Fall TV Schedules Aim at the Young and Restless : CBS: No. 3 in Ratings, Network Reworks Prime-Time Slot to Hook Viewers
On the heels of a surprisingly strong May ratings sweeps period, network doormat CBS on Tuesday unveiled a new fall schedule that changes the company’s prime-time image from older-oriented programs to shows blatantly aimed at younger viewers.
“Our mandate was simple,” said new CBS Entertainment President Jeff Sagansky. “Broaden our demographic base with shows that lower the average age of our audience and attract more family viewing in the 8 p.m. time period.”
Sponsors prefer younger viewers, especially 18 to 49 years of age. And nightly 8 to 9 o’clock series are geared to lure that audience for an entire evening.
Of Sagansky’s nine new series, six are scheduled in that 8-9 p.m. period. Network ratings leader NBC last week scheduled seven of its nine new shows in the same period, setting up a major battle for TV viewers in the coming season.
In a satellite news conference Tuesday, Sagansky said his old boss, NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff--who barely beat CBS in the May sweeps--told him of the fall competition:
“I came after you guys. I wanted to stomp you out before you got started.”
Sagansky moved Dan Rather’s “48 Hours” series from 8 p.m. Thursdays, where it faced NBC’s popular “The Cosby Show,” to 10 p.m. Saturdays, where it will go up against ABC’s “Twin Peaks” and two NBC comedies, Carol Burnett’s “Carol & Company” and a newcomer, “American Dreamer.”
“We felt we had to give an alternative to ‘Twin Peaks’ and the two comedies. I don’t think the competition’s nearly as tough (for ’48 Hours’) at 10 o’clock Saturdays,” said Sagansky, whose aggressive new management team took over five months ago at CBS, which has finished last in the ratings for three straight seasons.
Thus, “48 Hours” will replace “Saturday Night With Connie Chung,” which will switch to Monday nights at 10 p.m. with a new title, “Face to Face With Connie Chung.” With that new title, Chung improved her ratings dramatically during the May sweeps in two special outings following CBS’ Monday night, female-oriented comedies “Murphy Brown” and “Designing Women.”
Indicating Sagansky’s youth-oriented programming, he is replacing “48 Hours” as CBS’ competition for “The Cosby Show” with “The Flash,” an hour action-adventure series based on the comic book about “a reluctant hero with superhuman speed” and starring John Wesley Shipp and Amanda Pays.
(In a related move Tuesday, Fox Broadcasting Co. scheduled its top hit, “The Simpsons,” directly opposite “Cosby” in another move to shoot down the long-running NBC series.)
At CBS’ recent annual meeting, company President Laurence A. Tisch said that the network was a “total disaster” in prime time and that “we will correct it.” Sagansky noted Tuesday that four nights of CBS programming on the fall schedule will feature comedy--usually the basis of ratings success--compared to one night when the current season started.
CBS series canceled from this season include “Falcon Crest,” “Tour of Duty,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Famous Teddy Z,” “Normal People,” “Sydney,” “The People Next Door,” “Island Son,” “Wolf,” “A Peaceable Kingdom,” “Top of the Hill,” “Max Monroe: Loose Cannon,” “His & Hers,” “The Bradys,” “City” and “Grand Slam.”
“Newhart” was retired after its producers failed to come to terms with the network for next season, but star Bob Newhart will be back on CBS with a new series in 1991.
Sagansky said “Wiseguy,” an admired crime series, will return later next season, but the character of the undercover agent played by star Ken Wahl will leave the show after “the first two to four episodes” and be replaced by actor Steven Bauer.
Introducing his seven hours of new programming, Sagansky said, “If the May sweeps are any indication, the three networks are going into this fall bunched more closely together than they have been in years.”
Among his new series, he singled out for special praise “WIOU,” an hourlong drama about the news department of a struggling big-city TV station. Sagansky predicted that “it should be one of the most talked-about and critically well received new shows.”
With a cast that includes John Shea, Helen Shaver, Mariette Hartley and Dick Van Patten, “WIOU” comes from former NBC Chairman Grant Tinker, whose producing career has been marked by at least half a dozen series dealing with the media: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Lou Grant,” “WKRP in Cincinnati,” “TV 101,” the nonfiction television version of “USA Today” and now “WIOU.”
Here are CBS’ other new fall series:
* “Uncle Buck,” a comedy based on the film and starring Kevin Meaney as “an ill-mannered, irreverent uncle who acts more like a kid than a grown-up.” Audrey Meadows of “The Honeymooners” has a role as the grandmother.
* “Lenny,” a comedy with Lenny Clarke as “a blue-collar guy who’s always got an answer for all of life’s problems.”
* “Evening Shade,” a comedy with Burt Reynolds--whose “B. L. Stryker” series was just canceled by ABC--as a man who returns to his home town in Arkansas to coach the high school football team. The series comes from the creators of “Designing Women,” also set in the South.
* “Four Alarm Family,” a comedy with Gregory Harrison as a widower who has four children and is captain of the local firehouse.
* “The Green Machine,” an hour drama about a group of professionals who fight “threats to the world’s ecological balance.” Starring Gil Gerard, it’s been described an environmental “A-Team.”
* “The Hammersmiths,” an hour drama with humor that deals with “a large, boisterous family” in the Pacific Northwest. Lucie Arnaz heads the family, and Don Murray is the clan’s patriarch.
* “Over My Dead Body,” an hour murder-mystery that brings back Edward Woodward, former star of “The Equalizer,” as a burned-out crime novelist. The show was co-created by William Link, whose most famous creation, with his late partner Richard Levinson, was “Columbo.”
Sagansky said the coming season will be the last for Angela Lansbury’s “Murder, She Wrote,” CBS’ most notable entertainment success during its prime-time slump.
CBS’ mid-season backup series include “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill,” with Sharon Gless as a recently divorced public defender; a comedy from producer Norman Lear, about a man who marries a younger woman; an animated comedy, “The Family Dog,” from Steven Spielberg and “Batman” director Tim Burton, and the sitcom “Big,” based on the film.
Here is CBS’ full schedule:
Sunday: “60 Minutes,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “CBS Sunday Movie.”
Monday: “Uncle Buck,” “Major Dad,” “Murphy Brown,” “Designing Women,” “Face to Face With Connie Chung.”
Tuesday: “Rescue 911,” “CBS Tuesday Movie.”
Wednesday: “Lenny,” “Doctor, Doctor,” “Jake and the Fatman,” “WIOU.”
Thursday: “The Flash,” “The Hammersmiths,” “Knots Landing.”
Friday: “Evening Shade,” “Bagdad Cafe,” “Over My Dead Body,” “Dallas.”
Saturday: “Four-Alarm Family,” “Hogan Family,” “The Green Machine,” “48 Hours.”