CBS Eyes Reality, Paramount+ Originals For Fall As George Cheeks Talks WGA Strike Impact & Figuring Out A Deal

CBS Eyes Reality, Paramount+ Originals For Fall As George Cheeks Talks WGA Strike Impact & Figuring Out A Deal

June 14, 2023

On May 10, CBS unveiled a fall 2023 lineup that didn’t factor the potential impact from the ongoing writers strike (and a possible SAG-AFTRA work stoppage). Besides the unscripted Wednesday, comprised of supersized episodes of Survivor and The Amazing Race, and Sunday anchor 60 Minutes, the announced schedule features all scripted series Sunday-Friday, none of which has episodes in the can.

A month later, CBS brass are looking at alternatives, George Cheeks, President and CEO, CBS and Chief Content Officer, News and Sports, Paramount+, said during a keynote at Banff moderated by Deadline’s Peter White.

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“We wanted to build our schedule for when the world goes back to normal,” Cheeks said. “Once we had done that, once we locked it in, we spent a lot of time focusing on what it’s going to look like.”

He elaborated on the revised CBS fall scheduling plans which are expected to be officially revealed soon.

“First of all, obviously it’s going to be very reality-heavy,” he said. “Our core summer franchises, starting with Big Brother, are all going to slide into August, which will leave them into November.”

Big Brother, which typically premieres in late June or really July, will not debut its new season until Aug. 2. The only time the summer reality staple did not start before August was in 2020, during the tough first months of the pandemic when the series was used on the Covid-impacted fall schedule. (CBS is launching two other unscripted series in August that will carry over to fall, Superfan, on Aug. 9 and The Challenge: USA on Aug. 10)

“Wednesday night, we’re going to supersize Survivor and Amazing Race, 90 minutes each,” Cheeks said. “The Price Is Right specials, Let’s Make A Deal specials — they actually do quite well in primetime — more of those. We have about four or five reality shows that we’re getting ready, we might do more.”

As for scripted fare, “we’re looking at some of the Paramount+ originals,” Cheeks said. “We’re spending a lot of time looking at research and figuring out which are the ones that A, have the best shot keeping our audience engaged but also that could really help drive awareness.”

He wouldn’t specify which Paramount+ titles they are targeting but provided a hint: “One of them won’t surprise you because it may have been on CBS before.”

Two Paramount+ drama series, SEAL Team and Evil, originated on CBS before migrating to the streamer two years ago. SEAL Team in particular was a popular draw on the broadcast network with an established fan base built over four seasons before leaving for Paramount+, so a return to CBS would be seamless.

CBS used a similar strategy in fall 2020 when then-CBS All Access original Star Trek: Discovery reruns helped shore up the network’s pandemic schedule.

Cheeks also was asked to address the studio’s negotiations with the top Hollywood guilds and the ongoing WGA strike.

He called the recently reached tentative agreement with the DGA “helpful” and spoke about the differences between the broadcast and streaming business models.

“As opposed to broadcast where the series model is tight and works very well for our creative partners, I do think that the way that the streaming series model has evolved poses serious challenges for our creative partners that we have to figure out,” he said. “I think the only other thing I can say to that is that I also think we have to acknowledge the fact that media companies in general are facing significant challenges.”

Cheeks discussed the companies’ pivot from building up streaming platforms at any cost to focusing on profitability.

“It’s forcing all of us to take a step back and rationalize our content spend. It has forced these streamers to say, Is it really the sacrosanct view that we have to have everything exclusively on the platform? I think that we’ve seen that evolve,” he said. “I would say that the one positive there is that I actually think will help us with our creative partners because one of the big issues they complain about is streaming residuals. I think the more that we’re not locking these shows on one platform, and you’re licensing them out, the more revenue to the studios and the more residuals for our partners.”

Despite working under different business templates and facing different-size impact from the strike, traditional media companies and tech-based streamers are negotiating as a block with the WGA through their collective bargaining representative AMPTP.

Admitting that “our challenging issues are not exactly the same”, Cheeks added, “I still remain very hopeful that we will find compromises because it’s existential for all of us — for the studios, for the creative partners. We have got to figure this out.”

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