Running risks

CBS isn't relying on the success of its best shows. Instead the network is rolling out a lineup that takes some chances.

Published May 17, 2007

At CBS, the new school is the old school, reimagined.

That's why hits such as CSI and Criminal Minds feel fresh and familiar at the same time: traditional cops 'n' robbers stories centered on older stars, gussied up with new camera techniques and explicit violence.

This also explains why the network's fall schedule, announced Wednesday, seems so unusual.

Among the Big Three networks, CBS is taking the biggest chances.

Consider what's coming among its five new shows: A series adapted from British television starring a singing Nevada casino owner. A drama centered on a Hispanic family that owns rum and sugar companies in South Florida. A comedy about geeky geniuses who lust after a lovely neighbor. A romantic thriller about a private eye who happens to be a vampire.

In a TV universe where the big hits are crime dramas, relationship dramas and American Idol, it's a gamble of serious proportions. CBS has often claimed not to be your parents' network anymore; this crop of shows, if it even comes close to working, might actually turn that boast to reality.

The talent combinations are the most intriguing. Tony winner Hugh Jackman executive produces and co-stars in Viva Laughlin, an Americanized revamp of the BBC's musical drama Viva Blackpool. Jimmy Smits and Hector Elizondo head the Cuban family at the heart of Cane (neatly avoiding the South Florida drug dealer stereotype), a series executive produced by the guy who created American Dreams.

Matrix producer Joel Silver pulled together the vampire P.I. drama Moonlight. And Chuck Lorre, creator of Two and Half Men, came up with the lusty geniuses sitcom Big Bang Theory, a success in my book even if it only gives a regular paycheck to former Roseanne co-star Johnny Galecki.

There's also a midseason game show starring - gasp! - Drew Carey. A midseason drama about wife-swapping couples set in the '70s called Swingtown. And Kid Nation, a reality show with 40 kids rebuilding a New Mexico town that sounds like Lord of the Flies-meets-Deadwood.

Okay. This is definitely not my momma's CBS.

Losers in this scheduling include promising newcomer Jericho, which never recovered from its two-month midseason break, The Class and Close to Home. Seinfeld alum Julia Louis Dreyfus' New Adventures of Old Christine is coming back in midseason for just 13 episodes, along with The Amazing Race; James Woods' legal drama Shark moves to Sundays while Without a Trace goes back to Thursdays.

Industry watchers have known for years that CBS has the smartest programmers in the biz. And if they pull off a hit season with a field of newcomers this eclectic, they will have proven it beyond any doubt.

TV preview

CBS 2007-08

Here is the fall schedule the network released Wednesday. New shows are in bold capital letters:

MONDAY: 8 p.m., How I Met Your Mother; 8:30, THE BIG BANG THEORY; 9, Two and a Half Men; 9:30, RULES OF ENGAGEMENT; 10, CSI: Miami.

TUESDAY: 8 p.m., NCIS; 9, The Unit; 10, CANE.

WEDNESDAY: 8 p.m., KID NATION; 9, Criminal Minds; 10, CSI: NY.

THURSDAY: 8 p.m., Survivor: China; 9, CSI; 10, Without a Trace.

FRIDAY: 8 p.m., Ghost Whisperer; 9, MOONLIGHT; 10, Numb3rs.

SATURDAY: 8 p.m., Crimetime Saturday; 10, 48 Hours Mystery.

SUNDAY: 7 p.m., 60 Minutes; 8, VIVA LAUGHLIN; 9, Cold Case; 10, Shark.