CBS is the warrior king of networks, and its upfront typically feels like the ritual unfurling of an illustrated tapestry of conquests.
This year's event included the cast of How I Met Your Mother, now heading into its final season, singing a parody of Les Misérables beneath yellow umbrellas on the Carnegie Hall stage.
David Letterman, who is now the official anti-Jimmy of late night, made a brief (and rare) appearance, and Robin Williams, a high-profile addition to the lineup with a new sitcom called The Crazy Ones, gave the crowd a few moments of fast-riffing standup. He mentioned prostitutes, cocaine, FOX News and the notoriously bizarre variety show Pink Lady and Jeff.
Here are three shows that struck me as keepers, at least for as long as the audience will have them.
Mom. I've loved Anna Faris since Scary Movie back in 2000, and for more than a decade I've waited patiently for the vehicle that would establish her as a major comic star. I assume she's been waiting, too. In this sitcom from Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men), she's a single mother and reformed alcoholic whose existence is gummed up by the presence of her mother, another reformed alcoholic (Allison Janney). It doesn't look particularly subtle – to reiterate, it's from Chuck Lorre – but it could be the hit that Faris deserves.
The Millers. The upfront crowd responded enthusiastically to Will Arnett's new sitcom. It's about a divorced dude dealing with singlehood and with his parents, who likewise are splitting up. The surprising thing is that the lean, wily and sardonic Arnett, at least in the clip shown, was being upstaged by Margo Martindale and Beau Bridges as the warring parents. Future comedies should make sure to include middle-aged people yelling at each other.
Hostage. In the coming year there will be a good deal of tinkering with the traditional length of a show's season, an experiment that replicates the cable programming experience. FOX is bringing back the miniseries event, and CBS is launching this suspense drama, which will conclude its season in January. Toni Collette plays a nationally renowned surgeon trying to save her family from a band of terrorists headed by Dylan McDermott. You see, if she doesn't kill the President during an operation, McDermott will kill her family. The chief pleasure here should be watching Collette out-think and out-play the terrorists. She's a good actress, and in the clip was dauntingly unsmiling.