CBS on Wednesday unveiled its first prime-time schedule in more than 20 years that did not have the imprint of its former chairman, Leslie Moonves, whose long iron-willed run at the company ended last year amid sexual harassment allegations.
In some ways, the program slate for the 2019-20 TV season maintains the formula that worked during the Moonves era with shows featuring familiar big-name TV stars such as Patricia Heaton and Paulie Perrette and bankable, well-known creators such as Chuck Lorre, who brought the network “The Big Bang Theory” and “Two and a Half Men.”
But there is also a stark departure from the Moonves house style, with nonwhites or women (or both) in lead roles in seven of the network’s eight new shows. For years, CBS has come under fire for a lack of minorities and women in leading and key roles.
On Wednesday, CBS executives touted “All Rise,” a legal drama with Simone Missick as a Los Angeles County judge. Dramas featuring a black actress in a central role have been rare on CBS. The last one in recent memory was “Extant,” a 2014 summer series with Halle Berry.
CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl, who presented the lineup at a news conference ahead of the network’s presentation to advertisers at Carnegie Hall in New York, said the casting was a continuation of efforts to improve diversity in its programming that began last year. The network’s top-rated new drama, “God Friended Me,” and comedy, “The Neighborhood,” both have black actors in lead roles.
But it was clear that Kahl’s team has turned it up a notch after a brutal year of scrutiny of the corporate culture for women and people of color at CBS amid the Moonves scandal. (Kahl had to spend much of his press session defending a decision to bring back the drama series “Bull” following revelations last year that Moonves authorized a $9-million payout to actress Eliza Duchku, who accused the show’s star Michael Weatherly of sexual harassment).
Privately, several CBS executives said there were a number of series and actors that would have been overlooked in the Moonves era, when a show’s potential with the network’s more traditional audience outweighed all other considerations, including diversity or inclusiveness.
David Nevins, the longtime head of premium cable network Showtime who became chief creative officer for CBS Corp. last year, said the development process at the network “is not a democracy” now, but is more open and collaborative than in previous years. Pleasing the strong-willed Moonves had long been the priority in the show-development process at the network, according to veterans at the network.
“It was a little bit of unleashing ‘Where do you think CBS should go?’” Nevins said of the new development process. “There was less sturm und drang and there was less tension.”
Thom Sherman, senior vice president of CBS Entertainment, said the network’s mission was to be “bolder, broader and more inclusive — we were looking for shows that appeal to the loyal CBS viewer, our bread and butter, but also shows that could push the creative boundaries of what we do [and create] some different flavors for the network.”
The CBS fall comedies include “Bob Hearts Abishola,” about a Midwestern sock salesman (Billy Gardell) who falls in love with a Nigerian immigrant cardiac nurse (Folake Olowofoyeku) who cares for him after a heart attack. Lorre is the show’s creator and executive producer.
“The Unicorn” stars Walton Goggins, best known for his work on the FX motorcycle soap “Sons of Anarchy,” as a widowed dad reentering the dating scene. The cast includes Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins and Omar Benson Miller.
Heaton — who has starred in two sitcoms, “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle” — takes on another one with “Carol’s Second Act.” She plays a 50-year-old retired teacher who embarks on a new career in medicine.
For midseason, CBS has “Broke” which brings back popular “NCIS” cast member Perrette as a single suburban mother whose estranged sister and brother-in-law moves in with her after the couple hit the financial skids. Jaime Camil, the Mexican actor known to fans of “Jane the Virgin,” and Natasha Leggero are in the cast.
Along with “All Rise,” CBS will add a new drama called “Evil” from Robert and Michelle King, the creative team behind “The Good Wife.”
It stars Katja Herbers as a skeptical psychologist and Mike Colter as a priest in training who investigate mysteries.
Falco, an Emmy winner for her role on Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie,” stars in “Tommy” as a former high-ranking New York City police detective who becomes the first female police chief of Los Angeles. The drama, set for midseason, “is a high-end premium feeling show,” said Sherman.
Executive producer Dick Wolf brings a new drama to the network, “FBI Most Wanted,“ a spinoff of “FBI,” the series launched on the network last year. Julian MacMahon stars as the head of a mobile undercover unit in the bureau in the midseason drama.
CBS is the most watched network, with more shows that are seen live by 10 million viewers or more than any other network. But all of the networks have seen viewership fall in the advertiser-coveted demographic of 18-to-49-year-olds as viewers turned to streaming for video entertainment.
Like the other broadcast networks, CBS is making limited schedule changes as promoting new series and time periods has become increasingly difficult in the age of proliferating viewing choices. The network concentrated its five new fall launches on two nights, Monday and Thursday, the latter being where its long-running hit sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” ran for years.
On Monday, CBS is returning its sitcom “The Neighborhood” at 8 p.m., followed by “Bob Hearts Abishola.” “All Rise” will air at 9 p.m. followed by the returning drama “Bull” at 10.
Tuesday is unchanged on CBS, with broadcast network TV’s most watched drama “NCIS” at 8 p.m. followed by second-year series “FBI” at 9 and “NCIS: New Orleans” at 10.
Reality warhorse “Survivor” is back on Wednesday at 8 p.m., followed by “SEAL Team” at 9, and “S.W.A.T.” at 10.
“Young Sheldon,” CBS’ biggest new comedy in recent years, will try to fill the role of the departed long-running hit “The Big Bang Theory” on Thursday at 8 p.m. “The Unicorn” will play at 8:30, followed by “Mom” at 9, “Carol’s Second Act” at 9:30 and “Evil” at 10.
Kahl was sanguine about the daunting task of “Young Sheldon” serving as a replacement for the mega-hit “The Big Bang Theory,” which ends its 12 season run on the network this week. “When we’ve lost a big show we’ve always had a good show to take the mantle,” he said. “’Young Sheldon’ has more viewers than any three NBC sitcoms combined.”