Tuesday, December 18, 2012

2012 Upfront Revisited, CBS

The winter break is not quite at the calendar midpoint of the TV season, but it's as close to a "stopping point" as we're gonna get. So this week, as promised, I'm doing one rather lengthy post for each network looking back at how the moves made on the upfront schedules have worked out. Because I love sabotaging my own credibility, I will also revisit some of my thoughts on those moves at the time they happened. Then I'll have a larger-scale look at the ups/downs of the network's fall. Finally, I'll look ahead to the upcoming midseason schedule changes.

More Upfronts Revisited: ABC | CBS | NBC | Fox | CW

Revisiting the Upfront
How did the big and little moves of the upfront look at the time? How do they look now?

The Big Move: No Comedy Expansion, Two and a Half Men to Thursday Leading into Person of Interest

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.

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.

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. (Upfront Answers)
CBS' biggest move of the upfront was the move they didn't make; with their comedy department housing five of the top seven scripted shows on TV, they opted to hold at three hours of comedy. And I was pissed off!

To really evaluate this decision takes an examination on several fronts: 1) How have those returning comedies held up? 2) How was the CBS comedy development? and 3) How has Person of Interest, the big winner in CBS' decision, done?

1) How have those returning comedies held up? The Big Bang Theory certainly still seems on track to finish as the top broadcast entertainment program of the season. Two and a Half Men has recovered somewhat from a slow start and is now doing pretty well on Thursday. Monday has been a very different story; all three returnees are down somewhere in the upper-20s percentage-wise vs. last year. However, as we get farther from the hyper-inflated fall 2011 comparisons, with Partners gone and an upcoming three-month stretch across which the shows will face no Dancing with the Stars and no The Voice, it feels like those year-to-year comparisons have nowhere to go but up.

Worth noting that as much as these shows are down, they're still near the top of the charts. The CBS comedies aren't quite five of the top seven scripted shows on broadcast, but they're very close. The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men and 2 Broke Girls still make up three of the top four (alongside Modern Family) and then you need skip only three dramas (NCIS, Once Upon a Time, Grey's Anatomy) to get to the HIMYM and Mike and Molly averages. So it's now five of the top nine. Even by that standard, you can argue that CBS is leaving a lot on the table by cramming them all into three hours.

2) How was the CBS comedy development? It seems pretty clear now that CBS didn't expand largely because they knew their new comedies were disasters. Partners was pretty close to dead on arrival on Monday. It lasted for six episodes but many thought that was two or three too many. And it looks like their other comedy pickup, Friend Me, may not even get to the air following the death of its creator.

3) How has Person of Interest done? Through nine episodes, POI is up by 6% on last fall's numbers (its lead-in is also up, from an average 3.4 to 3.8). It's pretty similar to Revenge in that there hasn't been the explosion some might have expected, but +6% is a very favorable trend in the generally disappointing landscape of this fall. Most of the CBS crime dramas are doing worse than usual, down somewhere in the teens, so to defy that is a positive. If the season ended today, Person of Interest's A18-49+ number (130) would qualify it as a "hit." Not a big hit, not a megahit, but definitely stronger than it was in the landscape at this time a year ago.

Looking at these three factors (#2 in particular), I think we can say that holding at three hours has worked out OK. In re-evaluating myself, was it a stupid stance to feel so strongly about this after the upfront? Maybe I could've seen the Monday struggles coming a little better. But ultimately, the one thing we can't remotely predict from the outside is the new shows. I still believe there was too much upside not to do it without a catastrophe of a comedy development season, and they almost never have those. Even a single Accidentally on Purpose-level performer might've been enough to give it a whirl. Sadly, it's pretty inarguable that they did have a catastrophe of a comedy development season.

And the fundamental theory that underlied my push for this remains: the schedule would be stronger with even a patchwork fourth comedy hour. The repeat performance from The Big Bang Theory on Monday should make that pretty obvious. And the originals of The Big Bang Theory on Thursday are not being very well utilized right now.

For example, if they canned Vegas, moved Person of Interest to its Tuesday slot, and put a regularly scheduled The Big Bang Theory repeat and Friend Me into a two-hour Thursday mix, they'd almost certainly see an increase across those two hours. Even without Friend Me, a lineup with two regular repeats could very likely increase the overall ratings, as BigTVFan points out. Of course, networks dislike having regularly scheduled repeats, and there's no way they'd have two. I wouldn't do two repeats either. I'm just talking "theory." CBS is still not that far away from being able to improve their schedule with more comedy.

Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure the pendulum has totally shifted on this. Last year, it took horrific development for the expansion not to happen. This year, having totally whiffed on development in 2012-13, they're gonna need to pony up for How I Met Your Mother, to pony up for Two and a Half Men, and to have a fan-frickin'-tastic comedy development season to be able to sustain a four-hour schedule. Hope it happens, but I am decidedly not holding my breath.

The Little Moves:  

 2 Broke Girls To 9/8c
I'm still no fan of how CBS did their Monday/Thursday skeds (even if time has mellowed me somewhat since the upfront) but I tend to think moving 2BG to 9:00 is not as risky as people think. It'll be fine. Season two is usually very good to sitcoms, but it'll be tough to recapture all the mojo this block had last year. I'm giving it an even-money 4.25. (Best Case/Worst Case)
It's not gonna break even by season's end, but within the context of the underwhelming CBS Monday, it's been fine; it's down the least year-to-year compared to HIMYM and Mike and Molly, and that's despite 1) having the absolute dud as a lead-in and 2) having been the most inflated at the beginning of the season (7.1 premiere). And as I said, I think the year-to-year comparisons have nowhere to go but up for CBS Monday.

Vegas Tuesday, Made in Jersey Friday
CBS is not sticking a new drama in a post-NCIS slot that has zero dramas [on other networks]. And they're throwing yet another new drama on Friday night. Sigh and sigh. (Upfront Answers)
I wasn't a fan of the scheduling in either case, and I had Made in Jersey gone by midseason. However, I vastly overestimated the appeal of Vegas among the younger set, even with its bad scheduling. I also overestimated how good the show would be. If it had stayed close to the Unforgettable pace, maybe I could argue that CBS was missing an opportunity by not putting it at 9/8c after NCIS. At this level, I'm just not sure the story would be drastically different at 9:00. Simply put, it has not shown much of a pulse.

Mentalist Sunday
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. (Upfront Answers)
"Pretty marginal territory" about nails it for The Mentalist. In recent years, it felt like CBS had to cancel dramas that (in a vacuum) deserved to stick around. This time, despite The Mentalist disappointing, they have enough other probable drama cancels that The Mentalist may well be OK. The Mentalist is currently tracking at the exact same year-to-year decline as CSI: Miami took in its first Sunday season (-33%). I expected it would do better than that, since the last season pre-move of CSI: Miami aired after The Big Bang Theory.

Big Picture
What are the best and worst possible spins on the network's performance this fall?

Glass Half-Full:

To a large degree, CBS still has the things that make CBS respected by industry analysts. Their schedule has considerable depth; their second tier of scripted shows is still absolutely unmatched by other networks. All other nets would love a second tier of CSI, Hawaii Five-0, NCIS: Los Angeles and Elementary. Most other nets would like a first tier of those shows.

Their worst year-to-year trends are coming on Monday night, but you can make a real argument those are just "evening out" from a highly inflated 2011-12. They're probably about where you'd have expected them to be now if you'd looked at their numbers two years ago. Maybe even better.

And as I've mentioned, they really have nowhere to go but up. While NBC is facing a likely collapse without The Voice, CBS is going to have an NFL championship game and a Super Bowl, and their Monday/Tuesday lineups will face much less competitive situations over the next several months. Wednesday/Thursday's American Idol competition will probably look less Death Star-ry than ever.

For the most part, they've been going up already. Nearly everything on the schedule is trending better on a year-to-year basis than it was at the very beginning of the season; among twenty returnees, fifteen are doing better than on premiere night. (The only exceptions are the NCIS duo, The Mentalist, Survivor and How I Met Your Mother.)

Glass Half-Empty:

It's the story across broadcast this season: even if the year-to-year trends are slowly getting better, they're still really bad. With only a few exceptions, the new normal decline for a CBS crime drama is somewhere in the mid-teens. That's a step down of truly significant proportions. NCIS hasn't gone worse than -8% year-to-year in the entire history of the show. It's at -16% as we stand today. Criminal Minds' last four years went -1%, -0%, -4%, -2%, and it's at -19% right now!

And most of the aforementioned exceptions are on the wrong side of the mid-teens. We talked about The Mentalist. Blue Bloods has only barely recovered from its awful start when CBS was airing Made in Jersey. And then there's Hawaii Five-0, perhaps the biggest WTF of the entire premiere week. You can blame the struggles of its lead-in, the Monday comedy lineup, but for now it's still down more than any of the three returning comedies. Revolution probably gets some of the blame for H5-0's struggles, as well. And it's recovered a lot (from -47% on premiere night to -33% now), but it's still a head-scratcher.

The other bad news for CBS is their development. We won't rehash the comedy stuff. It's not a huge deal or a huge surprise that Made in Jersey flopped. But even the shows that CBS loved at the upfront haven't done so hot, though they got their back-nines. I didn't expect Vegas to go well behind the pace of failed year-ago occupant Unforgettable. I didn't expect Elementary to go well behind the pace of year-ago occupant The Mentalist. The story is not really written yet, especially for the latter. Elementary is clearly doing well enough to survive, it's got a Super Bowl airing coming, and heck, Person of Interest looked pretty uncertain at this time a year ago. But the start has been underwhelming.

Looking Ahead
What moves will the network make at midseason, and how smart are those moves?

Monday: Rules of Engagement to 8:30

If Friend Me is not a go, this is a pretty obvious move. So Friend Me is probably not a go. But Rules probably won't even manage Big Bang Theory repeat numbers. The Monday lineup may well peak in January, when TBBT repeats are skedded to air for three straight weeks.

Tuesday/Friday: Two-Week Golden Boy Tuesday Tryout, Moves to Friday 9/8c

This is better than just throwing it on Friday to begin with or than putting it on Sunday after The Good Wife. That said, is Vegas so valuable that they can't just shuffle it to Friday and keep Golden Boy here permanently? They did it a couple years ago with a fairly similarly-positioned The Defenders, after all. I wouldn't be stunned if it still happens... if Golden Boy shows some promise in that tryout. But the fact that CBS isn't scheduling it that way to begin with suggests they're not expecting a lot.

More Upfronts Revisited: ABC | CBS | NBC | Fox | CW


Spot said...

The thing bugging me w/ Golden Boy is that what I saw of the trailer (they pulled it before I got a chance to watch it all. My schizophrenic internet tendencies are partly to blame) actually looks a lot better than what Vegas has shown so far. But on the flipside, the Vegas trailer looked a lot better than the show turned out to be. And even frickin' NYC22 looked like it it could be entertaining when shown in trailer form, rather than the shuffling corpse of outdated rookie cop cliches it turned out to be.

So, basically, CBS has an eye (no pun intended) for making...well...eye-catching trailers, at least if you're into their shows in the first place. But the scheduling may well suggest otherwise on some of these.

Spot said...

I am a little surprised that CBS is giving Elementary the post-Super Bowl slot instead of Person of Interest to maximize its growth, but I think it's at least a better choice than to Survivor yet again or Criminal Minds. Methinks the studio ownership issue may be at play a little bit since PoI is a Warner Brothers show while CBS Studios produces Elementary. However, getting behind 10 pm dramas and not ceding the hour to cable is a smart move for broadcast in general.

I agree that if Golden Boy can find better traction than Vegas, we could see the latter move to Fridays. As an older-skewing show, it would fit well with Blue Bloods. But it's possible Elementary is the only freshmen show to get a second season, and that's not good for CBS.

Spot said...

I think that Survivor would have been a good choice for the post-SB slot. Reality shows always do the best after the super bowl (since they are often competitive like sports). Furthermore, reality shows do a better job of sustaining that growth for at least a few weeks.

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