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CBS: Scheduling For Strength

Complete coverage of the 2011 upfronts
The Best and Worst of Upfronts 2011
ABC: Lee Gets Network Laughing Again
Fox: 'In It to Win It' With Big Bets Like 'X Factor'
NBC: Greenblatt Wants To Find His New 'Voice'
The CW: Pushing for More Original Programming
Turner: Programs Power Through Upfront Clips Snafu
ESPN: Flexing Its Marketing Muscle
Upfront 2011 Marketplace: Wet Week Clears Way For Hot Ad Market

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STRATEGY: Protect new series by scheduling them out of established hits and move existing shows with loyal audiences in a bid to win more time periods.

In recent years, CBS has had that high-class problem come upfronts: Not enough shelf space on its stable schedule to launch many new shows.

This fall, the network will add fi ve new series—three dramas and two comedies—and schedule time-period moves for the flagship CSI show and buzzy drama The Good Wife to open up launch pads for the rookie entries.

The network is betting big on Person of Interest, a thriller from J.J. Abrams that CBS execs say tested better than any CBS drama pilot in the past 15 years. CSI will move up a night to make room for the new drama Thursdays at 9, where it will go up against established hits Grey’s Anatomy, Bones and The Office on the other nets. CBS execs say Person of Interest has a wider appeal than the network’s more traditional crime dramas, and they hope it will attract non-CBS viewers to the network on Thursdays.

Despite its schedule’s relative stability, CBS execs say they did see room for improvement on Mondays and Thursdays at 8:30, where freshman comedies Mad Love and $#*! My Dad Says were duds this year.

“Comedy was a priority,” CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler said of this year’s pilots. “We really wanted to develop strong signature CBS comedies, and we did.” In the fall the network will put its two new laffers, 2 Broke Girls and How to Be a Gentleman, in the open time period, leading out of How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory, respectively.

The detective drama Unforgettable will get a similarly strong launch pad in NCIS: Los Angeles when it debuts Tuesdays at 10. The Good Wife, which has occupied that time slot for the past two years, will move to Sundays at 9. “We’re excited to bring our most prestigious show to our most prestigious night,” Tassler said at the CBS upfront presentation.

But the legal drama will have its work cut out for it on the competitive night, where it will go head-tohead with the female-friendly Desperate Housewives and massive ratings of Sunday Night Football. Tassler says a change in marketing strategy will accompany the time period change to help The Good Wife build an audience on the new night.

Only A Gifted Man, a new medical drama from writer Susannah Grant, will be expected to be a self-starter, slated on Fridays at 8. And this fall, CBS will expand its commitment to scripted programming from Fridays to Saturdays—a night that is void of scripted originals on the other broadcast networks.

Again faced with that enviable problem of too many shows to schedule, CBS will put Rules of Engagement on to anchor the night, leading into encores of its comedies and crime dramas. Tassler saw scheduling Saturdays as an opportunity to get a loyal audience on a mostly abandoned night. “Wherever you put Rules on the schedule, people will go,” she said.

Also lending stability to CBS’ schedule is the fact that its top-rated sitcom, Two and a Half Men, will be back in the fall with new cast member Ashton Kutcher, though the creative details about his character remain unannounced for now. With the dramatic exit of its former star Charlie Sheen, there’s sure to be an initial curiosity tune-in; the key will be if Kutcher can keep the show strong through an entire season.

Echoing what many network presidents said on upfront stages last week, Tassler is saving some of CBS’ strong series for midseason. Robert De Niro’s rookie cop drama The 2-2 will be held for winter, and reality hit UndercoverBoss will be back for a third season at that time as well.

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