CBS has dropped two long-running dramas, "Nash Bridges" and "Diagnosis Murder," as well as its Wednesday night movie in a revised prime-time lineup that also pits a new unscripted series, "The Amazing Race," against NBC's "The West Wing."
Sources say the "Nash Bridges" cancellation happened in an unusual manner, with CBS actually wanting another season of the Don Johnson series but sister studio Paramount Television balking because of the high cost of producing the program, which exceeded $2 million per episode.
With "Nash" gone, CBS will seek to capitalize on ABC's decision to schedule "Once and Again" on Fridays in the fall--displacing "20/20"--by shifting "48 Hours" into that 10 p.m. slot, hoping to capture the news audience.
"We were surprised by the '20/20' move," CBS Television President Leslie Moonves told reporters Wednesday. "When they moved that, we jumped in."
CBS executives took extraordinary measures to keep their schedule under wraps until Wednesday's announcement to advertisers in New York, not even telling producers where their shows would be scheduled.
As expected, however, the network will move "Touched by an Angel" back to Saturday nights--where the show made its debut before becoming a major hit Sundays--to make room for "The Education of Max Bickford," a new drama starring Richard Dreyfuss as a professor at an all-female college.
CBS also left its Monday night lineup intact, meaning its two new comedies--"The Ellen Show," starring Ellen DeGeneres, and "American Wreck," with Daniel Stern as a newly separated dad--will be situated on Friday nights. CBS tried a similar strategy this season, placing sitcoms starring Bette Midler and Christine Baranski on Wednesdays, with disastrous results.
Moonves acknowledged the network was "throwing the dice" on Fridays, including the renewal of a moderately rated drama, "That's Life," which has played Saturdays this season.
A new drama, "The Guardian," about a Legal Aid Services attorney, will fill the hour Tuesdays between "JAG" and "Judging Amy," shipping "60 Minutes II" to Wednesdays as a lead-in for "The Amazing Race"--an around-the-world contest the network hopes will catch the fancy of "Survivor" viewers--and "Wolf Lake," a macabre drama starring Lou Diamond Phillips as an investigator looking into deaths in a small town where wolves live in human form.
Moonves noted that the only programs thus far to have much success against "West Wing" have been the Fox series "Temptation Island" and "Boot Camp," prompting CBS to try its own staged event in that hour.
For its part, Fox--which unveils its schedule today--is expected to place sitcoms at 9 p.m. Wednesdays, "Titus" and the new comedy "The Bernie Mac Show," and try to draft off CBS' audience by scheduling "Temptation Island II" on Thursdays at 9 p.m., hoping viewers will change channels for more of the same once "Survivor" ends.
Given CBS' inroads on Thursdays with "Survivor" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," the network opted not to gamble by scheduling the latter against "ER"--a move that was discussed. Instead, CBS will again try a new show titled "The Agency," featuring "Ally McBeal's" Gil Bellows as a CIA operative, against NBC's hit medical drama.
While "Survivor" has made CBS a formidable competitor on Thursdays, the network remains embroiled in litigation with contestant Stacey Stillman over charges that the original show was rigged--allegations that gained further attention when "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett publicly admitted that he had reenacted scenes using stand-ins.
Asked about whether he was concerned about those issues, Moonves said, "We trust Mark Burnett," and added that CBS hasn't "made any plans to change what we're doing."
The third edition of "Survivor" is scheduled to premiere in October, with a fourth competition to make its debut in March, after NBC broadcasts the Winter Olympics.
CBS' final new series, "Citizen Baines," stars James Cromwell as a former U.S. senator and is from "ER" producer John Wells, who will now have four series--including "The West Wing" and "Third Watch"--under his aegis.
Moonves said eliminating the Wednesday movie will make the Sunday franchise stronger because the network will have only one night to fill. NBC has removed a movie night as well, meaning producers of made-for-TV movies must increasingly turn to cable channels such as HBO, TNT and A&E. Regarding the demise of the genre on the major networks, Moonves added, "People are having trouble committing to longer periods of time."
Here is CBS' fall schedule (new programs are in bold):
Sunday: "60 Minutes," "The Education of Max Bickford," Movie.
Monday: "King of Queens," "Yes, Dear," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Becker," "Family Law."
Tuesday: "JAG," "The Guardian," "Judging Amy."
Wednesday: "60 Minutes II," "The Amazing Race," "Wolf Lake."
Thursday: "Survivor," "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "The Agency."
Friday: "The Ellen Show," "American Wreck," "That's Life," "48 Hours."
Saturday: "Touched by an Angel," "Citizen Baines," "The District."
Times staff writer Elizabeth Jensen in New York contributed to this story.