Upfronts 2019: CBS talks OTT, Super Bowl and life after Big Bang

The network patted itself on the back as the "Belle of the OTT ball" and is looking ahead to future Super Bowl plans, but a lot can happen in a year.

Emily Douglas HeadshotEmily Douglas is VP, Partnerships at Initiative, an IPG Mediabrands’ media agency. Reporting in from New York City, she’ll be sharing her perspective on the U.S. Upfronts with Media in Canada throughout the week. For a behind-the-scenes look at all the action in real time, follow Initiative’s Instagram account: @initiativecan.

If you felt a bit of déjà-vu at the CBS upfront at Carnegie Hall when you heard the slogan “reach at scale,” I can confirm that you were not alone. It was, however, the first time I have ever been greeted with the phrase “Hello, friends with money,” so I did feel a little special.

The big standout for me in this presentation was a concerted effort on several occasions to address the need for better gender representation and diversity. Whereas ABC president Karey Burke had a segment devoted to its network being “Driven by Women,” and NBC featured a highlights reel followed by female Olympians on stage greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd, I truly felt the continued commitment of CBS to be the change they want to see in the industry in its quest for fair and accurate portrayals of on-screen diversity.

Only one brave soul (Steven Colbert, who else?) addressed CBS’s elephant in the room by calling out Leslie Moonves by name: “Turns out, Les Moonves? Totally exonerated! I did not see that coming!”

Other notable highlights include the teary-eyed cast of The Big Bang Theory coming out on stage to bid farewell and give thanks for 12 great years (eerily similar to Modern Family‘s goodbye at Disney’s upfront on the heels of its last season premiere airing later this year). There was some self-promotion of the fact that CBS was the “Belle of the OTT ball” (they were among the first in the space by launching CBS All-Access five years ago) and a quick mention that in 2021, CBS will have the Super Bowl. But that’s a long way away, and a lot can happen in a year.

In terms of new content, four new comedies were announced: the new Chuck Lorre venture Bob Hearts Abishola (a sock entrepreneur falls in love with his Nigerian nurse), The Unicorn (a widowed dad starts dating again), Carol’s Second Act (a 50-year-old resident intern version of How Stella Got her Groove Back) and Broke (a family comedy that speaks for itself).

Four dramas were also showcased: All Rise (a light-hearted drama following a newly appointed judge), Evil (a psychological thriller), Dick Wolf’s FBI: Most Wanted and Tommy (starring the great Edie Falco as the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department).

And finally, CBS announced that CBS This Morning co-host Nora O’Donnell will be taking over the reins of its flagship evening news program, CBS Evening News.