Upfront Notebook: CBS Sticks With Successful Formula

Alan Cumming, David Letterman take the stage at Carnegie Hall
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CBS didn’t mess with a successful formula at its upfront presentation Wednesday.

First, network sales president Jo Ann Ross was introduced in a Cirque du Soleil-style video, urging clients to buy, buy, buy. On stage, Ross added a pitch for broadcast, noting “I was not hanging by a weak strand of cable.” Instead it was dependable network fiber. “You can always count on the power of broadcast television to never leave you hanging by a thread.”

Ross was followed by Alan Cumming of The Good Wife, who reprised his role as the emcee from Cabaret onstage, in the end revealing a CBS patch on his behind.

Then CBS CEO Les Moonves (pictured left) took that stage talking about the surprises at CBS. The surprise death of a character on Good Wife, the surprise retirement of its late-night fixture David Letterman (pictured right) and the network’s surprising win of rights to air NFL football in primetime on Thursday nights.

“This is the best era television has ever seen,” Moonves said. And while CBS execs still like their overnight ratings, more importantly all of the eyeballs that watch TV content are being counted, whenever it’s watched and on whatever device they’re watching. Silicon Valley is switching from making algorithms to developing TV shows. “They used to call us Old Fronts before they started doing exactly what we do,” he said.

Moonves brought Jim Nantz to talk football, then David Letterman, who said he’s been coming to upfronts for years, but never knew who the people in the audience were, or why they were there. He told a story about a 48-hour phone fight he had with Moonves and told a joke about a moth going to a podiatrist.

“Our world is constantly changing,” Moonves said. “But there are some things that never change. They never change around here because we have a commitment to quality and to you, our advertisers.”

Then he introduced CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler who introduced the new schedule.

Brad Adgate, senior VP, director of research at Horizon Media, said new shows appear to be right in CBS’ wheelhouse. Adgate said that despite all of the strategy and testing that goes into developing shows, two thirds of them still fail. Nevertheless, CBS’ dramas including Scorpion and Stalker, looked like they could be successful, Adgate said, with Stalker being the kind of show women in particular would watch despite its fear factor.

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