Three Hits and a Bomb

What to expect from CBS this fall.

The new CBS reality show Kid Nation

Yesterday, about eight-tenths of an inch of precipitation fell on New York City, so CBS’s annual post-presentation party at Tavern on the Green was a moist affair. To venture into the courtyard was to get soaked, though it was still preferable to being inside the restaurant, which was as dank as a mosh pit. When a dude from CBS’s New York affiliate told me that it had been eight years since rain fouled this parade, I wondered aloud where Leslie Moonves—the network’s top dog, a charmer who traditionally stakes out an al fresco sweet spot about five yards from the coat check—would instead hold court. “Well,” said the dude, “where he really holds court is the private party afterwards.”Touché, Mr. Important Guy, touché!

When I finally found Moonves, he was standing just inside an entrance to the Crystal Room, but I had nothing to ask. Many partygoers had set aside their crudités for a moment to chat about CBS’s six new shows, and everything now seemed powerfully clear. CBS—at the top of the heap in the ratings, at the bottom of barrel when it comes to buzz—had gone into pilot season looking to refresh a schedule horsy with aging procedural dramas. The network came out of it with one passable sitcom, three possible hits, one show I am never going to watch, and a high-profile bomb.

The Big Bang Theory: A sitcom in which two mega-nerd super-geniuses share an apartment. “They can solve any problem except one—the hot new girl across the hall.”  A) Nerds are in this year, so I’d like to inform the Nabokov scholars in the audience that, in the pilot episode, VN’s name appears as an answer in a crossword puzzle. Eight down, I think. B) If these guys are so smart and horny, why don’t they just invent Kelly LeBrock?

Cane: Jimmy Smits, playing the son of a Cuban-American rum baron, tries leading the family business to greater glory. A family saga where the stakes are higher than the sniffling of Brothers & Sisters? A Latino drama? Smits—tall, brown, and chiseled—as Michael Corleone meets Tony Montana meets Bobby Ewing meets Gregory Peck? This looks like the most likely to succeed.

Kid Nation:A few years back, some English channels aired a program in which a horde of prepubescent girls were left to their own devices in a Big Brother-style house. Does anyone remember the name of it? Or how many minutes it took for matters to reach Lord of the Flies proportions? We’ll see how things go for the 40 children sent to govern themselves in a ghost town in this reality show. It looks, to me, potentially huge, but some Bud Light-quaffing ad people wondered how well the show works as a lead-in to Criminal Minds, the grisly procedural drama that will follow it at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesdays: “You’re watching kids, and then you’re watching serial rapists?”

Moonlight: A misty drama about a crime-fighting vampire. Plainly atrocious, as even CBS employees will gaily volunteer. Still, several million sapheads watch The Ghost Whisperer, the supernatural procedural drama that will precede it at 8 p.m. on Fridays, so maybe it’s got a shot.

Viva Laughlin: Hugh Jackman, well-known among showbiz insiders for his love of musicals, has helped to import Viva Blackpool—a kind of karaoke drama about a struggling casino—from the BBC. Viva Laughlin is already dead. People didn’t get it. People who did musical theater in high school didn’t get it. People didn’t understand why it was scheduled for Sundays at 8 p.m., leading into the macho procedural drama Cold Case.

Swingtown: A midseason replacement about wife-swapping in 1970s Chicago. They’d promised this would be sexed up—two weeks ago, somebody spun Nikki Finke, such that she wrote it might be too hot to air—and it looks satisfyingly racy indeed. The first scene of the preview found a commercial airline pilot smoking a cigarette in the cockpit while someone with a blond up-do attended to his lap. You know you were sold at wife-swapping.

The rain let up a bit. Steve Kroft was enjoying the lamb chops. The 24-year-old ad kids had ceased even trying to hold their liquor. Moonves was gone, but, curiously, Mr. Important Guy was still hanging out, hacking butts, drinking beer.