March 28, 1995 in Features

Cbs Scrambling Hard To Win Ratings Crown

Frazier Moore Associated Press
 

Maybe next season you’ll make Don Johnson’s new cop show “Off Duty” an instant smash as lowly CBS reclaims the ratings crown it owned the past three years.

Maybe you’ll get hooked on a new Bonnie Hunt sitcom about a television journalist - and in the process learn to keep her and Helen (“Mad About You”) Hunt straight.

Maybe you’ll go for “Bless This House,” a new sitcom starring a mellowed Andrew (no “Dice”) Clay and Cathy Moriarty as a married couple who fight loud and presumably funny.

Maybe, maybe not. You viewers will have to wait until next fall to find out.

Come to think of it, you’ll have to wait until May, when CBS unveils its 1995-96 lineup, to even find out if these series will make it to the air.

For the moment, they and dozens more are in - ahem - development, under whose rubric concepts are hatched, scripts are written, casts are assembled, pilot episodes are shot and fingers are crossed.

Maybe somewhere along the way, a given project comes a cropper. The show is dead before it’s ever alive. Never mind. Many more are poised to jump into the breach.

So no matter how much you root for the former “Miami Vice” heartthrob or the former Diceman, no one hears you. For now, you must stand by for updates on whether either hopeful’s show wins a time slot.

In the meantime, these and at least 20 more hours of new programming are vying for a place on the schedule as CBS plots its comeback.

Development is feverishly afoot at all the networks, more or less behind closed doors. But on one recent morning, CBS previewed its roster for advertising executives and, in an unusual move, also invited reporters to come see what’s cooking.

Why? Maybe so word would spread beyond Madison Avenue that, for a network whose programming, so to speak, “skews old,” the new game plan is: Think young.

Of course, if you peek into the oven at this early stage, you find things that may seem - well, halfbaked. It was up to Peter Tortorici, CBS Entertainment president, to persuade his audience of his programs’ appeal.

The new crop will be “fiercely contemporary and cutting edge,” he vowed from the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater, where he could borrow a little star shine from its usual occupant, “Late Show with David Letterman.”

“The forms and premises may at times sound familiar,” Tortorici told his congregation, “but the voices that will bring them to life are unique and contemporary.”

How good he made it all sound, with his slick presentation of film clips and purple prose. How you wanted to believe him!

But what to make of “Crosstown Traffic,” a drama about three young, attractive Los Angeles undercover cops who work the Hollywood club scene? It would be produced by Aaron Spelling, whose first big hit 27 seasons ago was “Mod Squad.” (“Crosstown Traffic” sound familiar?! Hey, my ears are ringing.)

And what of “Central Park West,” a Manhattanbased guilty pleasure from Darren (“Melrose Place”) Star, where, according to Tortorici, “downtown chic meets uptown attitude”? Yeah, right.

Like the other networks, CBS is searching for the next Roseanne or Tim - a stand-up comic whose sitcom becomes a runaway hit.A little later, out came Dana Gould. A standup who in his brief routine likened his looks to “a Glad Bag filled with oatmeal,” Gould would play a 30-ish divorced guy in his new sitcom.

As he took his audience through the shows, Tortorici was a proud name-dropper: JoBeth Williams, Mary Tyler Moore, Keith Carradine, Scott Bakula, Elizabeth McGovern, Joan Cusack and Montel Williams are among big-name contenders for CBS sitcoms or dramas.

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