Friday, March 30, 2007

Super TV preview: CBS

(Over the course of a few days, SDD will be offering up its thoughts on what the networks may do with their lineups next fall as they enter the time period when they consider what to cancel and what to pick up. This is only based on unverified gossip and a little guesswork based on what networks have done in the past. We'll go alphabetically by network, and if you want to see what we predicted for ABC, go here. And here's last year's CBS prediction. Don't consider any of this official news. It's just our predictions.)

by Todd and Jon

Officially, I think, it's time to give up predicting the decline of CBS. I've been doing it for years and years now, and it never comes true. Some crime dramas go up, and some crime dramas go down, but it appears the public will never tire of the genre as a whole, which would pretty much doom the network. Sure there are signs that the network is on the way down, but pretty soon it will launch some new show just like all of its other shows, and that show will take off and be a huge hit, even though I won't know anyone who watches it, like NCIS or Criminal Minds (even if CM has cooled a bit -- it seems to gain odd strength from going up against Lost, and when Lost was moved, CM went down too).

As I said, there are warning signs, but they've been there for years and years. Sure, they're more glaring this year, but I've learned to not believe anything about CBS. As the only network that actively courts the above-49-year-olds, CBS should be dominant for years to come, as networks become less important and younger people do more time-shifting with TiVos and watching of shows online. CBS will stay strong, confident in the older audience it draws in.

But CBS DOES want younger viewers -- indeed, it wants to be loved something fierce. All it wants is a big, watercooler hit like the other networks all have. It used to have Survivor and CSI, but both shows are long in the tooth. The Amazing Race is over-the-hill. How I Met Your Mother has Internet buzz, but hasn't ever been able to turn that into huge viewership (and fie on you, CBS, for not putting it after the Super Bowl!). And Jericho has fizzled, thanks to a long hiatus that kept it out of sight and out of mind, then returned it directly opposite American Idol.

So, for the first time in a good long while, CBS has shows on the bubble -- indeed, it didn't renew a bunch of series early like it did last year. Mother, Jericho, The New Adventures of Old Christine, The Class and Close to Home are all in danger of one fashion or another, and The Unit might be too (though rumors don't seem to indicate so). Most of these shows have been damaged heavily by Dancing with the Stars and American Idol, two of the only shows that CBS simply can't compete with (even the aging CSI puts up good numbers against Grey's Anatomy). The ratings for all of these shows would guarantee instant renewal on any other network (and, indeed, if Mother or Christine are canceled, I wouldn't be surprised by another network picking them up, either together or a la carte), but on dominant CBS, there's no way they'll come back.

Still, CBS won't cancel all of these shows, and, indeed, I would bet on only The Class, Jericho and Close to Home getting the boot. And I wouldn't even be surprised by a Jericho renewal. What's more, I would expect an oddly schizophrenic lineup next year, as CBS tries to chase both the audience that made it the number one network (with new procedurals) and younger, buzz-hungry viewers with projects like Viva Laughlin!, Babylon Fields and Swingtown (all three reported to be pet projects of CBS executives). It should make for a weird year at CBS, but as long as there are three CSIs, the network should stay on top. (Check the pilot list out to see just how wide-ranging CBS' development is this year.)

Right now, the only show definitively renewed for next season is Survivor, but expect announcements from CBS within the next few weeks about the other shows that are coming back. Who knows? Maybe some of the presumed bubble shows will be on the list as well.

Before we take a look at what the network will likely do next season, let's run through the nights it has right now.

Sunday: CBS' gambit of moving Without a Trace to this night hasn't paid off as well as it might have hoped. Behind CSI, it was a monster hit. On its own, it's just another well-performing crime procedural. Cold Case, on before it, does well, as does The Amazing Race, though it can be affected by sports overruns. 60 Minutes kicks off the night, and the show's rich deal with CBS means that the network has the most trouble with sports overruns, often seeing its primetime lineup pushed well into the 11:00 hour on football nights.

Monday: The four comedy line-up was doing even better when Rules of Engagement entered and kept holding on to over 90% of Two-and-a-Half Men's audience. How I Met Your Mother was a solid lead-off for the night (and grew slightly in the ratings), and Old Christine performed pretty well. Only The Class really failed to take off, and it grew through the season too. CSI: Miami was the night's number one show, and all was right with the world.

Until Dancing with the Stars hit. There was thought that the show, which has a sizable older audience, would conflict most with Deal Or No Deal. Instead, that show held firm, and CBS' young-skewing comedies, as well as Prison Break, took the biggest hits, putting Mother and Christine in the dire straits they're in now. CBS won't stand for third-place on a night, and here's one that may see major retooling.

Tuesday: CBS may never figure out how to program the 10 p.m. hour. Both Smith and 3 Lbs. failed, leading to a repeat wheel. NCIS and The Unit perform admirably earlier in the evening.

Wednesday: Jericho looked like the show that would finally give CBS some buzz and solve their problem of what to put on at 8 on Wednesdays. Instead, it left the schedule for weeks and weeks and turned into a ratings sieve. Still, some executives reportedly love the show, and it could get a second chance. Criminal Minds and CSI: NY close out the night in style.

Thursday: Survivor leading into CSI leading into Shark is a potent lineup, but it's not the lineup of Survivor into CSI into Without a Trace from a few years ago. The new ABC lineup has put dints in the armor of all of these shows, especially Survivor, which is approaching freefall (though not there yet).

Friday: No one really challenges CBS on Fridays, but their decision to ditch the well-performing Close to Home in favor of a new show is really just about the network needing new blood and having too few slots to put new shows in. Ghost Whisperer and Numb3rs should stay.

Saturday: CBS was the last network to abandon this night (and their Saturday lineup in the '70s was perhaps the best lineup in history), but they do better with crime show repeats here than they did with new programming, so it will likely stay abandoned.

Now for some predictions.

7 p.m. -- 60 Minutes (tick tick tick tick tick tick)
8 p.m. -- How I Met Your Mother (new night)
8:30 p.m. -- Fugly (new series)
9 p.m. -- Cold Case
10 p.m. -- Without a Trace

CBS reportedly wants to add an hour of comedy somewhere on the schedule and would like to use Mother or Christine to do it. Since Mother is a self-starter, Jon and I are betting it will head off the new bloc. Most think the new comedy hour will go on Wednesdays, but we're going to bet on The Amazing Race decamping for a new time slot and leaving this open. This is a pretty stable night, though, so we wouldn't be surprised by it staying exactly the same. Still, by using comedies, CBS would have more flexibility in avoiding sports over-runs, something they have to be conscious of. CBS has a surprising wealth of strong comedy pilots to choose from, but Fugly, from the creator of My Name Is Earl, sounds like it might mesh well with Mother's young audience.

8 p.m. -- Rules of Engagement (new time)
8:30 p.m. -- The New Adventures of Old Christine
9 p.m. -- Two-and-a-Half Men
9:30 p.m. -- The Rich Inner Life of Penelope Cloud (new series)
10 p.m. -- CSI: Miami

Time for Rules of Engagement to prove if it's a bona fide hit. I toyed with moving Christine to Sundays and putting Mother after Men, but the fact that that show's in trouble even with an increase in ratings indicates that somebody up there probably doesn't like it. CBS has proven star-resistant as of late, but they probably won't be able to resist Marisa Tomei in Penelope (just as they couldn't resist the stars of Shark or Smith last year), and CSI: Miami is the night's number one show when Dancing isn't around.

8 p.m. -- NCIS
9 p.m. -- The Unit
10 p.m. -- Swingtown (new series)

I toyed with moving The Unit to 10 and sandwiching another guy-type show in between the two, but I just couldn't justify it or find the right show to go with. Still, the rest of the night is solid enough, especially NCIS. The Unit had better regain some of its first season audience in season three, though. Finally, Swingtown is a primetime soap about swingers in the '70s. There's really no good spot for it on the schedule, but it will probably make it, just because the execs are so excited by it.

8 p.m. -- The Man (new series)
9 p.m. -- Criminal Minds
10 p.m. -- CSI: New York

It should come as no surprise that CBS has what sound like the best crime shows in development, and The Man (about LL Cool J playing an undercover cop who also has three adopted kids) seems like it might have the right sort of goods to crack the CBS lineup. Other than that, the night is strong. Perhaps a comedy bloc will go here, but that would mean LOTS of new shows, and CBS isn't fond of appearing weak.

8 p.m. -- Survivor (The Amazing Race in between Survivor seasons and in the summer)
9 p.m. -- CSI
10 p.m. -- Shark

The idea of splitting the season between Race and Survivor is an old one, and we think it may come to fruition this year. Other than that, blah, blah, blah, the same.

8 p.m. -- The Ghost Whisperer
9 p.m. -- Babylon Fields (new series)
10 p.m. -- Numb3rs

Babylon Fields, a zombie comedy, reportedly, might work well between the sci-fi-ish Ghost Whisperer and the male-skewing Numb3rs. Or it might not. Your guess is probably as good as ours when it comes to what CBS will pick up.

8 p.m. -- crime show repeats
9 p.m. -- crime show repeats
10 p.m. -- 48 Hours Mystery

If any network decides to broadcast Saturdays this year, it'll be CBS, but we're not betting on it happening.

We're betting CBS will stockpile a couple of crime dramas for midseason, in case all else fails, and Protect & Serve seems like a good bet. We also wouldn't be surprised by Viva! Laughlin coming on for a quick run at midseason, as well as a few other comedies, perhaps led by I'm in Hell or The Captain.

To be honest, CBS has some uncertainty this year, and that makes the network fun to predict for the first time in ages. Let's hope they respond to the challenges they face by trying some new and different things, rather than battening down the hatches and trying to turn into a crime monolith.

Tomorrow: The CW just tries to hang on long enough to not be off the air in 2009.


Libby said...

If CBS cancels HIMYM, so help me ...

Filipe Furtado said...

I think you are being a little to hopeful for CBS. I agree they might try a few things this year (they really really need more hits for the 18-49 crowd), still I'd be shocked for example if something like Protect and Serve doesn't show up in the Close to Home timeslot, for example.

Todd VanDerWerff said...

Felipe -- the CBS execs have seemed high on Laughlin, Swingtown and Babylon all development season. Last year, they only got this excited about Jericho. I think at least two, maybe all three, will make the lineup, though I'll admit there's really no room for them anywhere. Les Moonves may prevail and force them to pick up all crime shows, but he's got too many headaches with The CW right now.

Libby -- if that happens, we may have to handcuff David to a radiator or something to keep him from spewing forth a filth-laden tirade here.

I'm not sure where CBS falls in the upfront order, but if they decide to cancel HIMYM at the last minute, ABC and NBC will probably both be interested, and the show is technically owned by Fox, which could use something to perk up its Sunday numbers.

Filipe Furtado said...

I actually wouldn't be surprised if all three shows got pick-up. But outside for the Tuesday 10pm slot, I don't see they giving any slot to them on fall (I'm actually convinced Laughlin is a sure thing as a 6-episode midseason show).

Now for The CW, after looking at their pilots, I start to understand how Rob Thomas still hopes to bring Veronica Mars back again.

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