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TV Guide Online

20 July 2005

TV-Movie Madness
CBS will battle Desperate Housewives with edgier fare

Spring Break Shark Attack

How do you take on a hot show like Desperate Housewives? With some vampire bats, a time bomb and a serial killer, of course. And if those donít do the job, thereís always a "superstorm" to destroy the world.

Welcome to the new CBS Sunday Movie, long the network-TV home for the tearjerker or spiritually uplifting Hallmark Hall of Fame film. A steady diet of those movies simply isnít doing the job to attract younger viewers away from ABCís Sunday lineup. CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler said at the Television Critics Association press tour on Tuesday that itís time to change course with more B-movie-esque thrillers.

"We know weíre up against a juggernaut on Sunday nights," she said. "As a result, weíre trying some high-concept and popcorn movies to go along with our traditional female films and star-driven vehicles. Youíll also see a somewhat different scheduling strategy."

In other words, Tassler will put those movies on in the fall, when CBS can promote them to male viewers who watch football on Sunday afternoons. The films include Mayday, about an airliner that gets hit by a Navy test missile; and Time Bomb, which spins the tale of a homeland-security threat during a football game (the officials at the NFL should love the promos for that one). You loved Lucy Lawless in last seasonís Locusts. This fall sheís back in Vampire Bats. Category 7: The End of the World, from the makers of last yearís Category 6: Day of Destruction ó which leaves only Categories 1 through 5 for prequels. And letís not forget The Hunt for the BTK Strangler, about serial killer Dennis Rader, who had a 31-year run in Wichita, Kans. If you listened to his recent courtroom confessions, you know this is a script that writes itself. The role of Rader hasnít been cast yet.

CBS started the B-movie strategy last season with Locusts, Category 6 and Spring Break Shark Attack. They all did much better with younger viewers than that movie about Morton Kondrackeís dying wife. Tassler said CBS wonít be abandoning the softer movies and promised a mix: "Itís a little something for everybody," she said.

Critics, of course, hate these movies. But Tassler doesnít care, because viewers like íem.

"These movies are fun," she said. "They do very well for us in the (younger) demo."

Meanwhile, the TV critics who met with Tassler couldnít seem to comprehend how Everybody Hates Chris, widely considered the best of the new comedies coming up this fall, ended up on CBSí corporate cousin UPN. In fact, they seemed obsessed with the idea that if it becomes a big hit, it will end up on the bigger network.

"I wish we did have it," Tassler said.

After Tasslerís session, the Biz asked around to see if we were missing something. Could Chris ever move to CBS? No, we were told. If Chris is a hit, it could make a lot more money on CBS. But then what would be the point of having UPN?

"If you did that, you might as well shut down UPN," one insider told us.