No Major Hits or Misses As CBS Gets Critical Eye

Network, critics ponder life after Raymond at TCA

CBS' two-day portion of the Television Critics Association's press
tour last week generated some buzz with a handful of promising programs. While
CEO/President Les Moonves was mostly out of commission, other execs spoke of
the network's long-form strategy, its new series and its Monday-night comedy
plans, which include moving Two and a Half Men into the
critical spot once held by Everybody Loves Raymond. It was
also able to get some ink for its digital-media efforts and upcoming revamped
Emmy telecast.

Although none of it was earth-shattering, Chris Ender, who oversees
entertainment PR for the network, nonetheless deemed the event a success.
“I've seen press tours where some sessions were only half full and some
shows became hits,” he says, “and I've seen sessions where the seats are
full and the critics are engaged for 45 minutes and the shows didn't do so

With mixed reviews from the critics, the only certainty is that nothing
on the network's fall schedule generated “must-see” status the way
ABC's Desperate Housewives and Lost
did last year. But then again, critics saw promise in both of CBS' new
sitcoms, How I Met Your Mother and Out of
, while dramas like Criminal Minds got
some raves.

Moonves missed most of CBS' portion of the tour for practical,
tactical and logistical reasons, says Ender: “The practical is that he's
got a new, bigger job and can't be everywhere at one time. The tactical is
that, by having him up on the stage, the agenda gets shifted to things other
than programming at times. And the logistical is that he had a Viacom board
meeting in New York.”

“Reinforce Positive Thoughts”

Entertainment President Nina Tassler, for her part, asserted that the
broadcast networks have reclaimed the water-cooler buzz from cable, thanks to
ABC's hits and CBS' CSI and
Survivor. Tassler was asked about the decision to cancel
critical darling Joan of Arcadia, which is being replaced
in the lineup by Ghost Whisperer, the Jennifer Love Hewitt
starrer about a woman who can talk to dead people. One writer asked Tassler if
she agreed with Moonves' comments at the CBS upfront presentation in New
York, in which he said the network thinks talking to dead people skews younger
than talking to God.

“I wouldn't use those words exactly,” Tassler responded.
“Obviously, Joan was a very sad loss for us. We just
were not getting the audience back. And the truth is, anytime you put on a new
show in an existing time period, you're taking a risk.”

Beyond presenting programming and making some executives available to
the media, Ender insists, the goal of the press tour is to “reinforce
positive thoughts and change previous negative perceptions.”

How well CBS succeeds on those fronts won't be known until fall, when
reviews come out. While critics' predictions don't necessarily translate
into ratings success—many love Fox's Arrested
—it is hard to overlook the fact that they got behind
ABC's Housewives and Lost, the two
biggest new hits of this past season.

CBS highlighted its new and returning Monday sitcoms on the now
Raymond-less night and got decent critical reaction.
USA Today critic Robert Bianco says he's glad to see new
shows How I Met Your Mother and Out of
steer away from “the fat, dumb man with the beautiful
wife” format that seems to be a hallmark of CBS comedies. “I see promise in
both of those,” he says.

Mother, with former Doogie Howser,
star Neil Patrick Harris, helped itself with a strong panel
discussion at TCA. Charlie McCollum, a critic for San Jose, Calif.'s Mercury News, thinks it could be CBS' “best
hope” for Monday night: “I wouldn't be shocked to see it on at 9:00 by
the end of the season. I'm just not as confident in Two and a Half
as the CBS executives are.”

Plenty of Sci-Fi

Although some critics panned Out of
, the general feeling is the strong ensemble cast, which
includes Henry Winkler, will help.

The plethora of sci-fi shows on all the networks was a big topic, too.
“I think Threshold isn't badly done, but during the
session, the critics are even having trouble keeping the new sci-fi shows
separate,” says The Sacramento Bee's Rick Kushman.
“If we supposed 'professionals' can't keep track ... getting viewers to
hook on seems really tough.”

And no matter how hard CBS tried, it had trouble selling Ghost
. But as often is the case, a show ripped by critics could
still find an audience.

“It is just so laughably bad, it's off of the bomb chart even,”
says Bianco. “Which may mean that it does very well. It may tap into the
audience that has been waiting for CBS to give them the next Touched
by an Angel