Any other year, CBS’ 2020-21 schedule would be considered very conservative, with three nights left intact and the other three undergoing only minor changes, including adding two new series, drama The Equalizer starring Queen Latifah and Chuck Lorre comedy B Positive, and holding S.W.A.T. for midseason.
But in the year of COVID-19, this could be considered a risky schedule, as all entertainment series in CBS’ fall lineup, except for The Amazing Race installment already in the can, are yet to be filmed with restart of Hollywood production still in limbo. CBS’ fall schedule is in stark contrast with the other two broadcast lineups announced so far, as both Fox and the CW relied predominantly on already produced content, including acquisitions, for fall, pushing the launch of their regular rosters to January and beyond.
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“We don’t view this schedule as risky, we view this schedule as very strong and very proven,” CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl told Deadline. “In terms of production, we would say ‘fall’ with quotes; I don’t know if everything would start the third week of September. Yet we are very hopeful that we would get into production at some point this summer, and we would have the majority of our lineup for the fall.”
Here is CBS’ schedule, followed by more insight into what the network’s fall may look like and possible contingency plans, as well as descriptions of CBS’ three new series picked up so far. (The Silence of the Lambs sequel Clarice is held for midseason). You can also watch CBS’ stars unveiling the schedule in a video above:
CBS FALL 2020-21 SCHEDULE
(New programs in UPPER CASE)
8-8:30 PM — The Neighborhood
8:30-9 PM — Bob ♥ Abishola
9-10 PM — All Rise
10-11 PM — Bull
8-9 PM — NCIS
9-10 PM — FBI
10-11 PM — FBI: Most Wanted
8-9 PM — Survivor
9-10 PM — The Amazing Race
10-11 PM — SEAL Team
8-8:30 PM — Young Sheldon
8:30-9 PM — B POSITIVE (N)
9-9:30 PM — Mom
9:30-10 PM — The Unicorn
10-11 PM — Evil
8-9 PM — MacGyver
9-10 PM — Magnum P.I.
10-11 PM — Blue Bloods
8-9 PM — Crimetime Saturday
9-10 PM — Crimetime Saturday
10-11 PM — 48 Hours
7-8 PM — 60 Minutes
8-9 PM — THE EQUALIZER
9-10 PM — NCIS: Los Angeles
10-11 PM — NCIS: New Orleans
“I think the main thing is incredible stability,” Kahl said of CBS’ 2020-21 schedule, whose only moves include The Equalizer replacing canceled God Friended Me on Sunday; Lorre and Marco Pennette’s B Positive getting the hammock 8:30 PM slot between Lorre’s two Thursday series, Young Sheldon and Mom, with The Unicorn moving to 9:30 PM; and Wednesday reverting to the late spring 2018-19 lineup of Survivor, The Amazing Race and SEAL Team, temporarily displacing S.W.A.T.
“Our Monday night, our Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Friday night, Sunday night are only down single digits (in total viewers this season), which in this environment is pretty good,” Kahl said about the rationale behind the very few changes. “The biggest thing we had to deal with was simply the loss of The Big Bang Theory, which was a hard show to replace, but the rest of the lineup performed incredibly well and is incredibly resilient.”
The departure of Big Bang made for steeper year-over-year viewership declines on Thursday, so “trying to strengthen Thursday again this year, that is a priority for us,” Kahl said.
He suggested that the fall 2020 rollout may be fluid but expressed confidence that, with some adjustments, including possible shorter fall runs, CBS’ entertainment programs could deliver originals in the fourth quarter.
“I think it’s unrealistic to think that there will be one week when everything all of a sudden is ready, and I don’t think that it also needs to be the case,” Kahl said. “Even if shows start (production) a little later in the summer than usual, it doesn’t mean that the whole schedule is pushed back by that same amount of time. Shows can turn around pretty quickly. What it might mean is, instead of 10 episodes in the fourth quarter, you get 8, but shows can certainly make late September, October launch assuming that they get into production at some point even later in the summer.”
The broadcast networks’ fall 2020 schedule already was expected to be disrupted. “Being a presidential election year, there are a lot of breaks built into the schedule for election night, for debates. That would give these shows some break, it’s not like they need to come on the air and necessarily be on 10 weeks in a row,” Kahl said. “We are hopeful we can get into production, and we are hopeful we can put this fall schedule on the air pretty close to as is.”
If that doesn’t happen as hoped, the CBS has backup plans.
“We have a lot of options at our disposal and, since the merger, we have even more options at our disposal,” Kahl said. “Whenever we can get our shows together leading up to that, we are not going to be airing a test pattern.”
CBS is currently mining the library of new corporate sibling Paramount Pictures for blockbusters to anchor its recently resurrected Sunday movie night, which has done well for the network. The network also has access to shows on sister streaming platform CBS All Access, including The Good Fight, whose first season aired on CBS last summer, and has on deck half a season of Pop’s One Day at a Time, which was supposed to run on CBS this summer.
Additionally, CBS is yet to schedule Season 2 of summer adventure drama series Blood & Treasure, with Kahl indicating that it may be held as contingency for fall. “We are simply keeping our options open,” he said, not elaborating whether acquisitions of foreign English-language series is also on the table.
Also providing flexibility later in the season will be S.W.A.T., the only returning CBS series not to land on the fall schedule.
“It’s a proven show. Through the years, we have always enjoyed having a stable, proven performer on our bench, and S.W.A.T. falls into that category,” Kahl said. “I know we can call on it anywhere we might need it, and it will come and do a great job.”
The 2019-20 season marked the end of several long-running CBS drama series, including Criminal Minds, Hawaii Five-0 and Madam Secretary. Because of the uncertainty surrounding Hollywood production, the network brass are nowhere near discussing possible endgames for any veteran series next season, Kahl said.
“Step One is, let’s get back into production and then we will evaluate all these things,” he said.
The 2019-20 season was also marked by solid new series launches with five out of CBS’ eight freshman scripted series making it to Season 2. Kahl is confident the 2020-21 lineup will perform as well.
“I think next year you will see a strong, winning schedule again, I think advertisers will look at this and go, we know what this schedule does and it’s a very appealing schedule for us,” he said.
CBS is unveiling its 2020-21 schedule to advertisers in a video upfront presentation this afternoon. More new series for midseason would likely be added later this summer as the network makes more decisions on its 2020 pilots, grounded by the pandemic.
NEW SERIES DESCRIPTIONS
B POSITIVE — B POSITIVE is from award-winning executive producer, writer and creator Chuck Lorre and Marco Pennette, and stars Emmy Award nominee Thomas Middleditch (“Silicon Valley”) and Tony Award winner Annaleigh Ashford (“Masters of Sex”). The comedy revolves around Drew (Middleditch), a therapist and newly divorced dad who is faced with finding a kidney donor when he runs into Gina (Ashford), a rough-around-the-edges woman from his past who volunteers her own. Together, they form an unlikely and life-affirming friendship as they begin a journey that will forever impact both of their lives. Chuck Lorre and Marco Pennette are executive producers for Warner Bros. Television and Chuck Lorre Productions, Inc. James Burrows directed the pilot from a script by Pennette.
B POSITIVE stars Thomas Middleditch as Drew, Annaleigh Ashford as Gina, Kether Donohue as Leanne, Sara Rue as Julia and Kamryn Kunody as Maddie.
THE EQUALIZER —THE EQUALIZER is a reimagining of the classic series starring Academy Award nominee and multi-hyphenate Queen Latifah (“Chicago,” “Bessie”) as Robyn McCall, an enigmatic woman with a mysterious background who uses her extensive skills to help those with nowhere else to turn. McCall presents to most as an average single mom who is quietly raising her teenage daughter. But to a trusted few, she is The Equalizer – an anonymous guardian angel and defender of the downtrodden, who’s also dogged in her pursuit of personal redemption. Andrew Marlowe, Terri Miller, Dana Owens (Queen Latifah), John Davis, John Fox, Debra Martin Chase, Richard Lindheim (co-creator of the original “Equalizer” TV series that ran on CBS for four seasons), Shakim Compere and Liz Friedlander (pilot only) are executive producers for Universal Television, a division of NBCUniversal Content Studios, in association with CBS Television Studios. Friedlander will direct the pilot episode from a script by Marlowe and Miller.
THE EQUALIZER stars Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall, Chris Noth as William Bishop, Lorraine Toussaint as Viola “Aunt Vi” Lascombe, Tory Kittles as Marcus Dante, Liza Lapira as Melody Zhao and Laya DeLeon Hayes as Delilah.
CLARICE — CLARICE, from acclaimed executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet, and starring Rebecca Breeds (“Pretty Little Liars”) in the title role, is a deep dive into the untold personal story of FBI Agent Clarice Starling as she returns to the field in 1993, six months after the events of “The Silence of the Lambs.” Brilliant and vulnerable, Clarice’s bravery gives her an inner light that draws monsters and madmen to her. However, her complex psychological makeup that comes from a challenging childhood empowers her to begin to find her voice while working in a man’s world, as well as escape the family secrets that have haunted her throughout her life. Alex Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet, Elizabeth J.B. Klaviter and Heather Kadin are executive producers for MGM Television and CBS Television Studios in association with Secret Hideout. Aaron Baiers is a co-executive producer. Maja Vrvilo will direct the pilot episode from a script by Lumet and Kurtzman.
CLARICE stars Rebecca Breeds as Clarice Starling, Kal Penn as Emin Grigoriyan, Nick Sandow as Murray Clarke, Lucca de Oliveira as Tomas Esquivel, Michael Cudlitz as Paul Krendler and Devyn A. Tyler as Ardelia Mapp.
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