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James Hibberd

CBS: Enter the Grown-Ups

May 17, 2007 11:53 PM

Live at the Upfronts

I’m going a little easy on the CBS upfront because affable CW publicist Paul Hewitt wrote the script. To be clear, Paul hasn’t given me any insight into his process, but I can’t imagine there’s a tougher writing gig than coming up with jokes for Les Moonves, not to mention incorporating the various agendas of dozens of networks executives into a live presentation for thousands of ad buyers.

The affair was low-key. No song and dance – even for the musical “Viva Laughlin.” Earlier, talking to Moonves at CBS HQ, the media titan confessed he was worried people would say they were doing “Cop Rock” (1990, Bochco, singing cops, disaster).

As a person with a terrible memory who, weirdly, vividly recalls watching the “Cop Rock” pilot in slack-jawed wonder, the feeling I had watching gamblers break into song during the “Viva” clip wasn’t entirely unlike the sensation of seeing officers strolling through the precinct singing “He’s guil-ty.”

Aside from “Viva,” there was also vampire detective drama “Moonlight” (so cheesy it just might work) and comedy “The Big Bang Theory” … I’m tempted to dismiss “Theory” as another lame parade of sitcom sex jokes, but I have a theory of my own: Smart sitcoms don’t work. Everybody in the media and entertainment industry loves “Arrested Development” and “The Office” and “30 Rock” … which is why they underperform. Because smart people (smart people working outside of media and entertainment, at least) don’t watch many sitcoms. “How I Met Your Mother” is by far the funniest and most clever CBS sitcom on Monday night, which is why it generally gets the lowest rating. So, by that theory, “Bang” could be a hit.

CBS also showed a trailer for “Swingtown,” which played like CBS discovering the ‘70s for the first time. There’s shots of joints, 8-track tapes, pool parties and Dylan references, each played like checking off a list of ‘70s touchstones. All the characters are dressed like they’re at a costume party rather than actually inhabiting the period.

During the show, there was an inspired recurring bit riffing off the great YouTube clip of endless David Caruso one-liners from “CSI: Miami.” Caruso gamely introducing each night of the CBS schedule with a new, cheesy quip. And it was also nice to see Entertainment President Nina Tassler getting her claws out to rip buzz-heavy competitors who actually get lower ratings than CBS’s shows, such as “Survivor” vs. “Ugly Betty.”

“We like ‘Betty’ but the truth is ‘Betty’ is uglier than you think,” Tassler said. “It’s rating have fallen 44 percent.”

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