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CBS: Mediocrity was Just the Beginning!

I'm not 74 years old. So imagine my surprise when, upon reflecting on my choice of television networks, I discovered that I watch CBS more often than NBC. True, my Without a Trace viewing is mostly an act of protest against the Peacock's insistence on ER as a viable series, but seeing as how I'm at the lower half of the coveted 18-49 demographic NBC brags about owning, I hope my nettlesome viewing habits cause NBC President Jeff Zucker some sleepless nights. Anything to punish him for Fear Factor and Good Morning Miami.

Zucker could take some programming lessons from his CBS counterpart, Leslie Moonves. Despite winning the overall ratings race, Moonves decided not to stand pat on a proven schedule and will debut seven new series in the fall while moving some of his present triumphs to new nights and times. The Eye Network's shows may constitute the most vanilla prime-time on the air, but it's nice to see executives that actually worry about getting complacent.

The first step in keeping CBS energized seems to be to establish its identity as the Initials Network, setting what must be a new broadcast record with fully four hours of its schedule next year composed of acronyms. In addition to established hits CSI, JAG and CSI: Miami, Navy CIS joins the Tuesday night lineup. In a rare stroke of spin-off genius, CBS has created a program that combines two of its biggest hits: CIS takes Mark Harmon off of JAG and plops him in a show could just have easily been titled CSI: Submarine. Not that Harmon's Naval Investigative Service character will be restricted to subs -- you can rest assured he'll be analyzing DNA from destroyers and taking fingerprints off F-14s.

If JAG creator Donald Bellisario, CSI producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Law and Order showrunner Dick Wolf were smart, they'd get together and create the ultimate spin-off: CSI: CI CIS.

Bruckheimer will have more than CSI to keep him busy this year as he really stretches his producer wings to present Cold Case, a new crime drama about a Philadelphia homicide investigator who solves old cases. While another new crime drama, The Handler, sounds like it should be produced by Bruckheimer, it's not. This one centers on a Los Angeles-based FBI veteran who trains new agents. At first glance, the only reason anyone should care about this is that the show stars the terrific Joe Pantoliano, who, when we last saw him on The Sopranos, was having a hard time keeping his neckties on.

If there were any doubt about which is the real law-and-order network, CBS seems bound and determined to eradicate it. Nine of CBS's 24 fall shows center on police, forensic scientists or ex-cops turned detectives. Throw in The Guardian and Judging Amy and you've got 11 hours a week devoted to the legal system.

Strangely, David E. Kelley's new CBS series is not about the legal system, although one of the characters is the Chief of Police. Kelley's new offering is The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H. a small-town drama about three brothers living in a quirky, small New England town. If the first words out of your mouth are "Wasn't Picket Fences cancelled a long time ago?" go to the head of the class.

Leading into Brotherhood's 10 p.m. Wednesday time slot will be The Stones. Anchored behind the newly-moved King of Queens, this sitcom tells the story of parents going through a divorce while still supporting two leech-like grown children who live with them. With a sweet time slot and the proven CBS track record of family comedies that are just the right combination of bland and inoffensive, The Stones promises to be one of those shows you watch and forget about, only to look at a TV Guide in four years and exclaim, "The Stones is still on the air?"

The other new sitcom Two and a Half Men, is also a family comedy, but it's a family comedy with a difference: Charlie Sheen. Sheen and Jon Cryer star as swinging bachelors suddenly forced to live with their 10-year old nephew. Sure, the premise isn't exactly groundbreaking but I hear the scene where the kid discovers Sheen's little black book will make you laugh while it makes you think.

Finally, while Touched by an Angel may have left this mortal coil, CBS picks up the slack with a drama called Joan of Arcadia that revolves around a teenage girl than talks with God. No word yet on what God has to say but it probably isn't anything useful like who to bet on in the Super Bowl. Early rumors indicated the producers rejected sponsorship from the makers of several anti-psychotic drugs and that they had to rewrite a script after Rev. Donald Wildmon protested that God would have better things to do than make Joan prom queen. Can you imagine the poor guy that asks Joan out? First dates are nerve-wracking enough -- but when your conversation has to compare with the Almighty's, dinner at Chili's and bowling just won't cut it.


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