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CBS: Shaking Up Prime With ‘Big Bang’

STRATEGY: Grab the Thursday comedy mantle by moving Monday hit Big Bang Theory to anchor the night.

Traditionally staid CBS is making the most dramatic move for the 2010-11 TV season. Seizing the opportunity to take over the Thursday-night comedy mantle, the network will move current Monday-night hit The Big Bang Theory—which recently landed a rich syndication deal and is averaging 14.1 million viewers and a 5.3 rating in the 18-49 demographic—to 8 p.m. on Thursday. It will lead into the new William Shatner comedy $#*! My Dad Says.

“Nothing is setting the world on fire [Thursday at 8 p.m.],” noted Kelly Kahl, senior executive VP of CBS Primetime.

Formerly the time slot of iconic NBC comedy Friends, this fall Big Bang will go head-tohead with NBC’s Community, a promising comedy that is still a long way from hit status. $#*! My Dad Says, based on the Twitter phenomenon, will be competing against NBC’s 30 Rock.

The new romantic comedy Mike and Molly, from Two and a Half Men and Big Bang’s Chuck Lorre, will get the post-Men slot at 9:30.

Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, said there was nothing in Lorre’s contract that guaranteed him a lead-out from one of his hit shows. And she defended Charlie Sheen’s $1.2 million-per-episode contract extension with Men studio Warner Bros. Television, despite Sheen’s most recent brush with the law. “We value our stars and our actors,” Tassler said. “They brand their shows. And he is a huge part of [Men].”

CBS’ other big move is on Wednesday, with reliable reality performer Survivor moving to 8 p.m., followed by Criminal Minds and new legal drama The Defenders. The Criminal Minds spinoff starring Forest Whitaker is being held for midseason.

While Thursday dramas CSI and The Mentalist will stay put at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., respectively, the other CSI iterations will get bounced around the schedule. CSI: NY will move to Fridays at 9 p.m., between Medium and the new Tom Selleck cop drama Blue Bloods. CSI: Miami will move to Sunday at 10 p.m. New drama Hawaii Five-O will get CSI: Miami’s current slot, Monday at 10 p.m.

All in all, CBS canceled seven series, including The New Adventures of Old Christine, Gary Unmarried, Numb3rs, Cold Case and Ghost Whisperer. If the cancellations seem slightly brutal (and Tassler said many of the decisions were “emotionally diffi cult”), Kahl, the network’s chief scheduler, characterized them as Darwinian. “It’s what we like to call the network circle of life,” he said, adding that the shows that are moving have “very strong and loyal fan bases.”

The key to successful transitions, Kahl added, is not to wait until you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. “If you wait too long, you start a decline that’s hard to pull out of,” he said. “The second you stop actually programming a night or a time period, it becomes self-fulfi lling prophecy that you’re going to lose viewers.”

By now, it should come as no surprise that CBS executives used the network’s upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall to tout the power of broadcast television. But Moonves and Tassler made sure that advertisers gathered for the presentation knew that all broadcast is not created equal. Both took shots at NBC, and Moonves crowed about CBS’ consistently popular shows.

Tassler stressed that all of CBS’ new shows will have the benefit of strong lead-ins from established series: “We don’t have a million new shows, and we’re not asking any of them to be self-starters.”

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