Since 1996, CBS has unveiled its new fall prime-time program schedule at a news media breakfast in its storied Black Rock headquarters in Manhattan with CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves.
The annual event, known informally as Lox with Les, is a tradition during the week of TV network presentations for the advertising community.
But Moonves skipped the gathering Wednesday for the first time since its inception, when he was president of the network’s entertainment division, as the cloud of litigation hangs over the future of CBS.
CBS filed a temporary restraining order Monday seeking an injunction to block the effort of its controlling shareholder, National Amusements, and Shari Redstone to merge the company with Viacom.
The legal showdown could free CBS from the control of the Redstone family or eventually lead to the departure of Moonves, who has successfully led the company as a free-standing entity since it separated from Viacom in 2006.
On Wednesday, a Delaware judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent any changes to CBS or its board.
Moonves, who can be counted on to deliver blunt opinions about the media industry, and his advisors decided it was better to avoid the breakfast held before the presentation rather than face inquisitive reporters.
“Leslie sends his regards,” CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl told reporters at the event. “He always enjoys this breakfast and wanted to be here. But he said when the number of questions he couldn’t answer outweigh the number of questions he could, he thought it might be a good year to sit this one out.”
Moonves did not address the company’s issues when he took the stage at the upfront presentation Wednesday afternoon at Carnegie Hall. But the audience, which included a number of CBS executives, showed its support by greeting him with a standing ovation.
Clearly moved by the response, Moonves waved to the crowd before opening with the line, “So how’s your week been?” After a few brief remarks about the network’s performance and the resilience of the TV business, he turned the presentation over to Kahl.
Moonves’ decision to skip the breakfast shows just how combustible the boardroom brawl has become, creating uncertainty in the company’s management team, which is fiercely loyal to its leader.
But Kahl and Thom Sherman, senior executive vice president for CBS Entertainment, said the corporate legal machinations had no effect on putting together their schedule for the 2018-19 season.
“From our perspective it was business as usual,” Sherman said.
Kahl said that despite the distraction, Moonves was as involved in the show-picking process as he has been in past years.
Kahl presented his first prime-time schedule since being named head of entertainment for CBS last year. As the longtime head of scheduling for CBS, he was known for building prime-time lineups that could deliver large audiences even when the network’s development of new shows fell short.
Stability has long been the strength of CBS’ prime-time schedule — the most watched on television for 15 of the last 16 years, including the current TV season — and that remains the case for the new 2018-19 lineup.
Only Monday night, when CBS saw a dramatic decline in audience levels over the last season, is undergoing major changes. The night will lead off with two new comedies — “The Neighborhood” and “Happy Together” — followed by a reimagined version of the 1980s action-adventure series “Magnum P.I.”
“Bull,” which has drawn large audiences behind “NCIS” on Tuesday, moves to Monday at 10 p.m.
CBS has used “NCIS,” its top-rated Tuesday 8 p.m. drama, to launch new shows before and will do so again in the fall with “FBI,” a new procedural drama from producer Dick Wolf that will air at 9 p.m. “NCIS: New Orleans” returns at 10 p.m.
Wednesday will remain intact with “Survivor,” “Seal Team” and “Criminal Minds.”
The network is playing it conservatively on Thursday, keeping television’s top-rated new comedy, “Young Sheldon,” on at 8:30 p.m. with “The Big Bang Theory” as its lead-in instead of having it anchor another night.
“You want to give shows a couple years, give it time to grow to find itself,” Kahl said.
CBS is also protecting its revival of the 1990s hit “Murphy Brown,” broadcasting at 9:30 p.m. behind the returning sitcom “Mom.”
“We wanted to support it,” Kahl said. “You don’t take anything for granted these days. We want to make sure it doesn’t fade out after the buzz of the premiere.”
The network is returning “MacGyver,” “Hawaii Five-0” and “Blue Bloods” on Friday night. Saturday will have repeats of dramas followed by the true-crime newsmagazine “48 Hours.”
The network will give its post-“60 Minutes” time period on Sunday to “God Friended Me,” a drama starring Brandon Micheal Hall as an atheist podcaster who makes a spiritual connection on social media. It will be followed by returning shows “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Madam Secretary.”
Kahl believes the network has responded to critics who believe it has fallen short in the diversity of its shows’ casting.
Three of the new shows on the CBS schedule — “The Neighborhood,” “Happy Together” and “God Friended Me” — have African American lead actors. Jay Hernandez, the actor playing the new Magnum, is Mexican American.
We “told you we were going to do it, and frankly I think there were lots of eye-rolls,” Kahl said of CBS’ promise to diversify. “If you look at the schedule, we did what we said we were going to do.”