Upfronts: Day Three – CBS

At the eye network's Carnegie Hall do in NYC yesterday, Helena Shelton, MediaCom's EVP/director of trading, found some good and some dismal among the upcoming fare.

We arrived at Carnegie Hall for the 4 pm start of the CBS upfront to a sea of black suits (again), this time with Blackberrys humming. The scene was familiar, except for a stable of striking cafeteria workers, dressed in red and pounding drums.

Amazingly, hundreds of us all got in on time. We ended up seated next to two Canadians from M2. It seems we Canucks are everywhere and dressed to blend in with the locals. The show was hosted by Craig Ferguson, of the net’s Late Late Show, who quickly got the crowd laughing.

This was the first upfront where each medium – radio, outdoor, syndicated, interactive and television – was included and presented. Representing radio was Adam Corolla, an LA morning man who spoke to the benefits of radio as ‘TV for blind people who drive to work.’

Ferguson presented outdoor. Rachael Ray spoke about syndication, using food as an analogy. She was so unfunny that all around us eyes were rolling. CBS interactive chief Quincy Smith, wearing a dark (but mercifully not black) suit and sparkly running shoes, spoke about interactive. He focused on expanding the show experience and getting users to follow content. CSI creator Anthony Zuiker addressed cross-platform storytelling to give viewers a (here we go) deeper level of engagement. So look to CSI to deliver this.

We previewed five new fall programs and actually got to see clips, just as we would have seen any other year. That in itself was exciting. Let’s start with what got good audience response and what CBS said tested best: Eleventh Hour. It’s a thriller from Jerry Bruckheimer starring Rufus Sewell as a doctor who handles scientific crimes such as (in the pilot) cloning. It looks intense, has a good pedigree and, with CSI as a lead-in on Thursday, should do well.

Of the two new comedies, The Worst Week seemed to be the audience favourite, with slapstick and clips of some pretty wild scenarios starring little-known actor Kyle Bornheimer. The show is about a guy who, despite his best intentions, has everything go wrong thanks to good old bad luck. The other comedy is Project Gary, starring Jay Mohr (Ghost Whisperer) as a divorced dad with a younger girlfriend, an ex-wife and two kids.

The Ex-List, with Elizabeth Reaser (pictured – Grey’s Anatomy), was labeled a drama, but we thought it was a comedy. It’s about a woman’s search through all her old boyfriends to find a future husband. Then there’s The Mentalist, starring Simon Baker (The Guardian) as a former fake psychic who’s now putting his skills to work solving crimes. Details on this one are sketchy, but it should be OK between NCIS and Without a Trace on Tuesday nights.

Mid-season replacement Harper’s Island was my favourite. No one around us agreed, but that’s not unusual. The drama is about 36 people going to an island for a wedding, only to be killed, one by one, in some pretty gruesome ways.

We then heard a few words about the network’s strategy of producing programming for 52 weeks continuously, and a new tagline: ‘CBS, the right media, the right content and the right people right here.’ And just over an hour later, it was over. Blackberrys resumed their humming as the lights went on and a sea of black suits began moving towards the exit signs.

I will see all these people again tomorrow at Fox.

Helena Shelton is EVP/director of trading at Toronto-based MediaCom.