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Summer TCA Tour 2015: Highlights from the CBS, Showtime, and CW Presentations

SUPERGIRL Melissa Benoist First-Look Image (Headshot)[1]

Twice a year various cable and networks attend the Television Critics Association’s Press Tour where they promote new and returning television shows through panels and exclusive preview clips.  It provides a way for television shows to get traction and attention of the hundreds of TV critics who then in turn will hopefully write about and promote those shows to their various audiences via online and print media outlets.

This Summer’s TCA tour included presentations from a multitude of cable channels, including: CBS, Showtime and CW, who presented on the 13th and 14th days of the tour.  Here are some of the featured television shows and specials that caught our attention:

CBS

Coming this Fall on CBS are five freshman series: 3 dramas “Supergirl” (October 26th), “Limitless” (September 22nd), “Code Black” (September 30th) and 2 comedies “Angel From Hell” (November 5th) and “Life In Pieces” (September 21st).  Also noteworthy will be the 2 hour finale of CBS’ long-running drama “CSI,” scheduled for September 27th.

As a major announcement, coming from the Number 1 television network that airs both the Number 1 drama (“NCIS”) and comedy series (“The Big Bang Theory”), it should be noted that for the 2014-15 television season CBS will be airing two NFL packages and the Super Bowl — that’s more football programming on primetime than ever before by any network.  Personal observation:  Just goes to show the power and profitability of football because the Number 1 television network is making space on its crowded and coveted broadcast schedule just for it.

Also beefing up their late night programming after the shift from David Letterman and Craig Ferguson to Stephen Colbert and James Corden, CBS is quite pleased to own both shows and they are owners, not renters, which means they are making more money off those shows.  Chairman Nina Tassler also said that the shows’ digital footprint and cultural currency carry significant value in late night world.

Nina Tassler further explained that how CBS weathers current downward trends in TV is that it makes hit shows that it owns.  In addition, she emphasized that all money (ad dollars) is created equal no matter whether it comes from subscriber fees or advertising.  So whether Netflix/Amazon/Hulu are pulling in dollars through subscribers or whether networks are getting dollars from advertisers, it’s all just money.  CBS is willing to go toe-to-toe with subscriber-based content providers against their advertising-subsidized programming.  Personal observation: It is great that CBS is finally weighing L-7 viewers more heavily and getting ad dollars for its VOD, online, streamed content as well as broadcast, and very reassuring as a viewer that TV shows are making money beyond just LIVE viewership. Advertisers should pay for ads no matter the venue (online versus broadcast).

Talking briefly about CBS’ current summer programming, including “Under The Dome,” “Extant” and “Zoo,” “Zoo,” Tassler also pointed out that “Zoo” is the summer’s Number 1 scripted show, followed by “Under The dome” at  Number 2, and “Extant” at Number 4. With such high numbers of viewers tuning in, CBS is fully committed to their summer shows.  Yet when asked if Season 3 could possibly be the final season for “Under The Dome,” Tassler would only confirmed that the dome is coming down this season and that should expand the scope of the stories the show can tell.  Personal observation: This makes me wonder what will the world look like when it does?!  Also if CBS claims it has the Number 1, 2 and 4 scripted shows on television this summer, just where does “Wayward Pines” fit in — it was the Number 1 show this summer per Fox.

Also inconclusive, was when queried if this next shortened sea on of “Person Of Interest” could be its final season for the series, Tasser would only comment: “We haven’t determined if it is the end of the series yet.” She said that “Person Of Interest” is in production and will air this next season, but did not commit to whether it will be end of series.

Talking about what was the initial appeal of the new CBS series “Supergirl,” Tassler credited executive producers Ali Adler and Greg Berlanti who simply had great pitch where the characters were relatable and had very broad appeal as genre and work place comedy.  Per co-executive producer Andrew Kreisberg, the show felt it was important to put Kara in situations where she is not all-powerful so that the audience can root for her and that she is in real danger.  So there will be a learning-curve for Earth’s latest super-heroine — she will not be as all-powerful and confident as her more well-known cousin, Kal-El aka Superman.  In the bad news:  co-executive producer Geoff Johns firmly stated that viewers will not see Superman on the show, but he will be influential on Kara’s journey to becoming Supergirl.  In the good news, fans can look forward to seeing: Lucy Lane and her father General Sam Lane, along with villains Red Tornado, Reactron, Livewire, and Kryptonian villain Non. Personal observation: I am incredibly excited about this new show and have watched a few more times than I care to admit.  It’s a testament to strong writing and strong casting for the show.  It’s so appealing and adorable and so utterly watchable — damn addictive.  Make sure to tune in and watch it! (“Supergirl” premieres Monday, October 26th on CBS.)

In promoting the new CBS comedy series “Angel From Hell,” the producers were quite coy about the true nature of Jane Lynch’s character.  Per executive producer Tad Quill, “Is she a guardian angel, or is she nuts?” is the essential question and mystery of the show.  It is a question that they would rather tease and will not be answering any time soon, if ever.  But perhaps giving a more clear indication, Quill also let it slip that there are potentially other fellow guardian angels that Amy tangles with and emphasized, “It’s never in doubt that Amy believes she’s an angel . . . . [and] I don’t think there is a thing that Amy wouldn’t do for Allison.”  He also stated that “Angel From Hell” is not going to be a cynical show that definitively says Lynch’s character isn’t an angel.  In addition, co-stars Jane Lynch and Maggie Lawson both said that they believe in guardian angels and that they come into a person’s life in many different forms.  Personal observation:  Angel or not, Jane Lynch is incredibly funny and her scenes with Maggie Lawson are delightful — which is perhaps attributed to the fact that Maggie and Jane worked together briefly in Maggie’s prior comedy series “Psych” and they adored each other from that experience.  (“Angel From Hell” premieres November 5th on CBS.)

Those wondering, the CBS drama series “Limitless” picks up where the movie starring Bradley Cooper left off.  It will fully explore the struggle of being an ordinary person after spending half the day with extraordinary powers; though, curiously, you will not initially be able to tell if Bradley Cooper’s character is good or bad at the beginning. Star Jake McDorman credited Cooper for the advice that when one portrays a character on the drug NZT, your posture improves and that every gesture is deliberate.  That really helped him get into the mindset of the character and to differentiate the when his characters was under the influence of the drug.  Noteworthy is that as an executive producer on the show, Cooper will also be not only seen in screen from by time to time in some of the show’s episodes, his presence will be felt from behind the camera as well.  Then for those looking for a true riddle, when watching the pilot episode you will want to see if you can tell that co-star Jennifer Carpenter was 8 and 1/2 months pregnant during the filming of her scenes and, apparently, she (and the show) did a phenomenal job of concealing that very obvious baby-bump while filming that first episode.  (“Limitless” premieres September 22nd on CBS.)

One of the more eyebrow raising and intriguing presentations during the tour press day was CBS’s panel on “The Evolution of TV,” which sought to dispel three commonly misunderstood myths about the television industry:
(1) that television viewership has declined in the past 10 years
(2) that Millennials do not watch as much TV as prior generations
(3) advertising for TV programs has lost value

First, CBS provided data that in 2003, while the Number 1 comedy was “Friends,” that CBS had the Number 1 drama and was Number 1 in total viewers.  Comparing that to 2014-15 TV season, CBS had the Number 1 comedy “The Big Bang Theory” and the Number 1 drama “NCIS” and was still the Number 1 network in total viewers.  So using those bench poles, CBS feels not much has changed since 2003 and that which has changed for the better for CBS.  In fact, as of today, LIVE viewership still totals 60-70% of the entire viewing audience and DVR encroachment into that audience has stalled, while video on demand (VOD) and digital (SVOD) has begun to encroach on the DVR watching audience.  So looking at whether the actual number of viewers for television shows has decreased, CBS feels that in their case, viewership for its shows has grown and not decreased in the past 10 years.  It is not that TV viewership is shrinking, but that the actual viewership is just moving outside the range of current measurement standards.  In fact, more viewing is just being done outside the home. Totaled, the viewing audience levels actually exceeded prior years.  It is just that the time, place and device may be changing on how people are watching content — but, in fact, more content is being watched than ever before. There has been an explosion of content as the distribution means and venues have increase — there are no longer just broadband-cable, there are smartphones and tablets.  So the delivery of content has massively changed how and when we watch content. Now video (content) is everywhere.  Providing a few statistics:  TV-set viewing went from 87% to 54%; DVD-player viewing went from 82% to 49% and PC-viewing went from 81% to game console viewing at 46%.  Since the 2009 digital conversion, there has been a substantial change in media consummation habits, with the the biggest changes occurring in 2010 and 2011, followed by declines in viewing habit changes in 2012 and 2013 simply because tablets and smartphones have been readily available since 2010.  So, per CBS, what it is seeing is more people are headed back to watching on standard TV sets — particularly with the new accessibility via on-demand devices, such as Roku, Apple, Chromecast, which pull from online content and make it accessible and viewable on the traditional TV-sets.  But because it takes 12-18 months to figure out how to measure these new means of content distribution, there is a wide divergence amongst networks, cable, and online distributors on just how much content is being consumed via the various devices and methods — not to mention how to quantify those numbers of viewers.  CBS’ research into ratings showed that the actual viewing habits of internet-viewing versus TV-viewing time went up from 4.3 hours per day to 5.0 hours per day; yet Nielsen’s data showed a decline in viewership from 5.4 hours per day to 3.7 hours per day.  The discrepancy lies in that CBS feels Nielsen is just not measuring the full audience effectively and TV show-viewership or screen-viewership is actually growing.  As such, CBS is moving from the standard overnight ratings to the more accepted 30-day ratings measurement in order to fully account for a TV show’s true audience — and that is what networks will be striving to measure moving forward and will be selling to advertisers.  CBS is hopeful that TV critics will also begin to report on ratings in that measurement and abandon the now outdated overnight ratings. In the meantime, CBS is going to begin using Symphony Advanced Media, which will roll-out on September 1st as an alternative source of measuring true viewership for its program.

CBS also believes based on the data of older Millennials viewing patterns that younger viewers will begin to adapt to traditional viewing patterns and align with the prior generations of Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y, but watching more and more content on the TV-set and less on mobile device.  CBS’ research has shown that the D]difference in viewing levels at different ages hinges really on how much time is spent in or out of the home — and while it might be true that Millennials are leaving the nest later in life, that just means that they spending less time at home.  Hence, their preference to watch content on mobile devices.   But that changes once Millennials get out of the “nest” and get their own places.  They, like their parents, crave the big TV-set screen experience.

Finally, CBS’ research when boiled down to the nuts-and-bolts data showed that 53% of consumers are still reached through TV-set ads.  Another 9% is then reached through TV + digital (combined); and only 5% was reached directly online.  The remainder of the consumer audience were simply “unreached.”  It is CBS’ goal to appeal to not only established TV-set audiences and digital audiences, but to also reach out and get the attention of the previously “unreached” audience (the true cord-cutters or the never-cord audience).

Personal observations:  CBS moving to Symphony Advanced Media starting September 1st for more comprehensive, inclusive ratings data is a sign that the “death knell” has rung for Nielsen. In addition, gleaned from CBS’ ratings presentation data, ratings impact of Periscope won’t matter because the captive-audience will still be watching their ads.  Also gleaned from CBS ratings data, Millennials are now deemed less desirable to advertisers since because they are burdened with excessive debt and have only low paying jobs. I also admire how CBS confidentially stated that the number of viewers watching YouTube is barely worth noticing, when it comes to content ratings because YouTube has less eyeballs than the smallest television network.  But, by far, the biggest revelation from the CBS ratings presentation was that all the broadcast networks are switching from L-3 rating to L-7 rating to prioritize ad dollars for TV shows — about time.  What does it matter if viewers are watching within 3 days to watching within 7 days anyway?  Nice to see that the ad dollars are starting to adjust to the way the rest of the world is actually watching television shows.  In addition, CBS is now make more money from digital/streaming views than through broadcast ads, but there are just not as many digital views yet.  CBS also made sure to tout its preference that viewers watch shows on VOD opposed to DVRs as networks still loathe DVRs (which let viewers skip ads) and would prefer viewers who are still a captive-audience for advertisers.   Though CBS research chief David Poltrack cheekily noted that viewers are fast-forwarding through less advertising on DVRs simply because they are too busy on their phones.

CBS’ new Fall shows are truly a thing of beauty and have to recommend giving “Supergirl,” “Limitless” and “Angel From Hell” a real chance when they debut.  Each has a spirit of exuberance that feels refreshing and addictive.  Those tuning in just may be completely surprised and delighted.

Showtime

In an effort to compete for the rapidly growing consumer base that is cord-cutting or the “cord-nevers” (those who simply never paid for cable), Showtime happily announced that viewers can now subscribe to Showtime via the internet through Apple, Roku and Hulu. In addition, Showtime is the only network (currently) that lets you live-stream their content simultaneously as it airs.

In other announcements, Showtime was proud to declare that on the strength and recognition for its top dramas that “Ray Donovan” and “Masters Of Sex” have both renewed for Season 4.

“Masters of Sex” currently airing its third season and picked up for Season 4 is following closely along with the true story of the characters.  This season deals with how the Masters and Johnson book came out in 1966 and how it opened the door to couples to get involved with their studies.  With the current season and another to go, fans are naturally curious if the show is considering an end date yet, and as executive producer Michelle Ashford reassured, they are thinking about the natural end point for the show, but for now they are focusing on just telling the story of these two people lives as they collided. (“Masters of Sex” is currently airing Sunday nights on Showtime.)

Then seeking to capitalize on the success of their “Homeland” series, Showtime will be debuting a new special docu-series entitled “Spymasters” that will Thanksgiving weekend.  “Spymasters” will pull the curtain back on the CIA and is narrated by Mandy Patinkin.

As to whether there is an end date in sight for “Homeland,” Showtime’s David
Nevins stated: “I think there’s a lot of life left in Homeland.” He noted that “Homeland is currently shooting in Berlin, which offers a lot of lots of fresh angles visually and creatively for the show and that the season will deal with Russia and what is Putin up to and that tricky relationship.  (“Homeland” returns for Season 5 on Sunday, October 4th.)

Another crown in Showtime’s cap is its revival of the cult drama series “Twin Peaks,” which is scheduled to begin filming in September.  Showtime announced that it had originally intended to have a nine episode revival, but after negotiating with creator/executive producer David Lynch, they worked out a deal where there could be additional episodes David Lynch will direct all of them, and it will play out like one giant movie.  But the downside to the delay and changes, it means that “Twin Peaks” will not return with its new episodes until 2006 or even 2017.

Showtime’s latest drama series “Billions” premieres early next year.  It stars Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti, who face off as a high-powered Wall Street tycoon egging a federal prosecutor into pursing a case against him.  Per star Damian Lewis, the story is who will his character Bobby Axelrod turn out to be and how will he hold onto his power. Interestingly, co-star Paul Giamatti noted, the same can be said for his character as the show is not just about greed and money, it is about absolute power and how it is used merciless by these men and how virtually no one can stop them.  In addition to stars Lewis and Giamatti, “Billions” also showcases the strong talents of Maggie Siff, Malin Ackerman, and David Constabile.  Each portraying characters just as ruthless and brash.  Damian Lewis noted that ultimately the series will showcase:  “We will see Bobby enjoying his power at times — but at what cost?” As executive producer Andrew Ross Sorkin explained the show is as much about pride as anything else in terms of motivation – but money is the scorecard. (“Billions” premieres January 17th on Showtime.)

CW

On the fun side of things, the CW gleefully announced  Britney Spears will be guesting on “Jane The Virgin” this next season and that Matt Ryan will reprise role as John Constantine in  “Arrow.”  Apparently, after learning that Britney is one of the show’s biggest fans, the “Jane The Virgin” folks approached her to do a guest-starring role and she jumped at it.  Plus, it is no secret how much star Stephen Amell really wanted Matt Ryan to come to “Arrow,” so the CW is happy they could work that appearance out as well.

When asked about potential crossovers between CBS’ “Supergirl” and the CW’s “Arrow” and “The Flash,” CW president Mark Pedowitz said the CW is open to crossovers, but it is really Greg Berlanti’s call because he understand the shows.  Pedowitz was also generous of his praise of the performances of Brandon Routh, Victor Garber, Dominic Purcell, Wentworth Miller and Caity Lotz as convincing the CW to greenlight the spinoff series “Legends of Tomorrow.”  Personal observation:  It is always nice when networks and television studios recognize superior performances by actors, which encourages them to develop shows in order to keep that talent.

Talking about why the CW passed on picking up “Supergirl,” Pedowitz candidly admitted: “Sometimes you lose great projects.”  He was just as candid about the loss of star Nina Dobrev from “The Vampire Diaries” when he generously said: “We would have loved Nina to stay. She’s welcomed back any time she wants to come back.”

Still gung-ho about the CW’s now longest running television series “Supernatural,” Pedowitz stated: “If the numbers hold and the guys [Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki] want to do it, we’re in. They bring fresh enthusiasm to it each week.”

Also encouraging to hear was that “The 100” Season 3 will be airing midseason and that will again be 16 episode.  (Now we just have to hope that mid-season means sometime early 2016!)

Coming this Fall is the CW’s new musical comedy series “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” airing before “Jane the Virgin” on Monday nights.  Pedowitz said that the CW felt that “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” brand of humor and comedy would be good match for “Jane The Virgin,” which is also quite comedic and heartfelt — though the one big difference is “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has musical numbers and will feature 2-3 per episode.  When queried whether they had considered the comparisons with the Warner Bros’ series “Felicity,” the producers were quick to admit that they had not considered it when developing their show, which features a young professional woman who spontaneously moves across country to pursue her high school crush.  Also, the show will address the question of whether Rachel Bloom’s character Rebecca is exactly “sane” in her determined pursuit to give up everything she knows to pursue a long-lost love.  Bloom said that Rebecca is in complete denial about things and viewers will see her deal with those issues over the season.  So “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” will be cognizant of the need to address some of the stalkerish aspects of their heroine’s decisions and ramifications for those — albeit through a much lighter and comedic lens.

That’s a wrap on the CBS, Showtime, and CW presentation days from the Summer 2015 Television Critics Association tour.  Be sure to mark your calendars for the upcoming new series and specials as you do not want to miss out on the next great TV show that everyone will be talking about!

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