CBS looks for balance, safety in fall lineup

Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Last year at this time, CBS executives said they were looking to stir things up by taking a chance with unorthodox shows like "Viva Laughlin," a musical casino drama.

The series lasted just two episodes before it got yanked.

At Wednesday's CBS upfront press breakfast, there was no talk of edgy programming. Instead, network officials said they were seeking to balance their veteran procedural-heavy schedule with comedies and more character-driven series.

"We want to get back to great shows," said Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment. "We want to get shows that we know have the legs and have the potential to run."

CBS, which is likely to finish this season as the second-most-watched network, behind Fox, and is in a race with ABC for second place among adults ages 18 to 49, picked up two comedies and three dramas for the fall.

"Overall, the real goal of the schedule this year was balance -- balance of comedy, balance of drama," said Kelly Kahl, the network's scheduling chief. "Stability is important to us . . . But you also need to refresh your schedule and get some new product on the air."

One of CBS' biggest moves is on Wednesday nights, when it's trying to carve out a new comedy block by pairing "The New Adventures of Old Christine" with "Project Gary," a sitcom that stars Jay Mohr as a recently divorced dad trying to move back into the dating world.

The network is also hoping to solidify its Monday comedy lineup with the addition of "Worst Week," which centers on a bumbling magazine editor ("Jericho's" Kyle Bornheimer) whose efforts to impress his girlfriend's parents repeatedly lead to disaster.

CBS also added two new procedurals, but executives stressed that the shows, series in which the main story is resolved by the end, are more character-driven than its forensic series usually have been.

"If we're going to evolve the form, we had to try some new tones and some new styles," Tassler said.

"The Mentalist" stars Simon Baker ("Smith," "The Devil Wears Prada") as a onetime fake psychic now working as a detective with the California Bureau of Investigation, cracking cases through sheer intuition and infuriating his colleagues along the way.

In "Eleventh Hour," based on a British series, Rufus Sewell ("The Illusionist," "John Adams") plays a biophysicist who is called on by the government to investigate scientific calamities.

CBS' third new hourlong show, "The Ex List," is a comedy based on an Israeli program. Elizabeth Reaser of "Grey's Anatomy" plays a successful thirtysomething who is told by a psychic that she has only a year to find her future husband, whom she has already dated in the past.

Tassler said the network is continuing to develop pilots for midseason, and has already picked up one new drama that will premiere then. "Harper's Island" is a mystery about a group of wedding guests on a secluded island off the coast of Seattle who, one by one, are murdered. " 'Ten Little Indians' and 'Scream,' " Tassler summarized.

Woods' 'Shark' not on fall lineup

They say it helps to have friends in high places, but sometimes not so much.

When CBS announced its lineup Wednesday, "Shark" was not on it. It did not matter, apparently, that actor James Woods and CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves have been friends for many years: Woods' first TV series is gone.

But the highly energetic actor isn't taking it too hard, though he admits he'd like a better understanding of why CBS broke up with him.

"We're a little baffled by the decision, but we're very supportive," Woods said Tuesday. "None of us can figure out quite why. But we have no bad feelings. This show did an enormous amount for me personally. We all won doing the show."

Woods said he and the cast and crew were "very saddened" that the show didn't continue but were trying to be positive.

"I think probably the strike was as devastating to our future as it was to many other shows," he said. "It seems, in retrospect, not to be a very fruitful endeavor for a lot of people to be on strike. But particularly on us because our time slot had been moved against football for the first half of the season. And then we should have emerged and shown our strength in the second half of the season when the strike happened, so we never got a chance to prove our mettle."

As in all breakups, the key is acceptance and moving on. Woods is ready.

"I've been offered a couple of movies, and I'm very excited about that," he said.

CW has hype for familiar ZIP Code

A familiar tune pounded through the speakers inside the CW tent Tuesday evening:

Da na na na.

And everyone knew what it meant. The new "90210" era is upon us. Although we didn't get to see a trailer -- it hasn't been shot -- we did get treated to a promo shot modeled after the original title sequence.

The West Beverly High gang posed and frolicked: Shenae Grimes, Tristan Wilds, AnnaLynne McCord, Dustin Milligan, Jessica Stroup and Michael Steger. Exactly what would you expect of them when you hear "Da na na na." Fun. Sexy. Intriguing.

But no one, strangely, got more applause than the actress who plays the drunk granny, Jessica Walter.

As the promo ended, the crowd was warned by the "90210" tagline: "You wanna live in the ZIP, you gotta live by the code."

Univision staple to enter 2008

The Disco era is officially dead. That was the word from Univision's upfront on Wednesday at Frederick P. Rose Hall near Central Park.

One of the Spanish language station's signature shows, "Sabado Gigante," is getting a makeover for the first time in its 40-plus-year history. Next fall's show "El Neuvo Sabado Gigante" (The New Giant Saturday) will have its content and style updated from 1974 to 2008, according to the show's creative forces.

It's "going to be more gigantic than ever," said the show's creator and host, Don Francisco, who announced the modernizing move. He didn't stay long enough to dish how.

Later, Univision's chief operating officer, Ray Rodriguez was equally reluctant to offer details about the revamping of the game show/variety show/talk show.

"It's top-secret stuff," he said. "We are starting with a clean slate. Don Francisco wanted to do this. We think it will give us more opportunities for advertisers and other demographics."

The show will have a new digital-friendly look to appeal to the Internet generation and have a faster pace, Rodriguez said. "A more modern look. A little more Internet looking."


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