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CBS President Unveils Its Dramatic Fall Programs

Television: Leslie Moonves says the network will introduce three dramas and go after a younger audience.

May 23, 1997|GREG BRAXTON and JANE HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Proclaiming itself as the only true "broadcaster" among the TV networks, CBS unveiled its new fall lineup Thursday along with its strategy to expand its reach beyond its traditional older audience.

CBS Entertainment President Leslie Moonves announced that the network will introduce three dramas and three comedies to its prime-time schedule, as well as adding two veteran ABC comedies, "Family Matters" and "Step by Step," as the anchors to a new Friday comedy night that will do battle with ABC's successful "TGIF" comedy slate.

Another addition to CBS prime time will be a newsmagazine hosted by former "Today" host Bryant Gumbel. Moonves described the as-yet-untitled program, which will join CBS' "60 Minutes" and "48 Hours," as "controversial and different."

In a briefing with reporters in New York, Moonves said CBS was the only one of the three major networks that increased its ratings this year. CBS finished second in overall viewership, although it continued to run fourth among the 18- to 49-year-old viewers most prized by advertisers.

"I don't predict winning or losing next season, but I believe we can close the gap," he said.

The programming chief acknowledged that CBS' key goal with the new schedule is to attract younger viewers.

"We do have to go younger, but hang on to our core audience," Moonves said, adding, "With this lineup, we believe we are broadcasters in the truest sense of the word--more than any other network."

Moonves also noted that the network is scheduling "family-friendly programming" each night during the hour between 8 and 9. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 100 other members of Congress called upon the broadcast networks two weeks ago to return to "the family hour" policies under which they once operated.

The unveiling of CBS' schedule was the last in the networks' annual spring rite. With it, CBS showed a flair for the dramatic--literally. The three new dramas will bring its total in that genre to 12, more than any of its competitors. Ratings-leader NBC, by contrast, is going for a laugh-heavy schedule characterized by two-hour sitcom blocks Monday through Thursday nights.

CBS dropped one of its two movie slots, on Tuesday, to create a drama block.

One of those new dramas, "Michael Hayes," scheduled for Tuesdays at 9 p.m., will be watched closely by the industry. The series features former "NYPD Blue" star David Caruso, who left that series shortly after the first season in a failed attempt to become a major film star. And the new show, which features Caruso as a former cop turned federal prosecutor, is scheduled just before "NYPD Blue" at 10 p.m. on ABC.

Other new dramas include "Brooklyn South," an ensemble drama about street cops from acclaimed producer Steven Bochco, and "Dellaventura," starring Danny Aiello as a veteran police detective who becomes a private investigator.

New CBS comedies include "George & Leo," starring Bob Newhart and Judd Hirsch as a pair of mismatched in-laws; "Meego," featuring Bronson Pinchot as a space alien who becomes a nanny for three children; and "The Gregory Hines Show," starring the actor-dancer as a widower and father who reenters the dating scene.

Ordered for midseason is "Style and Substance," with Jean Smart as the driven host of a home cooking and entertainment show, and Nancy McKeon as her new producer.

Among the casualties of last season was "Ink," the comedy starring Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen. Moonves said putting together a new show was less expensive than keeping "Ink" on the schedule. But, he added, "it cost us emotionally."

Although the show improved over the season, it "had started behind the eight ball and couldn't get out of it," Moonves said, referring to the first batch of episodes that had to be scrapped when a new producer was brought in. He said that Danson and Steenburgen were "very gracious," and that he hoped to work with them again soon.

Also canceled were "Dave's World," "Orleans," "Temporarily Yours," "Moloney," "Feds," "EZ Streets," "Public Morals," "Almost Perfect" and "Mr. & Mrs. Smith."

Some of CBS' surviving comedies will undergo retooling. Moonves said there would be "some very serious meetings" about "Cybill," which he said had a "little bit of a rocky middle" during the season. And "Cosby," starring Bill Cosby, will add a 5-year-old boy to the cast. Some critics had said the comedy, which achieved respectable ratings but performed below expectations, lacked appeal for young audiences.

The CBS fall schedule, night by night:

Monday: "Cosby," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Cybill," "George & Leo," "Brooklyn South."

Tuesday: "JAG," "Michael Hayes," "Dellaventura."

Wednesday: "The Nanny," "Murphy Brown," Bryant Gumbel newsmagazine, "Chicago Hope."

Thursday: "Promised Land," "Diagnosis Murder," "48 Hours."

Friday: "Family Matters," "Meego," "The Gregory Hines Show," "Step by Step," "Nash Bridges."

Saturday: "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," "Early Edition," "Walker, Texas Ranger."

Sunday: "60 Minutes," "Touched by an Angel," "CBS Sunday Movie."

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