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Safeguarding a Lead, But Taking Some Swings

STRATEGY: Fortify strengths including football and The Big Bang Theory, while taking a couple of shots at getting younger.

CBS, the most-watched TV network seven years running, had the least to gain from varying its upfront formula. So the leader played it somewhat safe—Carnegie Hall, a lineup of mostly returning shows—but delivered buyers a satisfying degree of stability as well as fresh material from Stephen Colbert (who takes over Late Show Sept. 8) and, oh yes, the Super Bowl.

“We have more [shows in the top 30 among adults 18-49] than NBC and ABC combined,” boasted CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves during the network’s annual press breakfast. “The idea of the ‘old fogey’ network should be put away forever.” NBC for the second straight year will take the adults 18-49 demo crown, though Moonves argued that win is a bit tainted.

“They had the Super Bowl this year,” he said, noting that despite the massive event, NBC barely eked out the win. “Guess who has the Super Bowl next year?” CBS will carry Super Bowl 50 Feb. 7. At Carnegie Hall, past Super Bowl MVPs were brought onstage amid gold fanfare and a trailer noting, for those unaware, the importance of the big game. But there were give-me-a-break titters in the audience when Moonves, ever the pitchman, urged buyers to “mark your calendars now.”

Super fare won’t just be next February. Supergirl, CBS’ first superhero show (at least in the color era), will anchor Monday nights. Nina Tassler, chairman of CBS Entertainment, said the show fits in at CBS because, “She’s the superhero next door.” The DC Comics adaptation will debut after CBS’ Thursday Night Football slate is finished, allowing for valuable promo opportunities during the eight-game schedule.

As it did last year, CBS will temporarily relocate The Big Bang Theory to Mondays during football, leading into new comedy Life in Pieces. The rest of CBS’ post-NFL Thursday will include Mom, Elementary and new comedy Angel From Hell, starring Jane Lynch.

The move of Supergirl to Mondays will make an all-drama lineup on that night, with Scorpion and NCIS: Los Angeles remaining in their same spots from this season. When the Superman-linked series makes its debut (likely sometime in November), it will go head-to-head against another DC Comics-inspired series in Fox’s Gotham.

CBS has also set its adaptation of Limitless (the pilot will feature Bradley Cooper, who starred in the 2011 film) for Tuesdays at 10 p.m. and another freshman drama, Code Black, for Wednesday at 10 p.m. CSI: Cyber will move to Sundays at 10 p.m., airing behind Madam Secretary and The Good Wife.

CBS also confirmed that procedural CSI will end its 15-year run with a two-hour movie on Sept. 27, with original cast members returning. Ted Danson will join Cyber following CSI’s finale.

With ABC and Fox having success this season in shows featuring minority-fronted casts, Tassler was asked at the press breakfast whether CBS would soon have its own minority-led series. “We are always open to whatever the demographic makeup of the pilots is—you see diversity across the entire schedule,” said Tassler, who noted Rush Hour, premiering at midseason, features African-American and Asian-American leads. “I can absolutely see it happening.”

Rush Hour and another new drama, the Criminal Minds spinoff Beyond Borders, will be held until midseason, along with returning series 2 Broke Girls, Mike & Molly, The Odd Couple, Undercover Boss and Person of Interest. Tassler said it has not been decided yet if this will be the final season for Person of Interest.