Tuned In

Can CBS Dare to Be Different?

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I have seen the funniest video of the upfronts, and it was not created by any network. It was made by stewmurray47 at YouTube. Called Caruso Endless One-Liners, it mashes together (with CBS’s blessing) a string of corny Horatio Caine lines from CSI: Miami, with David Caruso putting on his trademark shades after almost every one. It’s a brilliant send-up of the hilariously corny dialogue of a CBS show. And CBS played it (or a shortened version) for its advertisers here, at Carnegie Hall, on a massive screen.

The context was the by-now-usual pitch about how many multiplatform, interactive, web 2.0, blah blah blah opportunities CBS offers Madison Avenue. But what’s going on here? Stable, old-school CBS mocking itself? And spurning the cop-show formula that made it billions of dollars? With shows about vampires, singing casino moguls and swingers? We’re in dogs-sleeping-with-cats territory here, people.

Not even CBS has really been able to explain why, as the most-watched network on TV, it’s made such a stark course correction (though catching up with Fox in 18 to 49s is one likely idea). But whatever. If it means Jerry Bruckheimer doesn’t throw another five crime procedurals on the schedule, I’m not complaining.

* CANE: CBS describes it as The Sopranos with “a leetle Latin flair.” (CBS entertainment pres Nina Tassler’s words, and accent.) And we all know how well that worked out for NBC’s Kingpin. Anyway, the muy-melodramatic trailer does not exactly look pay-cable.

* VIVA LAUGHLIN. Tassler sounds almost apologetic, repeating to the advertisers how DIFFERENT the show is but how much she LOVES it, but you should really be PREPARED for it, because it’s DIFFERENT… Having viewed the clips, I hope it’s different enough. I worry that they’ve slicked it up a bit too much and lost the sad grit of Viva Blackpool. (That BBC show was set in a grey seaside resort–the irony of the title is that Blackpool is no Vegas–but the scenes we see of Laughlin seem very Vegas-y. It needs to look seedy, less-than. No offense to the real Laughlin.) But this show could still be something incredible. This is really the question about all the “edgy” CBS shows: will they really be different, or will CBS sand down the edges like it did with Jericho?

* MOONLIGHT. Your standard the-detective-is-a-vampire story. (At this morning’s press breakfast, Tassler slipped and called it “Moonlighting,” so you’re not the only one.) Aiming for moody and romantic, with a dash of humor, it’ll inevitably be compared with Buffy. Not favorably, if it lives up to the clips, which start off with the lame joke “Being a vampire sucks.”

* KID NATION: The aforementioned reality show about kids creating a society doesn’t play in the clips like the Lord of the Flies series that the advance press has made it out as. It looks more like Model UN: The Series. (No one gets voted off, for instance, though there are competitions and kids can leave voluntarily.) In short clips, it plays kind of like an SNL reality-show parody, but I suspect that in long form it could be awesome. Either way, I’ll be watching.

* THE BIG BANG THEORY: With a title like this, you’d think it were on after midnight on Cinemax, but no. Two geek geniuses (including Roseanne’s much-missed Johnny Galecki) have their lives roiled when a hot girl moves in across the hall. The trailer hits all the typical hot-blonde-smart-nebbish notes, but with NBC’s geek parade of Heroes-influenced shows, I’m beginning to smell trend.

* SWINGTOWN: It’s that ’70s intermarital orgy show! This is by far the best-looking trailer I’ve seen all upfront–it looks like Paul Thomas Anderson does TV with its Boogie Nights notes of sad, exciting Bicentennial porniness–but unfortunately, we have to wait until midseason for it.

CBS also gave us a preview of Survivor: China–“The first time an American television series has taken you into the heart of China.” Ah, the exotic sights of mysterious Cathay! Please, nobody eat a panda.