New fall TV season: CBS brings back 'Two and a Half Men' and adds a few surprises
Welcome to CBS, the one network that isn't going to have a singing or dancing contest on the fall schedule. Or a scary serial with a fairy-tale hook, although the story behind the return of "Two and a Half Men" may qualify on that latter count.
Announcing its fall schedule in New York Wednesday morning, CBS stuck to its safe zone of comedies and scripted procedurals, even as rivals are banking heavily on talent shows such as Fox's "The X Factor" and NBC's "The Sing-Off." Three new dramas and two new comedies are up for the CBS fall slate, including the crime drama "Person of Interest" in the key 9 p.m. Thursday slot and the female-buddy sitcom "2 Broke Girls" leading in to "Men" on Mondays.
Schedulers tossed in a few surprises as well. "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," for years the bulwark of CBS' Thursday, will move to 10 p.m. Wednesday, where despite its age it's likely to help boost ratings on a tough night. "The Good Wife" moves from Tuesday to Sunday, where it will take on ABC's "Desperate Housewives" for upscale women viewers (in the fall, NBC has a lock on men that night with football games).
CBS will also gamely try to start a comedy block on usually sleepy Saturday nights by moving "Rules of Engagement" to the 8 p.m. slot -- a rare example of a network bringing original scripted programming to that night. It's also saving "Undercover Boss" for midseason, though its reality staples "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race" will continue uninterrupted.
Of course, all of this was overshadowed by the return of "Two and a Half Men," TV's No. 1 comedy, which was thrown into turmoil after star Charlie Sheen verbally attacked his bosses publicly and was fired earlier this year. Last week, the network announced that it had hired Ashton Kutcher as a replacement.
"We've had a little drama in our lives," CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves told reporters with deliberate understatement at a breakfast meeting Wednesday morning. "I've been chased from every restaurant in Los Angeles the past two months, avoiding questions."
But executives provided no new details about how "Men" will be reconfigured to accomodate the casting change. "All that is going to be revealed at a later date," CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler told reporters.
Tassler said that adding comedies and making programs that were more appealing to women were key goals for the network. Those were clearly the impulses behind "2 Broke Girls," the sitcom about two young women trying to make it in Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, executives said that "Person of Interest" -- a procedural drama about what Tassler dubbed "predictive crime analysis" -- drew the network's highest marks among test audiences for any drama pilot in 15 years.
"Test audiences liked what we liked," said Kelly Kahl, CBS' scheduling czar. "That's usually a really good sign."
"Unforgettable," another procedural drama based on characters with superior memories, was actually a development holdover from last season. CBS is hoping for a stronger ratings boost at 10 p.m. Tuesday, the old slot for "Good Wife."
"A Gifted Man," an uplifting drama about a hotshot surgeon whose life is changed after his wife dies, is targeted to kick off Fridays, while the new sitcom "How to be a Gentleman," set at a men's magazine, will get a lead-in on Thursdays from the hit "The Big Bang Theory."
Long the oldest-skewing network, CBS has made some progress in luring younger viewers. Executives have grown sensitive to familiar jokes that its schedule is loaded with crime shows for grandparents. Moonves referred sourly to such swipes delivered this week at presentations for NBC and ABC. (Fox still handily beats CBS among young viewers, thanks largely to "American Idol").
"Tell them to please look at their ratings," Moonves said with annoyance. "We're a little tired of those old-people jokes."
-- Scott Collins (twitter.com/scottcollinsLAT)
Photo: CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves. Credit: Julie Jacobson / Associated Press