband, this time with children, on Kevin Can Wait. Matt LeBlanc, once dimwitted Joey on Friends, stars in the Mr. Momesque Man With a Plan.

“Les Moonves gave me a job in a multicam comedy in 1994, and we had a pretty good run,” said LeBlanc of his time on Friends, which Warner Bros. hatched in another era.

CBS trumpeted The Big Bang Theory’s unique ability to grab huge hauls of ratings points; the gold standard comedy will lead into Kevin Can Wait before CBS’ Thursday Night Football campaign kicks in (sharing the package with NBC, CBS has five Thursday games), and then will lead into Joel McHale’s The Great Indoors. McHale portrays a rugged outdoorsman at an adventure magazine, managing sensitive digital natives.

CBS is ramping up its plans for CBS All Access, its bold play in the subscription video-on-demand space. A rumored spinoff of The Good Wife from Michelle and Robert King was confirmed, debuting in the spring of 2017 and starring Christine Baranski, while the debut of Star Trek arrives in January. Moonves, CBS chairman/president/CEO, teased a Star Trek clip at its upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall; the clip did not include actual action, but did showcase the new logo, which would have to suffice for the time being for the Trekkies in the room.

“Starting with these two, you can see we’ve created a wide range for CBS All Access,” said Moonves.

The chief executive hit on the usual CBS themes of stability and the continued power of broadcast television during the network’s sales pitch.

On the drama side, Pure Genius depicts a hospital with unique ways of treating the gravely ill, and MacGyver features the famed special agent’s son showing off the family skills. Bull stars Michael Weatherly, who recently departed NCIS; the legal drama, loosely based on Dr. Phil McGraw’s time as a trial consultant, will be nestled between NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans. CBS called the trio “highly compatible.”

Midseason shows include the Training Day reimagining, this time with an African-American rookie cop wary of a veteran detective, played by Bill Paxton, with little regard for the rules; and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.

The presentation kicked off with song and dance from late-night host James Corden, including a carpool karaoke segment with sales chief Jo Ann Ross, and then Corden, a veteran thespian, donning the Hamilton garb for a CBS-promoting satire. Moonves noted how the network’s spoof of the Broadway smash was better than NBC’s, which featured Jimmy Fallon in the colonial costume.

Glenn Geller appeared poised in his first upfront presentation as entertainment president. “Even with the new shows, we have the most stable and successful schedule on TV,” he said.