CBS Upfront: Supergirl and Stephen Colbert Save the Day

Robert Deutsch/CBS

The network referred to as “The Eye” by people who are either industry insiders or huge Lord of the Rings fans placed second to NBC in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic this season by a mere 124,000 viewers (“That’s not even Patterson, New Jersey,” CBS Corporation president and CEO Les Moonves cracked)—and that was with NBC’s record-breaking Super Bowl audience factored in. So this afternoon at Carnegie Hall, Moonves and CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler took the stage to drill into advertisers’ heads the idea that CBS isn’t just for your grandparents.

So after the usual claims to No. 1 in various categories from sales chief Jo Ann Ross and Big Bang Theory nerdina Mayim Bialik, and the trotting out of various NFL stars to remind attendees that CBS has two NFL packages (Sunday afternoon AFC games and Thursday Night Football), Moonves and Tassler gave the attendees what they were really looking for: A taste of new Late Show host Stephen Colbert, and a look at Supergirl.

Introducing the Real Stephen Colbert

Answering the question of “Who is the real Stephen Colbert?” is crucial for CBS. The People are primed to like Colbert, but sponsors might feel a little gun-shy around a veteran snarker. If his intro video—in which he gets sucked into watching CBS procedural after CBS procedural, until he’s grown a beard and Moonves shows up to bring him to the upfront—is anything to go by, he’s a funny guy who loves Lord of the Rings (he has a puppy that he names Sam Gamgee). In a nod to the overwhelming white-male-ness of the late night scene, Moonves attempted to answer the question himself: “You’re a white male comedian with a nice haircut and a suit.” “Oh!” Colbert responded. “I’m a talk show host!”

And the Real Stephen Colbert can talk show host real good, it feels like! He’s effortlessly charming: “Most of my shows will be me solving murders by zooming in on pubic hairs.” He should also be something of a help in bringing in people on the lower end of the 18-49 scale: “You want young eyeballs,” he said, “and not just the ones Rupert Murdoch buys on the black market.”

Best of all, perhaps, was the sincerity with which Colbert promised to carry on the late night legacy begun by David Letterman: “The only way I can think of to properly honor Dave is to do the best show we can, and occasionally make the network very angry.”

Supergirl Soars

For a network that’s made its bones on multicams, ordering two single-camera comedies—including one, Life in Pieces, that’s been given the primo post-Big Bang Theory timeslot—is a strange move. The advertisers at Carnegie Hall seemed a little weirded out as well, and Pieces along with Jane Lynch vehicle Angel from Hell were greeted with lukewarm applause.

Tepidness abounded as well for Limitless, despite the presence of Film Star Bradley Cooper and that kickass Lorde cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” And Tassler and Moonves can talk up Code Black‘s similarities to medical drama gold standard ER all they like, but only a few of the assembled spenders seemed impressed.

The real hero of the hour (well, 90 minutes) was Supergirl, which CBS has perhaps rudely scheduled against DC/Warner Bros. sibling Gotham over on Fox. If the room’s riotous response to the trailer is anything to go by, though, this might be a pivotal show for the network. The previews for all of CBS’ new series are available here.