CBS Plays It Safe This Fall

Posted on July 10th, 2012 by Gary Cianciosi

It looks like CBS is playing it safe this fall. With only four new shows on the schedule, the network appears content to bank on the continued strength of its current prime time lineup. It’s a good bet, too, since there is no reason to think that once the dust settles, CBS won’t once again prevail as “America’s most watched network.” I hope for its sake, CBS is not playing it a bit too safe. Last year, CBS launched two bona fide breakout hits with 2 Broke Girls and Person of Interest (both, I might add, picked by your True Media critics). Plus, CBS found new life in a Charlie Sheen-less Two and a Half Men and in the process further solidified its stranglehold on Monday nights, while at the same time continued to establish a formidable beachhead on Thursdays, capitalizing on the lead-in strength of powerhouse Big Bang Theory. Heck, CBS even came dangerously close to wrestling away the all-important (to national advertisers) p18-49 demo crown from Fox.
Unfortunately, based solely on the four new pilots I viewed, I am not sure CBS will enjoy the same kind of mega success this year. I didn’t see anything I thought had true “breakout” potential. At best, I think we’re looking at a couple of time slot hits. Then again, CBS still has a killer schedule to fall back on, so a couple of time slot hits may be more than enough.
CBS is shaking things up on Monday night. In a smart scheduling move, 2 Broke Girls now lands in the pivotal 9 p.m. (ET) anchor slot, while the venerable Two and a Half Men slides over to Thursday where it follows The Big Bang Theory. The only problem with this plan is that Partners, the new show CBS has scheduled in the coveted hammock between How I Met Your Mother and 2 Broke Girls, is not very good. In fact, I dare say it almost makes the dreadful DOA stinker from last year, How to Be a Gentleman, come off as one of the funniest sitcoms ever. What’s even more perplexing is how something as vapid as Partners could come from the same veteran writing team that is responsible for Will & Grace, not to mention 10-time Emmy winning director, James Burrows (Cheers, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, Frasier, etc). The pilot is chock full of obvious, unfunny jokes and the entire affair is imminently forgettable. CBS must see something in this tired premise that I don’t, but if partners doesn’t get a whole lot funnier in a hurry, I seriously doubt it will still be on the schedule come October.
On Tuesday night, CBS rolls out new drama, Vegas. Of the four pilots I watched, this was far and away the most interesting. A period drama set in the 1960’s early days of Las Vegas and inspired by a true story, Dennis Quaid stars as cowboy turned sheriff, Ralph Lamb. Michael Chiklis co-stars as mob boss, Johnny Savino. The pilot moves along at a brisk pace and the show has a great look and feel. The dialog is crisp and there is plenty of action, but it is a bit violent at times. I did not expect to like this one (I’m not partial to crime dramas), but Vegas definitely held my interest and I’ll certainly check it out again in the fall. Following the always popular NCIS duo, I think CBS has a surefire time slot hit on its hands with this one. Going up against Private Practice and Parenthood, this is smart (and should prove to be successful) counter programming.

The most highly touted new drama on the CBS fall schedule is Elementary. Another guaranteed time slot hit, Elementary follows the white hot, Person of Interest, on Thursday night. This modern take on Sherlock Holmes finds the brilliant but flawed Holmes (fresh out of rehab) in New York City, where he has been recruited by the NYPD to help solve problem cases. Johnny Lee Miller stars as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu plays his sobriety coach, Joan Watson. Think House meets Numbers meets CSI and you’ll get the general idea. There is nothing new and exciting here, and IMO there is not a lot of chemistry between the two leads. The Watson character (at least in the pilot) is a total tag-along, with little to say and nearly nothing to add. Despite my tepid reaction to all this, as stated, Elementary is sure to be a big time slot. The entire Thursday night lineup is poised for dominance (at least until Idol rolls around in January) with the Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Person of Interest, and Elementary.

Last up for CBS is new Friday night offering, Made in Jersey. British actress Janet Montgomery, stars as Martina Garretti, a working class female lawyer from Jersey with a large Italian family who moves on up to a big-time NY law firm. I didn’t much care for the pilot. A plethora of characters (both work and family) are thrown into the mix at a break-neck pace, and we are supposed to believe that a new first-year associate is thrust into one of the firm’s most important high-profile cases a mere four weeks after joining the firm. The performances aren’t bad, but the pilot story left me cold. Sandwiched in between CSI:NY and Blue Bloods, Made in Jersey may be just compatible enough to stick around for the full season.
Editor’s Note: We did well with our picks last year for CBS, picking the 2 winners and  2 losers that were cancelled. We were off the mark on Unforgettable, Poppy Montgomery’s show that we thought had promise, but was canceled this year as well.
Update! Unforgettable was recently saved from the axe by getting a summer 2013 pickup for 13 eps. So the True TV panel was right on the money with the CBS shows last year.

And that’s our series on the new TV shows. So, which ones are your favorites? Let us know in the comments below.