TCA: CBS tries to stay on top

CBSIt was CBS’ turn at the mic at the Television Critics Association press tour last Tuesday, and it featured a surprise cameo appearance from CEO Les Moonves, who filled in for Entertainment president Nina Tassler at the last minute.

Moonves didn’t really get into details regarding the retrans dispute between CBS and Time Warner Cable, hoping it would be settled. Unfortunately, CBS and TWC weren’t able to reach deal by a Friday deadline, and CBS took its signal off TWC systems late Friday afternoon, included CBS-owned stations in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas; and all of CBS-owned cable networks, including Showtime. In Kenosha and Pleasant Prairie, Wis., where Time Warner Cable is the dominant MSO, the signal for Chicago’s WBBM-TV was also pulled. As of this writing, the two companies remain at an impasse and CBS remains dark on TWC.

Moonves also addressed the Big Brother controversy, where several contestants have made racial and homophobic comments on the uncensored online feed and featured on the show. Moonves defended the show’s casting this season however, which is hosted by his wife, Julie Chen. “I find some of the behavior absolutely appalling” he told the critics at TCA. But he added the show “is reflective of how many people feel in this country.”

So far, backlash from affiliates (in the form of pre-emptions) and advertisers has been non-existent and surprisingly, there have been no protests from the likes of the Rev. Michael Pflager, the St. Sabina priest who led a boycott of Jerry Springer during its chair-throwing, fist-punching heyday in the late 1990’s (laughably, Pflager’s last gripe against a TV show was… The Bachelor.) CBS ought to consider themselves very, very fortunate.

Other things the CBS CEO talked about… the second season renewal of surprise summer hit Under The Dome; David Letterman’s job security (solid); on now former NCIS cast member Cote de Pablo: “We offered [her] a lot of money and then we offered her more money. We didn’t want to lose her.” Moonves was quoted as saying. He also agreed with collegue Bob Greenblatt’s comments regarding the lack of respect broadcast prime-time programs get as opposed to cable – though Moonves has a network called Showtime and is home to Homeland and Dexter.

As CEO, Moonves has done a great job keeping the network on top and reestablishing CBS as a solid brand name as opposed to the Laurence Tisch era of the late 1980’s through mid 1990’s, when the CBS name was tarnished thanks to the network losing football and several affiliates to Fox.

But WBBM-TV? Well, that’s another story….

On to the show panels: Robin Williams is back on TV on a regular series for the first time in thirty years with his new sitcom The Crazy Ones, set in a Chicago ad agency. Williams seems to be funnier on the panel than he was in the pilot, which was dinged by some for being unfunny and his lack of chemistry with co-star Sarah Michelle Gellar. McDonald’s is the focal point in one episode, but executive producer David Kelley said no money changed hands.

You can bet your Big Mac this series is going to be retooled midseason.

During the panel for The Millers, creator Greg Garcia was asked why the show has so many fart jokes? Garcia channeled Seth MacFarlane and said this: “We’re not going to do them every week, but fart jokes are funny.There’s really no arguing the fact that fart and shit jokes are funny and have their place on TV one in a while.”

Draw your own conclusions on that one, folks. Millers premieres Oct. 3 on CBS.

And speaking of crudeness, a CBS TCA panel isn’t complete without a show from Chuck Lorre. This time its Mom, a new comedy starring Ana Faris as a recovering alcoholic. Lorre said, via Deadline: “I wanted to tell a story about a woman starting her life over again and redemption and all those funny premises for a sitcom…This is a story that’s very meaningful to me. It’s about starting your life over again repairing the mistakes that you’ve done. Getting another start (is) very much a story of Los Angeles, even though this isn’t set in Los Angeles, because this is the city of second chances or fifth or sixth chances.”

The story of Los Angeles? Sounds more like the story of Chicago media has-beens, such as Mancow, Mike North, and Amy Jacobson. And the three of them in a sitcom would actually be funnier than Mom. Or not.

It seems out of place that CBS would air a serialized drama more suited for the other networks. But here’s Hostages from hotshot producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a fifteen-episode serialized drama which, according to him, is not a “miniseries”, as several critics put it at the tour. Producer Rich Eid said this is not about a show where people are held hostage the entire time, but “how these people are held hostage to who they are, to the decisions they’ve made, to the situation they are in.”

But the title seems to insist they are, and it could mislead viewers. Otherwise, this seems nothing more than a 24 knockoff, more or less.