Advertisers, who have given tepid responses to what they've seen of the broadcast networks' new fall lineups, gave three wildly enthusiastic standing ovations during CBS's presentation at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday.
Of course, all three were for songs sung by the Who -- or what's left of it.
CBS's new schedule is conservative, but when you've got the largest audience of any network, you don't need to make many changes.
Its most aggressive move is on Wednesday night, when it will go after NBC's venerable "Law & Order" with new "CSI: New York" starring Gary Sinise. Also announced: The sitcom "Listen Up," based on the ESPN show host and Washington Post sports columnist Tony Kornheiser, gets the plum Monday-night slot leading into "Everybody Loves Raymond." Mel Gibson has landed another series order, this one called "Clubhouse," about a batboy for a New York baseball team. And Rob Lowe will try one more time to convince viewers he's a romantic lead with "dr. vegas," which we know is going to be edgy because they've stripped the capitalization from the title.
CBS, the only broadcaster still programming Saturday nights with original scripted series, has bailed on that concept for next season because, CEO Leslie Moonves explained to reporters, it cost a lot of money and the network was finishing fourth on the night in the young adult audience that advertisers pay the most to reach.
This fall, CBS will fill Saturday with the much less costly "48 Hours Mysteries," the hurry-up-and-wait reality series "The Amazing Race" and a little something called "Crime Time Saturday," which is another way of saying "CSI" reruns.
"It was dumb to lose Saturday night," Moonves said during his annual pre-presentation Victory Lap Breakfast at Black Rock on Wednesday.
"We kept saying, 'We're the only ones putting on original programming.' Obviously Americans didn't respond the way we wanted them to."
That said, CBS has probably spent all the money it's going to save Saturday nights on its presentation to advertisers, which, for sheer entertainment value, blew away the competition.
It included not only a mini-concert by What's Left of the Who but also a group of Beatles imitators singing Fab Four hits with lyrics rewritten to suit the occasion.
"Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends" became: "NBC's in a mood 'cause they no longer have 'Friends.' / They've come unglued 'cause they no longer have 'Friends.' "
Lyrics to "Help!" started: "Help! at Fox they're crying, / Help! 'cause their schedule's dying."
Advertisers loved it but stopped short of a standing ovation.
Also a crowd-pleaser was Moonves's annual mini-movie starring Moonves. The former actor did not cast himself as Moses or God, as he has done in the past. This time he played the CEO of CBS, sitting in a Manhattan bar, grousing about what a bad year it has been, thanks to the Reagan miniseries, the debut of Janet Jackson's right breast during the Super Bowl and "The Real Beverly Hillbillies" reality series project. But he's shouted down by other bar patrons with bigger problems, including former California governor Gray Davis, legendary baseball player-manager-confessed gambler Pete Rose, Liza Minnelli and Martha Stewart -- all played by themselves except Stewart, who was played by a look-alike.
The presentation also included a tribute to Don Hewitt, who's stepping down as executive producer of "60 Minutes" after 36 years. Advertisers did not give him a standing ovation either. They're a very tough crowd. Fortunately Hewitt split right after his tribute so he did not see What's Left of the Who get its three standing ovations.
Also not bringing ad suits to their feet was the cast of "Everybody Loves Raymond." They got a mini-tribute of sorts; this will be the series' final season and the cast agreed to come back for just 16 more episodes instead of the usual 22 to 24, though Moonves confided to reporters that he'd try to twist their arms and get a couple more out of them.
"Yes, Dear" is gone from CBS's Monday comedy block, which is cause enough for celebration, though Moonves put a damper on the happiness by revealing he had ordered 13 episodes of the show as a bench-warmer.
This makes room for new "Listen Up," with Jason Alexander playing sports columnist-cable show host Kornheiser, only his name has been changed to Tony Clineman -- hmmmm -- and his show's name has been changed from "Pardon the Interruption" to "Shut Up and Listen" -- hmmmm -- and his partner on the real show, Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon, has been transformed into "his witty sidekick Bernie Widmer" -- hmmmm -- played by Malcolm-Jamal Warner.
Moonves says he's sure this will be the show that breaks the "Seinfeld" curse because, unlike all those other comedies starring former cast members that quickly came and went, this one "is a fastball down the middle."
"This is a very commercial vehicle for him," Moonves explained.
"We were pitched 'Bob Patterson,' " he said of Alexander's earlier effort to return to sitcom TV. That show was ultimately picked up and quickly canceled by ABC.
"And that Julia Louis-Dreyfus thing, with the clock . . . it made 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' look normal," Moonves quipped.
"Clubhouse," from Gibson, is another virtually female-free world in which a 16-year-old becomes batboy for the New York Empires. Gibson also got a pickup this week from ABC for a sitcom called "Savages," about a single guy raising five boys.
The team is called the Empires, Moonves explained during his breakfast Q&A, because if they tried to call it the New York Yankees "we'd get sued by George Steinbrenner, who's as litigious as Donald Trump -- no, that's off the record."
CBS has made the most changes to its Wednesday lineup. With Hewitt out of the picture, CBS has dropped the "II" from the Wednesday edition of "60 Minutes." In the new comedy "Center of the Universe," at 9:30 p.m., John Goodman plays the owner of a security company married to Jean Smart; Ed Asner plays his dad, and Olympia Dukakis his mom.
At 10, "CSI: New York" will take on "Law & Order." Moonves said he's "not afraid of the New York-New York thing" because the new show tested extremely well. Of course, spinoffs generally test well, and "Friends" tested poorly, so there you go. Still, Moonves confidently forecast in front of a few hundred advertisers that, despite its tough competition, "CSI: New York" would be next season's highest-rated new drama series.
No changes have been made to the Thursday lineup because CBS is winning that night. Ditto Sunday.
Friday, however, is home to new "dr. vegas," starring Lowe as a doctor "committed to upholding the Hippocratic oath" by day, "and during the night he sleeps with chorus girls and gambles -- what could be wrong with that?" Moonves asked reporters rhetorically.
During his Carnegie Hall presentation, Moonves made his pitch that NBC has been replaced by CBS as the network of Quality Shows by juxtaposing clips of promos in which NBC brags about its toniness with clips from "Fear Factor" showing hot young people eating various disgusting things and vomiting.
"Product placement, anyone?" Moonves asked the ad execs in the hall.