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

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and , contributors to The Tracking Board’s annual Runway series, have been dissecting the pilots, trends, networks and needs for the 2016 TV season. This week, in the midst of the network upfronts, they’re teaming up to discuss the latest updates to the fall schedules of NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, and The CW.

On Wednesday, it was The Eye’s turn to present their upcoming schedule to Madison Avenue. As the network took some heat for the lack of diversity – specifically a lack of female-driven series – president Glenn Geller defended the choices by reminding the audience that CBS is the home to Madam Secretary, 2 Broke Girls, and Mom. The pick-ups from CBS’s drama pilot development season include Bull, MacGyver, and Training Day. CBS’s comedy pilot development season pick-ups include The Great Indoors with Joel McHale, Kevin Can Wait with Kevin James, and Man With The Plan with Matt LeBlanc.

Check out all of the trailers from CBS’s upfront presentation and see how CBS’s Fall schedule is shaping up.

As for the pilots CBS picked up? Take it away, Andrew and Ashish…


Andrew: CBS got a little heat at the upfronts for its lack of diversity. Hard to argue with that. They’re safe and boring and pretty much the opposite of progressive. They’re also finally facing some Nielsen issues, with no more CSI and a repeated failure to leverage Big Bang Theory as a lead-in. Something’s gotta give at some point. That point, however, is not this year.

Let’s start with the dramas. Bunker Hill, now re-named Pure Genius, looks a bit manipulative and tech-heavy. But you liked the script. Thoughts on the trailer? MacGyver keeps the long hair & inventive escapes, but lacks the fun of the original, in my opinion. Any hope for future episodes?
 
Bull looks like it could have a fun central character. But as you pointed out in the script review, the first trial in this procedural looks lame and the reveal is incredibly stupid and cliched. That’s never good. Training Day looks… I don’t know. Bill Paxton seems like he’s trying too hard. If I’m being honest, I hate the look of the CBS pilots. It’s like they put vaseline on the lens and everything is fuzzy.
 
The comedies look exactly the way they looked on the page. The Great Indoors was an inevitable sitcom idea that had to make it on network TV at some point. Seems a bit too Joel McHale vs. Anonymous Millennials to get long term traction, but a midseason Big Bang lead-in should help.
 
Kevin Can Wait is what you’d expect a Kevin James comedy to be, which should be very good for its ratings. Man With a Plan is a weird one to watch, because they’re re-casting Jenna Fischer. I like her a lot, but I think multi-cam is not the best use of her talent. Besides that, it’s pretty much what you’d expect from Matt LeBlanc as a dad spending more time at home.
 
So Ashish, favorite drama trailer? Favorite comedy trailer? Best use of IP: MacGyver or Training Day? And am I the only one that thinks the camera lens they use on CBS dramas sucks?
 

Ashish: I’m setting all filters aside, Andrew. I haven’t seen the comedy trailers yet (did CBS take them down?), but the drama trailers sure had me giggling.  You’re 100% right about that camera lens. I’d also throw in music, SFX, and editing. Did CBS recruit the 1990s to make these?

One of my main issues with the Training Day pilot script was excessive dialogue, and man oh man, does that bring the trailer down. Y’know what’s more uncomfortable than watching Bill Paxton trying too hard? Bill Paxton trying too hard and talking too much. I like Bill Paxton, and this trailer made me sad. It won’t be long before someone on YouTube cuts him into a video with the High Sparrow and Lorne Malvo to create the dullest bachelor party on earth.
 
Pure Genius was confounding. 5 minutes 18 seconds, the first minute of which felt like an advertisement of Bunker Hill the facility, not Pure Genius the TV show. The drama doesn’t start until about a minute in. And Augustus Prew, who I thought was a good choice, simply doesn’t bring the energy that this role required. James was a charming, inspiring boss on the page, in spite of his illness. On screen, he looks incapable of leading this sort of enterprise. And you’re right on the money about the tech. Maybe CBS thought it’s selling a PBS documentary.
 
They should’ve taken 2 minutes off Pure Genius and given those to MacGyver, which felt…insufficient. I know the long hair was a given, but was it? Lucas Till looks just as tired as Augustus Prew. Is CBS making these young men feel old? You’re spot on about the lack of fun. I’m blaming it on the choice of foregrounding his war vet backstory, which immediately makes him feel “troubled.” MacGyver isn’t supposed to be troubled.
 
In spite of my initial reservations, Bull is certainly my favorite CBS drama trailer. Michael Weatherly seems to bring so much to that role that wasn’t on the page. But like you said, that first trial is lame. Plus, it looks like they haven’t yet built those supporting relationships, which could be problematic in the long run.
 
Let’s talk a bit more about comedy. Like I said, I haven’t seen the trailers, so I’m looking at these based on premise alone. Kevin Can Wait feels like a mashup of The Last Man Standing, The Real O’Neals, and of course, everything Kevin James. Good ratings, but could CBS have been more creative with its premise? The Great Indoors is the only one that makes me curious. Are we looking at the next The Big Bang Theory? Is CBS even trying anymore?
 
I just can’t comprehend CBS’ fall strategy, Andrew. American Gothic and BrainDead should’ve been on that schedule, according to me. What do you think?

Andrew: Maybe YouTube was doing you a favor with the comedy trailers. Joel McHale and Matt LeBlanc look like they’d much prefer being on a single cam show, which is understandable given their recent successes in that format. The Great Indoors can’t be the next Big Bang Theory because there is no Sheldon. Joel McHale plays it straight while the younger cast are all just a mishmash of Millennial stereotypes. That being said, it pairs up better with Big Bang as a lead-in than Life in Pieces did, so its ratings might be OK.

The Kevin James pilot is actually pretty strong given CBS’ core demo — the writing is sharp for a multi-cam, Kevin is giving it his all, and the audience seems to be into it. But if you’ve seen King of Queens, you’re basically getting a sequel to that.
 
Back to the dramas. Yes to the too much talking in Training Day. If Fargo was all about Lorne Malvo, it wouldn’t work. Less is more when you have a philosophical character who thinks he’s brilliant.
 
Maybe I’m showing my age, but I thought they cast too young with Augustus Prew (Pure Genius) and Lucas Till (MacGyver). I get that CBS wants to go after a younger demo (finally?), but casting young but making everything heavy-handed won’t accomplish that. And some of that medical technology in Pure Genius looked about as convincing as the technology in CSI: Cyber. I would have preferred a Real Genius TV show… oh wait, we already have that with Big Bang Theory.
 
As for BrainDead and American Gothic, I think those are supposed to premiere this summer, but I’m not sure why they’re not hyping them more at the upfronts. I guess they’ve already sold all the ads for those shows?
 
That brings up a good question though, Ashish — should CBS be doing more outlandish shows like BrainDead during the normal fall season? Are procedurals like MacGyver and Bull starting to feel like a relic from a different era? And why aren’t there any female-fronted dramas or comedies among this new crop of shows? The one really recognizable female comedy star — Jenna Fischer — they’re re-casting. Didn’t Mom and 2 Broke Girls show that female-led multi-cams can still pull decent viewership?
 

Ashish: These fall dramas definitely feel like relics, Andrew. Pure Genius is going up against How to Get Away with Murder, NFL, and The Blackliston Thursday nights. Shows like American Gothic or Doubt might have been a lot more competitive in that slot. Bull looks relatively secure on Tuesday night, though.

The lack of diversity is a bummer for sure. They do have Doubt with Laverne Cox lined up for midseason, but that could have been quite a headline grabber in the fall. Again, I’m not sure what the play is here. Maybe they want it to go up against Scandal. Not too bummed by the pass on Drew, because I don’t think the script was where it needed to be.
 
2016-2017 is going to be the first development season where Glenn Geller has control from the get-go, so maybe we’ll start to see some changes.

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Andrew Woodberry & Ashish Mehta | Contributors

is a freelance script reader, currently reading for a coverage company and a film financing platform, among other individual clients in the US and UK. You can find out more about his services at http://scriptexaminer.com, or write to him at scriptexaminer@outlook.com.

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Still quiet here.sas

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