Wednesday, May 16, 2012

2012 Upfront Answers, CBS


Last week, I did a series of pre-upfront posts called "Upfront Questions" in which I posed one question for each night of the schedule. My post-upfront coverage is called "Upfront Answers," in which I take a look at how they addressed my questions.

Other Upfront Answers: NBC | Fox | ABC | CBS | The CW | General

For further reference: CBS True Power Rankings | CBS Upfront Questions

MONDAY

8:00-8:30 PM How I Met Your Mother
8:30-9:00 PM PARTNERS (N)
9:00-9:30 PM 2 Broke Girls (NT)
9:30-10:00 PM Mike and Molly
10:00-11:00 PM Hawaii Five-0

My Question: Which sitcom moves?

Even with CBS failing to pull off the biggest no-brainer move ever, they still moved something; Two and a Half Men heads to Thursday and will lead out of The Big Bang Theory in a resurrection of the 2009-10 power hour that made those two shows the two biggest scripted offerings on TV. Meanwhile, the move of Men at least puts 2 Broke Girls in its Monday-show-of-the-future timeslot right away, which was the biggest upside to moving Men.

TUESDAY

8:00-9:00 PM NCIS
9:00-10:00 PM NCIS: Los Angeles
10:00-11:00 PM VEGAS (N)

My Question: What's the verdict on NCIS: LA?

The verdict is that it's still not strong enough to go anywhere else, apparently. It certainly creates the possibility for a good year for NCIS: LA, which yet again won't face a single drama on the rest of the big four, but it also throws the new show into that same old less-than-optimal situation where shows have been failing for years. Wouldn't it be better by now to give the launching pad to a promising new show rather than to a fourth-year drama? This show just feels like a bigger deal than Unforgettable was last year, but it's the same old scheduling.

WEDNESDAY

8:00-9:00 PM Survivor
9:00-10:00 PM Criminal Minds
10:00-11:00 PM CSI

My Question: It ain't broke, but does CBS fix it?

Nope. With no comedy expansion, there was a much less pressing need to create drama timeslots, so I imagine keeping this together was pretty obvious.

THURSDAY

8:00-8:30 PM The Big Bang Theory
8:30-9:00 PM Two and a Half Men (NT)
9:00-10:00 PM Person of Interest
10:00-11:00 PM ELEMENTARY (N)

My Question: Which hour does The Big Bang Theory lead off?

It leads off the only hour in which there will be comedy. Meanwhile, CBS will at least create an extremely good situation for Person of Interest, which hangs in its timeslot and is assured of having a solidly-rated lead-in. As with Revenge, it also creates a lot of pressure. If the 3.0+ version of the winter and early spring shows up and sticks, you can certainly make an argument that they did the right thing (even though I'd still be skeptical). If the mid-2's version of the fall and late spring shows up, you can bet I'll be saying, "They killed the fourth comedy hour for this?"

FRIDAY

8:00-9:00 PM CSI: NY (NT)
9:00-10:00 PM MADE IN JERSEY (N)
10:00-11:00 PM Blue Bloods

My Question: Has the late-season Undercover Boss decline opened up a slot?

Well, one of the CSI spin-offs returned, and it took the spot where the Boss finished out the season, so you can certainly make that argument. Of course, the other side of the coin is that CSI: NY had its own late-season collapse.

SUNDAY

7:00-8:00 PM 60 Minutes
8:00-9:00 PM The Amazing Race
9:00-10:00 PM The Good Wife
10:00-11:00 PM The Mentalist (NT)

My Question: How serious is CBS about Sunday 18-49 competitiveness?

Not very. Moving a legit second-tier show over here is a good idea in theory, but leaving The Good Wife at 9:00 is clearly a sign that they're not interested in maximizing their ratings. The Mentalist is probably about the same in the relative landscape as CSI: Miami was when it made the move to the evening, and so it will surely settle into pretty marginal territory next season with lots of big overruns and a weak lead-in. Again, in theory, that's something CBS should be doing, but isn't it wiser to give The Good Wife the worse timeslot?

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

I thought it was a gaffe for Fox to rest on its laurels and not use American Idol to lead into anything as their scripted department essentially falls apart on the other nights. I hadn't seen nothin' yet.

The biggest no-brainer of upfront week was CBS adding an hour of comedy, and it did not come to pass. If ever there was a case for any network to add more comedy, CBS had it, and they didn't do it. If you'll indulge me, I'll make my case one last time, then I shan't speak of it again.

So if you look at this situation from just a scheduling perspective, you can come up with a bunch of narratives that, combined, make this make sense. How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men are ending soon, maybe even next year. 2 Broke Girls is "not ready to anchor an hour on Thursday." Mike and Molly is "not strong enough to anchor an hour."

All you have to do is just never look at the actual ratings, and that makes sense.

Well... even from a certain kind of ratings perspective, it kinda makes sense. After all, for all the early-season hype, these shows (including The Big Bang Theory) are doing pretty much the same Live + SD numbers that the Monday block was doing five years ago.

So really, all you have to do is just never look at any ratings for anything else, and it makes sense.

But then when you look at the ratings for everything else, you will see that nobody else is getting the same ratings as five years ago.

As I've been saying all season, these shows are just different now. These aren't the same old solid-rated CBS comedies of every other season. The CBS sitcom department is now in a position where they have five of the top seven scripted shows. And I'm not talking just on the network. Five of the frickin' top seven scripted shows on all of broadcast television are CBS situation comedies. It's a really uncommon kind of dominance, and I think people underestimate it because they just focus on these sitcoms as a unit and not these sitcoms vs. everything else on TV. "Not ready" 2 Broke Girls is the biggest new hit in the relative landscape since Desperate Housewives. Its not-that-great finale ratings in the lead-off role still did better than any CBS drama. "Not strong enough" Mike and Molly will finish the season bigger than all but one drama on the whole of broadcast TV (NCIS, which it trails by less than a tenth of a point). Even Rob, which everyone felt was some kind of easy cancellation, is going to finish as the second highest-rated new scripted show on broadcast TV this season.

And they're following up this unbelievable season by using exactly one of their five megahits/big hits to lead into something new. That's not just "stable." It's arrogance beyond reason. I know people criticized the crap NBC put after Friends over the years, but at least they put something after Friends.

What's sick about all this is that, for now, CBS will be fine anyway. The three sitcom hours will remain super-strong, they've optimized the situation for Person of Interest, and nobody will ever really give a second thought to what could've been. Those four hours will look great. But is that the real way to look at this? No.

The real comparison to be made is the additional comedy hour vs. CBS' weakest drama hour. Off the top of my head, let's just take away CBS' weakest weeknight drama (we'll give it an Unforgettable-esque 2.0) and replace it with, in the worst-case scenario, Rules of Engagement with a good lead-in (we'll give it a 2.7, which has been its spring level, but behind its full season level) and a weak, Rules/Rob-esque new show with a good lead-in (we'll give that a 2.7 too). And just to continue the worst-case scenario-ing, we'll also assume the new fourth anchor drops by 0.4 in its new slot (even though it'd be airing in the high-HUT and not that intimidating Thursday 9/8c hour). So you go +0.7, +0.7, -0.4. That's a gain of 1.0 points (or more than 0.3 per half hour) even if basically everything goes wrong, even if CBS doesn't have any big drama failures, and even if the general primetime trend (comedies getting relatively stronger, dramas getting weaker) comes to a screeching halt. That is the basement.

Look, I get that there's a good chance that CBS was presented with the worst possible scenario here. Their comedy development likely sucked. They may well have pretty solid assurances that Two and a Half Men or How I Met Your Mother (maybe both) are ending next season. That makes it closer. But I'd still do it without blinking. Redevelop some pilots for midseason or make new ones off-cycle. The ratings case is just too compelling. You can't sit on this goldmine. You have to use this kind of lead-in juice while you have it. If anything, I'd think the imminent departures of two big anchors would make the pursuit of new shows even more pressing.

Furthermore, why does the number of CBS sitcom hours have to be such a sacred thing? Yes, if every single thing goes wrong next season, there's a chance CBS won't be able to sustain four sitcom hours in 2013-14. So just go back to three! I know people feel that would be some big failure, but when you still have a dozen dramas doing well, I have a feeling it won't be that tough to spin at the 2013 upfront.

Oh yeah, there are some other nights on the schedule too. CBS is not sticking a new drama in a post-NCIS slot that has zero dramas. And they're throwing yet another new drama on Friday night. Sigh and sigh.

Anyway, like Fox, CBS has enough of an infrastructure that they're gonna be in good shape next season regardless. It's not going to be obvious that throwing their development under the bus is a bad thing. But as they say: if you're not getting better, you're getting worse. And CBS doesn't seem to have much interest in getting better.

8 comments:

Spot said...

Maybe this should've been obvious once CBS started fielding so many single cams (relatively speaking). Trying to gamble on a format that they rarely try, and that doesn't work when they do, was probably a recipe to only have a couple new comedies come out of the mix.

Spot said...

Two and a Half Men started with 11 episodes of 5.0+ ratings - but finished with 7 episodes in 3.6 to 3.8 range. With Ashton being payed around $800,000 per episode in next season, and other 2 combined getting similar amount of bucks - sub 4.0 in fall is not acceptable. I don't say it losses money in high 3s, but (thanks to very high cost) somewhere in low 3s is its cancelling threshold, opportunity cost for high ratings CBS kicks in. If The Big Bang Theory doesn't fuel fire under it, that's an end. Good move.
How I Met Your Mother lost it's swagger creatively, but costs less, had great fall ratings and didn't had so steep fall in Spring (some 20%, I doubt it's much more than broadcast average spring decline) . But show is entering its 8th season, even if it reaches 10 season, at that time (2014) it probably won't be good enough for anchoring hour.
So, I like this schedule much - it's made thinking about considering what happens in 2013 and 2014, not digging too deep into past events - it that doesn't count much anyway, more is of anecdotal evidence.
Other moves are expected, border boring - but why fix it if it ain't broken?

Spot said...

I'm not even as bothered with the comedy situation, if development didn't go as well as hoped. What bothers me is Good Wife being rewarded for mediocrity again. It hit a football-fueled 2.7 once, but never rose above 2.2 otherwise. So why sacrifice Made in Jersey for it? If they insist on dragging TGW to syndication, why not throw it on Friday?

But here's another way of looking at it: Maybe it's not about comedy strength, but drama weakness. You mentioned HIMYM and 2 1/2 Men being near the end. But what about CSI? CSI:NY? Criminal Minds minus Paget Brewster or Matthew Gray Gubler? NCIS and NCIS:LA have peaked. All those shows must be getting expensive relative to ratings. They're all in syndication already, so they don't have that excuse. That's what makes MiJ on Fridays so egregious. Give the two newbies the best slots. If they tank, then move them.

Spot said...

Brewster actually announced her departure already.

Spot said...

As always, schedules are subject to change. Four-comedy CBS Thursday launches after the Super Bowl.

Spot said...

I noticed that they talked about that possibility at some point today. Not holding my breath, because I think it'd require the Thursday dramas to really underperform, but the idea makes sense. It'd keep them from having to give Rules a full season (which they never want to do).

Spot said...

Creating a 4 sitcom block on Thursdays seems unlikely since CBS only announced one mid-season sitcom ("Friend Me"). I think three of the four things would have to happen:

1. "Partners" launches bigger than "2 Broke Girls" so CBS feels compelled to move the show like they did with "CSI" in 2000.
2. "Rules of Engagement" has to get a pick-up for mid-season to slide into whatever :30 slot the network needs to fill.
3. "Vegas" and "Made in Jersey" both have to bomb big enough that either "Person of Interest" or "Elementary" is compelled to move.
4. CBS makes a late order for a new mid-season sitcom.

Spot said...

I'll go with #2, #4, and disappointing ratings for "Elementary" or "PoI."

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