CBS Puts Stephen Colbert Center Stage in Pitch to Advertisers

The major networks unveiled their offerings for the coming television season to advertising buyers in Manhattan this week. Money, prestige and cultural import were at stake. Two New York Times reporters who cover media — John Koblin and Sapna Maheshwari — assess what they saw at the CBS presentation on Wednesday, the fourth and final upfront presentation from the major broadcast networks.

JOHN What a difference a year makes. Last year, Stephen Colbert barely earned a footnote in CBS’s upfront — he was trailing Jimmy Fallon by as much as a million viewers a night, and he was being badly outshined by his colleague, “The Late Late Show” host, James Corden. CBS all but ignored him. This year, with Colbert surging and unexpectedly besting Fallon’s “The Tonight Show,” he was featured prominently in CBS’s opening sizzle reel and then came out to lead a song-and-dance number. He even took on the role of Company Man, proudly promoting all the top shows that CBS has on the air. CBS’s top dog, Les Moonves, admitted to the upfront crowd, “And if you think I love Stephen more now because he’s No. 1? You’re right.” (Colbert took it to another level later: His first guest on his show Wednesday night was “The Talk” co-host Julie Chen, Moonves’ wife.) Sapna, Colbert set the tone for what was probably the most high-energy upfront we’ve seen all week.

SAPNA I absolutely agree, John, and ad buyers at the after-party felt that way. It didn’t hurt that CBS executives appeared to pay the right amount of attention to Google, Apple, Amazon and the rest of the internet while also hyping their own unique wares. We’ve seen the networks touting how they’re “No. 1” all week, but CBS, as we know, is able to lay claim to the most viewers over all. The Colbert opening was a huge hit, helped by what a wild news week it’s been — his jokes riffed off James Comey, Sean Spicer and, of course, President Trump, and appeared to land right on…

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