By DAVID BAUDER
The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 16, 2007; 3:55 PM
NEW YORK -- Taking a few chances to spice up a stodgy image, CBS said Wednesday it would air a musical next season and series about a vampire, kids taking over a town without adult supervision and 1970s-era swingers.
The network also canceled its nuclear apocalypse drama "Jericho," another sign that networks are shying away from serial dramas after gorging on them earlier this season.
CBS is set to clinch its fifth consecutive year as the nation's most popular network, and will leap past ABC into second behind Fox among the youthful demographic advertisers seek. But its executives complain that CBS gets little buzz, that it is seen as the play-it-safe network in programming choices.
When Hollywood saw some of the pilots commissioned by CBS this year, there was real suspicion about whether they would make it on the schedule, said Nina Tassler, the network's entertainment president.
"They are daring, they are different," she said. "We said this was the year because we have stability, we had the strength. We wanted to make a little noise and stir things up."
The Sunday night series "Viva Laughlin" is a remake of the BBC show "Viva Blackpool" and uses music to propel the story line. It's about a man who dreams of running a casino.
"Moonlight" is about a modern-day vampire who tries to help humans. The new "Cane" stars Jimmy Smits as the patriarch of a Cuban-American family running a sugar business in Florida. "Kid Nation" is a reality show made by the people behind "Extreme Makeover," about kids setting up their own society in an abandoned New Mexico town. CBS was going to use it this summer, but liked it so much the network is holding it for fall.
CBS' conservative fans have resisted bold moves in the past (remember "Central Park West"?) but Tassler said the different settings didn't obscure the importance of strong storytelling.
"I don't think there's anything in any of these shows so radical that what you call a CBS viewer would watch and go running away from," added Kelly Kahl, CBS' chief scheduling executive.
"Jericho" started out strong last fall for CBS. However, like "Lost" on ABC and "Heroes" on NBC, many viewers lost the habit of watching after the show went on a long midseason hiatus.
"We lost a lot of steam," Kahl conceded.
CBS' only new show that is heavily serialized, "Swingtown," will start in midseason and run uninterrupted until the end of the season. The series is set in the shag-carpeted 1970s, with Chicago area couples navigating the era's sexual freedom.
CBS canceled the comedy "The Class" and drama "Close to Home." The comedy "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and long-running game "The Amazing Race" were left off the fall schedule but will be used at midseason.
There was one notable time slot shift: CBS will return "Without a Trace" to Thursday nights at 10 p.m., switching it with "Shark."
CBS' only new comedy, "The Big Bang Theory," is a sitcom version of "Beauty and the Geek," with two brainiacs trying to deal with a sexy new neighbor. Five new shows in all will debut in the fall, all on different nights.
Drew Carey will host a new game show, "Power of 10," that will debut in midseason.
CBS is owned by CBS Corp.