At CBS, The Turn Of the Skew

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, May 19, 2005; Page C01

NEW YORK, May 18

CBS, which will just barely miss a clean win this season among the golden 18-to-49-year-old viewers that advertisers pay a premium to reach, has canceled four of the five oldest-skewing series on its prime-time lineup for fall.

So long, "60 Minutes" Wednesday edition.

Heyyyyy, 18-to-49 kids: The "Out of Practice" cast includes Paula Marshall, left, Henry Winkler, Stockard Channing, Christopher Gorham and, standing, Ty Burrell. (Gale M. Adler -- Cbs Via AP)

Bye, bye, "Amy," "Joan" and "JAG."

(Oh, and "Listen Up" is gone, too, but that one was just bad. And low-rated.) They've been replaced by:

• Jennifer Love Hewitt as a woman who sees dead people -- and yet it's not a comedy.

• Carla Gugino -- you know, the one who got naked in "Sin City" -- as the head of a team investigating the arrival of aliens in the Atlantic Ocean. And yet, it's not a comedy.

• Jennifer Finnigan -- the one who played the crazy chick living in an apartment in New York with a dying clown -- as a hot suburban wife-mom-prosecutor who "tears away the facade of suburbia to reveal that sometimes quiet and tranquil streets can hide the darkest of crimes." And yet it's not "Desperate Housewives."

• Returning sitcoms "Still Standing" and "Yes, Dear."

"60 Minutes" Wednesday edition, the subject of much hair-tearing, chest-thumping, crow-eating and cable news blah-blah-blahing after the airing of its bungled Dan Rather segment on President Bush's National Guard service, has been scrubbed, CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves announced Wednesday.

Cue outrage from The Reporters Who Cover Media and stories drenched with irony about the newsmag that brought down Rather getting canceled in the final act of this sad CBS News tragedy.

Rather, who stepped down from the "CBS Evening News" right before an independent panel found the network did not authenticate the documents Rather's report was based on, will do work for "60 Minutes" Sunday edition and other CBS news projects, Moonves said during a morning news conference at Black Rock to unveil his new prime-time lineup. (The networks are presenting their fall prime-time plans to advertisers this week in New York in hopes they'll commit billions of dollars to their schedules in advance of their debuts.) Moonves insisted "60 Minutes" Wednesday edition was pulled because it was the oldest-skewing show on CBS's lineup, not because of the botched news report.

"It was a ratings call, not a content call," he said.

On the other hand, he's replaced it with the lamest of comedies, "Still Standing" and "Yes, Dear," which, as one reporter noted eloquently afterward, is like "peeing on the grave."

("You guys always dump on 'Yes, Dear' and yet you can't kill it with a stick," Moonves joked during his morning Q&A, urging journalists to keep writing about "how great 'Arrested Development' is," referring to the Fox comedy that is a darling of critics but no one else watches.)

With Wednesday's two-comedy block sliding from 9 p.m. to 8, that frees up the 9 o' clock hour for a new crime drama, giving 10 p.m.'s "CSI: NY" a better lead-in audience.

That new crime drama is "Criminal Minds." It's very "Silence of the Lambs," with FBI profilers who analyze the country's most twisted criminal minds, only it stars Mandy Patinkin.

CBS will again finish this season as the most-watched network in the country. More important to the network financially, it will narrowly miss beating Fox among the 18-to-49 crowd that advertisers covet. Minus Fox's broadcast of specials, like say the Super Bowl, CBS -- traditionally the oldest-skewing network -- would have won outright; Wednesday, during his presentation of his fall schedule to advertisers at Carnegie Hall, Moonves crowed that CBS won in the demographic among regularly scheduled programs.

In the morning he told reporters that yanking old-skewing series like "Judging Amy" and "Joan of Arcadia" will ensure the network finishes even stronger in the demographic next season.

Replacing "Joan" on Fridays at 8 is "Ghost Whisperer," in which Hewitt plays a woman who can talk to dead people and help them find peace or something like that. One reporter asked Moonves why he thought a show about a 25-year-old who talks to dead people would skew younger than a show about a teenager who talks to God. Moonves responded that dead people skew younger than God. Made sense.

Stepping in for "JAG" on Friday at 9 is "Threshold," about aliens, and not the friendly kind, who land in the Atlantic.

Replacing "Judging Amy" on Tuesday at 10 is "Close to Home," from Jerry Bruckheimer.

We interrupt this column for a Jerry Bruckheimer Countdown!

In a startling development, action movie impresario Jerry Bruckheimer landed yet another drama series on the CBS prime-time lineup Wednesday, bringing to seven the number of shows and the number of hours Bruckheimer programs on that network alone.

Bruckheimer, best known for his "Top Gun" and "Pearl Harbor" flicks, is the man behind all three of CBS's "CSI" dramas, as well as "Cold Case," "Without a Trace" and the reality series "Amazing Race."

Earlier this week, Bruckheimer landed a new Pentagon drama called "E-Ring," starring Ben Bratt, who is not Brad Pitt (as had been reported by The TV Column). Bruckheimer also snagged orders for two new series on the WB network, one called "Just Legal," starring Don Johnson, who is also not Brad Pitt, for the fall, and a comedy called "Modern Man" -- none of them played by Brad Pitt, we are sorry to report. If all of these series stick, Bruckheimer could have 10 shows on the prime-time landscape, which, trade paper Hollywood Reporter notes, would top the record of eight series in a season that Aaron Spelling clocked (twice) in his TV producing career.

We now return you to The TV Column.

"Two and a Half Men," now the most-watched comedy on television, will move into the 9 p.m. Monday slot that opened up when "Everybody Loves Raymond," the former most-watched comedy on television, aired its series finale this week, drawing a series-best crowd of 33 million.

With Monday's "Listen Up" put out of its misery, CBS has two comedy holes to fill on Monday. "How I Met Your Mother" takes one half-hour; it's about a guy named Ted and how he fell in love, with a voice-over by Bob Saget and, CBS explained in its press release, "flashbacks from the future." Hmmmm.

"Out of Practice" takes the other slot; it's about a family of physicians and marks Henry Winkler's return to series TV; Joe Keenan and Christopher Lloyd from "Frasier" are executive producers.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company