When they roll out their fall schedules, TV networks typically make their biggest headlines with new series. But CBS -- the only broadcaster to enjoy ratings gains in an otherwise glum television season -- on Wednesday raised eyebrows with gutsy moves for two returning shows.
The network will shift “The Mentalist,” television’s most-watched new show this year, from Tuesday to a prominent Thursday spot behind “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” And on Fridays, CBS will pick up the sixth season of the Patricia Arquette crime drama “Medium” from NBC, which had balked on a renewal deal, for the 9 p.m. slot.
The maneuvers showed how CBS was attempting to take advantage of NBC’s decision to give over its 10 p.m. slot every weeknight to a new talk show from Jay Leno. With “The Mentalist,” CBS is hoping to shore up its position on TV’s most lucrative night. The once-invincible “CSI” has tumbled in the ratings since the exit earlier this year of star William L. Petersen, and even before that the network has had difficulty finding a suitable lead-out program.
The Leno show, meanwhile, left little room on NBC for players such as “Medium,” which had been booked in NBC’s 10 p.m. Monday slot.
Indeed, the new time period for “Medium” is turning into a surprisingly competitive dramatic hour, after years in which CBS’ rivals mostly used Fridays as a dumping ground for reality series and drama castoffs. NBC is moving its cop show “Southland” to the slot to lead into Leno, and ABC is shifting “Ugly Betty” there.
“It’s just a huge sea change,” CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves told reporters at a Wednesday news conference, referring to NBC’s 10 p.m. shift. “There’s going to be more [audience] share at 10 o’clock for people who put on great dramas, and that’s what we do.”
Due to the strength of its existing lineup, CBS was able to keep its new program needs to a minimum. The fall schedule includes four new series, three dramas plus one comedy. However, one of those dramas, “NCIS: Los Angeles,” is a spinoff of the hit military crime show “NCIS.” CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler told reporters that the spinoff, which stars Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J, will have “the same sensibility” as the original, with the programs appearing back-to-back on Tuesday. The network is aiming to capture viewers not interested in the unscripted programming on its competitors. “If you don’t want to watch reality, we’re kind of the only game in town,” said CBS scheduling chief Kelly Kahl.
Beyond the “NCIS” franchise, though, CBS appears to be trying anew to get past the procedural shows that have brought high ratings but have also attracted criticism as being too formulaic. Following the “NCIS” block will be a courtroom-meets-family drama, “The Good Wife,” with former “ER” costar Julianna Margulies as a defense lawyer who reenters the workforce after her politician husband goes to jail.
Meanwhile, executives axed two crime dramas with still-sizable fan bases, “Without a Trace” and “The Unit.”
Another procedural crime show, “Cold Case,” will move back an hour, to 10 p.m. Sundays, to make way for a new medical drama about transplant doctors, “Three Rivers,” which Tassler praised for its “fresh young ensemble” and “very relatable theme.”
The sole new comedy is “Accidentally on Purpose,” which stars Jenna Elfman as a San Francisco film critic who winds up with an unplanned family after what was supposed to be a one-night stand. Tassler described the show as “a little sexy, a little in-your-face.” CBS will wedge the show into its Monday comedy block, between “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and a Half Men.”
For midseason, CBS also ordered the cop drama “The Bridge” and another medical ensemble show, “Miami Trauma,” plus a pair of unscripted programs, “Arranged Marriage” and “Undercover Boss.”
Surprise, you still have your jobs
It wasn’t until “Medium” show runner Glenn Gordon Caron (“Moonlighting” and “Now and Again”) and actress Patricia Arquette arrived in New York City on Wednesday morning, after a red-eye flight, that they were told that their 5-season-old series had been rescued by CBS. Of course, they both had heard the rumors yesterday that CBS was interested after NBC dumped the show about a psychic and her family, but they had no confirmation that their show was alive.
“If you make television shows in 2009, you’re always worried,” Caron said. “You’re never sure that there will be a place for your show.” Caron, who produced “Now and Again” for CBS in 1999, knew that his friend Moonves had always been fond of “Medium.” "[Moonves] has been an enormous friend and supporter and advocate of mine,” Caron said. “He’s always been interested in the pilot. We’ve all said, ‘Wouldn’t it have been funny if the show had somehow ended up on CBS at one point or another?’ This has been a five-year conversation.”
The million-dollar question remains: What happened at NBC? Two weeks ago, it seemed as though “Medium” was poised for renewal; then it was canceled by the network earlier this week.
At issue apparently were the number of episodes NBC wanted to order and the overall costs of the show, said Caron. Also working against the return of the show on NBC was the network’s loss of its 10 p.m. weekday time slots to Jay Leno’s new program.
-- Maria Elena Fernandez