There was much that was familiar about CBS upfront presentation on Wednesday afternoon, including the location (New York’s Carnegie Hall), the pitch to advertisers (once again, it’s the most-watched network on TV in total viewers) and the mix of new shows (procedurals, spinoffs of popular franchises and broad-skewing comedies). But there was also huge difference this year: for the first time in two decades, the upfront did not include former CEO Leslie Moonves, who departed the company in September, after more than a dozen accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct.
The changes to the company’s executive team were addressed at the very beginning of the presentation by the network’s NFL announcers Jim Nantz and Tony Romo, who introduced the new lineup as if it were a football team.
That included an mention of Moonves’ replacement, Joseph Ianniello, whose acting CEO role was just extended through the end of the year, as CBS’ new “head coach,” to loud applause from the crowd of buyers and CBS affliate members.
As Jo Ann Ross, CBS’ president and chief advertising revenue officer, told Adweek last week, Moonves’ lack of presence at the company and the upfront doesn’t change its mission. Ross didn’t namecheck her former boss onstage, where she kept with the opening sports theme and appeared in costume: dressed up as a football quarterback, with a bedazzled helmet, jersey and sparkly boots.
But she did allude to the company’s eventful year: “It’s been a wild ride since we last met for CBS [and] for our industry.”
It took about 30 minutes into the upfront for Moonves’ actual name to come up. And when it did, it was as a joke delivered by Stephen Colbert, who said that he was given a stack of research ahead of the presentation about how well CBS performed this year, but that he didn’t have time to get through them all.
“So, I just read Bill Barr’s four-page summary. Turns out, Les Moonves: totally exonerated.” The audience gave him back some polite laughter. “I had to do one,” Colbert said, a bit sheepishly. One person in the crowd turned to his colleague and said, “Good.”
During Ross’ time on stage, she made a point to call out that unlike several of its competitors, who spent their upfront presentations talking about plans to roll out streaming services during the next year (including NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia), CBS has been in the streaming space for several years.
“Here at CBS we’re not crawling in the streaming space, we’re already running,” Ross said. “And we‘ve been ad-supported since we started five years ago. We’re also moving full steam ahead on addressable TV, helping target your customers at the household level.”
It’s something CBS hopes to do with its new fall schedule, which includes five new shows: three comedies and two dramas.
CBS aired trailers of most fall and midseason shows, and had cast members come out to speak about each of them. Two of the new shows elicited the biggest response from the crowd, including a comedy called The Unicorn about a man navigating love after his wife’s death, which kept the crowd laughing at several points during the teaser.
A new drama, called Evil, a psychological mystery from the creators of The Good Wife and The Good Fight, also resonated with the audience, making made attendees scream out in horror and jump in their seats.
Also debuting this fall is drama All Rise and comedies Bob Hearts Abishola and Carol’s Second Act.
CBS is rolling out three additional shows during midseason: comedy Broke, FBI spinoff FBI: Most Wanted and drama Tommy, starring Edie Falco.
The network also said that it was moving Big Bang Theory prequel Young Sheldon to Thursdays at 8 p.m. in the fall, replacing The Big Bang Theory, which will air its final episode tomorrow.
Speaking of Big Bang Theory, the show received a special sendoff during the presentation, as the cast came on stage for one final upfront appearance, after a special in memoriam-style video looking back at the series. The cast, and co-creator Chuck Lorre, received only the second full standing ovation of upfronts week (the female Olympians at NBCUniversal’s event were also greeted just as enthusiastically).
The Big Bang cast was moved by the response, including actress Kaley Cuoco, who seemed to wipe away tears. “This has been an unbelievable journey for us. We’re very grateful and we realize how lucky we are,” Lorre said.