CBS Upfront: Lots Of David Caruso, Tearful Kids, The Obligatory Second Life Bit, And Enough Shrimp To Fill A Swimming Pool

(Am I the only one who noticed that CBS had 13 screens onstage at their upfront presentation? Maybe. A highly impressionistic account of said event, transcribed from notes scribbled in the dark yesterday at Carnegie Hall.)

Starts off with a musical number that reworks Sly Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”, new lyrics of which are helpfully flashed on screen so you don’t miss one wince-worthy phrase: “Let’s get interactive/Prepare to be engaged.” (which I somehow forgot to note as a potential cringe-inducing title for a book about marketing.) Chorus: “Thank you for choosing CBS again.”


Joanne Ross, CBS’ president of sales, shows up in the form of a Second Life avatar. Someone has to check to see how much Second Life traffic comes from execs using it for presentations at conferences and gathering like these.

CBS President-CEO Leslie Moonves comes onstage to the strains of “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing.” Says that current media environment is, well, letting CBS be itself again: “Niche properties brag about their tiny slices of the marketplace. We are the Big Ten.” Stands in front of screen emblazoned USER GENERATED CONTENT and shows a reasonably funny clip montage posted by one YouTube user, StewMurray47. StewMurray47, congrats, you’ve crossed over—although your description of said clip as “loads of the corny one-liners used by David Caruso” somehow didn’t get used onstage.

(Caruso’s one liners, punctuated halfway through with him [pregnant pause] dramatically putting on his sunglasses, are a recurring motif of the presentation.)

Les turns it over to CBS Interactive President Quincy Smith, who seems very smart, talks very fast, and wears sneakers with his suit. Touts the new CBS strategy to syndicate its content to tons of online video sites (notably absent: YouTube); talks about “open platforms, nonexclusive collaboration.” Interesting they’re featuring him so prominently. He got more stage time than Joanne Ross—in fact, this whole event was notable for how little talk there was about, you know, selling ads.

Back to Les. Who, with remarkable alacrity, turns it over to Nina Tassler, CBS Entertainment President. She touts their overall audience more than ratings in “the demo—that is, adults 18 to 49. (Although ratings in the demo are better than they’ve been.)

New shows:

”Big Bang Theory.” Sole new sitcom. Two hypernerds end up living across the hall from a single blond hottie. Hijinks ensue. Not good.

Cane. Hourlong drama starring Jimmy Smits; Florida-based Cuban sugar magnate family riven by internal tensions, warring brothers, mysterious outsiders holding long grudges. Or something like that. Godfather/Scarface-lite. (There’s no way they chose that title to avoid evoking Scarface.) In ouch-inducing moment, Tassler pronounces it “caliente.” Not good.

Kid Nation. “40 kids. One Town. No adults.” Said kids, oldest of whom is all of 15, are parachuted into ghost town in New Mexico to, uhm, form an actual working town. Actual gold stars (as in, made out of gold and allegedly worth twenty grand) awarded at end of each show. CBS reps strenuously stressing that no one gets voted off; kids can choose to leave if they’re miserable enough. Trailer is a total tear-fest. In fact, this appears to be a show in which there’s going to be at least one person onscreen crying at all times. I kept waiting for it to get all Lord of the Rings (UPDATE: yes, I meant Lord of the Flies); kids disappoint in this regard by saying unusually smart and insightful things. Attendees were wildly split on this one. (“If my kids started a nation—they’d be the Sandinistas,” said one; another thought it was the only other show besides “American Idol” that families could watch together.) For me, though, this totally balances perfectly on the fulcrum point between evil and genius. Brilliant.

Viva Laughlin: Guy starts casino in third-tier gaming town in Nevada. Has musical numbers. Ones in trailer are songs everyone knows (“One Way Or Another;” “Sympathy For The Devil”); weirdly, in some, stars just sing along to the recordings. With Melanie Griffith as a very rich woman apparently on the prowl, and a recurring role by “House” start Hugh Jackman. Who, when he appears onscreen to address attendees, does not look like House and speaks with his native accent, and is thus totally unrecognizable.(UPDATE: As a kind emailer points out, the reason Hugh Jackman looked nothing the title character on House is because because Hugh Laurie plays House.) Whatever. Apparently someone really misses “Cop Rock.” This looks awful.

Not on schedule yet: Swingtown. Sex, drugs, and wife-swapping … amongst your parents and their friends in the suburbs, circa 1976. (Questionable timing—shouldn’t it be set in 1972 or 1973?) Excellent period visuals: mustaches, cars, 8-tracks, smoking sections on planes. Otherwise looks decent; a slightly different take on a grown-up soap, with the potential for lots of, ah, plot complications, since they’re more or less promising that every adult character will sleep with every other adult character at one point or another. Attendees immediately start buzzing about how many CBS affiliates will find it too racy to run.

David Caruso comes out onstage, Tassler puts on her own pair of shades and … we’re done. Over to a massive, ultracrowded party at Tavern On The Green. There amid truly stupendous volumes of food—it’s a standard upfront joke, but you really would not believe how much shrimp there was—I am surprised to find that almost no one agrees with me on the new shows.

For what that’s worth.

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