CBS Sets Sights on Sunday Nights

May 17, 2006  •  Post A Comment

CBS is replacing its “Sunday Night Movie” with stronger drama programs to challenge ABC’s dominance of the most-watched time slots on television.

The movie feature didn’t do as well as CBS had hoped against ABC’s lineup of shows including “Desperate Housewives,” CBS Corp. President and CEO Leslie Moonves said Wednesday at a press conference during the upfront presentations to advertisers in New York.

Mr. Moonves’s targeting of Sunday nights opens a new front in the scheduling battle between the networks. ABC earlier this week fired the first shot, challenging CBS’s Thursday-night supremacy by placing its popular media drama, “Grey’s Anatomy,” in the lineup for the night most prized by advertisers.

ABC’s strategy of moving “Grey’s” off of Sunday and NBC’s decision to pull dramas from its Sunday schedule to make way for NFL football will benefit CBS, Mr. Moonves said.

In terminating its weekly movie CBS ends an era in network television. Other networks had already done away with feature film nights as viewership declined. The “CBS Sunday Night Movie,” which most recently focused on event films, didn’t live up to its promise as a counter to ABC’s Sunday slate, Mr. Moonves said.

CBS Schedule:

Monday: “How I Met Your Mother,” “The Class,” “Two and a Half Men,” “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” “CSI: Miami”

Tuesday: “NCIS,” “The Unit,” “Smith”

Wednesday: “Jericho,” “Criminal Minds,” “CSI: NY”

Thursday: “Survivor: Cook Islands,” “CSI,” “”Shark”

Friday: “Ghost Whisperer,” “Close to Home,” “Numb3rs”

Saturday: “Crime Time Saturday” two-hour block, “48 Hours Mystery”

Sunday: “60 Minutes,” “The Amazing Race,” “Cold Case,” “Without a Trace”

The fresh competition for Thursday nights may force NBC to rethink its decision to air the new TV industry-themed drama “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” at 9 p.m., Mr. Moonves said. The fledgling show will have to contend with CBS top-performer “CSI” and ABC’s “Grey’s” in that slot.

“If I was [“Studio 60″ creator] Aaron Sorkin, I wouldn’t be very happy this morning,” Mr. Moonves said.

CBS plans to premiere four new shows in fall 2006, a relatively low number that reflects the strength of last year’s freshman series. The network will launch the new programs in “protected” time periods to give them the best shot at success, Mr. Moonves said.

While competitors saw the bulk of their rookie shows fail this season, most of CBS’s first season shows, including “How I Met Your Mother,” “Criminal Minds,” “The Unit,” “Ghost Whisperer,” “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and “Close to Home” will all be back for 2006-07.

In unveiling the new schedule to reporters, Mr. Moonves called CBS the “most stable” network.

The network will pick up four shows for mid-season, including the sitcom “King of Queens,” which was given a full 22 episode order. CBS ordered two new dramas and one new comedy for midseason runs.

The new dramas are medical drama “3 Lbs,” starring Stanley Tucci, and “Waterfront,” a drama about a mayor starring Joe Pantoliano. The comedy is “Rules of Engagement,” a show from Adam Sandler’s production company that follows two couples and a single guy through the experiences of dating, engagement and marriage.

Poised for a No. 1 win for the current season in total viewers, CBS is on track to come in third for 2005-06 in the adults 18 to 49 age group, edged out by Fox and ABC.

CBS is the fourth English-language broadcaster to present its fall schedule this week in New York. CBS Corp.’s new network with partner Warner Bros. Entertainment, The CW, and News Corp.’s Fox present their schedules Thursday.