The Runway – CBS Upfronts: What Got Picked Up, What Didn’t, And Why

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I’ll give this to CBS: they are completely unapologetic. People say their shows are too white, don’t have enough female leads, that their dramas are too procedural, that their comedies are hacky. So what do they do this pilot season? Lean into their perceived failings, as if they’re strengths. If you go purely by Nielsen ratings, I guess they’ve done OK with that strategy to date.

Like Fox with baseball, the CBS schedule gets a bit screwed up by NFL football the first half of fall. They’re not being shy about trotting out freshmen series though. SEAL Team, Wisdom of the Crowd, 9JKL, and Me, Myself and I all launch at the start of the season. Only Young Sheldon and S.W.A.T. are being held until after the football contractual period ends, with the former having The Big Bang Theory as a lead-in, it shouldn’t suffer ill effects from a late launch.

Comedy

Young Sheldon was a straight-to-series, and it’s not surprising it’s getting paired with The Big Bang Theory, despite being a single-cam. I don’t often comment on trailers, but this one was a bit more poignant compared with expectations. I guess that’s good for preventing Sheldon overload, but will viewers put up with less laughs than the typical multi-cam they schedule after TBBT? They’ve squandered that timeslot advantage numerous times, so it’s certainly worth a shot.

9JKL had buzz throughout the pilot season. I’m assuming that mostly comes from the cast of the show. The plot and trailer look like a slightly more sophisticated take on The Millers, but not anything that is appointment television. The pairing with Kevin Can Wait seems appropriate. Me, Myself and I beat out Hannah Royce’s Questionable Choices for a slot on the CBS schedule. It’s a bit more high concept (like a comedy This is Us!) and more marketable than the latter, but the script and trailer don’t look like they fully realize the promise of the premise. Like with Young Sheldon, it appears they’re going for a little more poignancy than jokes at the pilot stage. It will be interesting to see how that evolves over time.

Drama

Ashish will be happy to see SEAL Team and S.W.A.T. on the small screen, as those were his two favorites for the greenlight. They both seem like competently done CBS series that should be relatively easy to publicize. Of the two, SEAL Team gets the better timeslot and lead-in (Survivor vs. a comedy block).

Wisdom of the Crowd feels on its surface like a number of other CBS series that only made it one season. Jeremy Piven is always interesting to see on the screen, and maybe he’ll bring some levity to a somewhat laughable premise. Sunday timeslots on network are getting increasingly competitive, particularly with cable siphoning off viewers, but an 8pm start with 60 Minutes lead-in might help this to work out.

The elephant in the room at CBS would be Star Trek, except they’re only teasing the premiere on CBS before jettisoning it to CBS All Access. Can they recoup lost advertising dollars by airing it online instead of on network? I’m not sure. Selling overseas should help offset production cost, but this is a bold play by CBS to see how devoted fans really are.

Overall

Things have been pretty steady at CBS for a while. This pilot season feels like about what you’d expect from the network. The lack of new multi-cams, outside of 9JKL, might signal a change of strategy, or it might just be how things shook out this year. Regardless, CBS needs more than anything else for competitive, interesting Thursday football games. Something they didn’t get last year, that killed them in the overall ratings more than any underperforming new series, such as The Great Indoors.


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Still quiet here.sas

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