Tuesday, April 28, 2015

CBS True Power Rankings, May 2015

Every weekday for the next three weeks, this blog will have a meaty piece of coverage surrounding the annual schedule releases. It starts this week with the season's final edition of the True Power Rankings, the SHOW-centric half of the upfront preview, digging deep into the merits of individual shows by network. Next week come the Upfront Questions, the SCHEDULE-centric look ahead to upfront week. The following week, the schedules come out, and with them come the Upfront Answers.

The True/A18-49 averages cover the last one-third of aired episodes this season, rounded up, through Sunday, April 19.

Other May True Power Rankings: ABC | CBS | NBC | Fox | CW

CBS ComediesTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
The Fall Locks
1The Big Bang Theory4.30-1%4.14-14%34%47%7
22 Broke Girls2.14-1%1.98-21%33%43%6

Whenever the "full-fledged" comedy lineup is back in action, these are the three shows that will absolutely be there. The Thursday Night Football schedule promises even more Thursday chaos than usual with an additional CBS game in early December, so maybe something weird happens in the last couple months of 2014, but eventually all the comedy hours will be in place.

The most likely scenario for The Big Bang Theory would seem to be a repeat of last year's arrangement: the first month and change on Monday, then a move to Thursday once football is over. Should CBS reconsider this whole plan and keep the show on Monday permanently? There are a couple reasons I don't totally rule it out: 1) the show took a big initial hit from the move to Thursday; and 2) its presence on Monday could help skyrocket the most promising young returnee on CBS, Scorpion. But with Big Bang still quite strong and its ability to help a two-hour comedy block on Thursday vs. just one on Monday, the circumstances don't feel right... at least not yet. Still, as Big Bang weakens and likely gets hurt more by this jerk-around over the next couple years, it's a question that should keep getting revisited.

CBS ComediesTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
The Not Fall Locks
4Mike and Molly2.03+6%1.97-11%29%41%6
6The Odd Couple1.86-12%2.0330%46%3

The only reason Mike and Molly is not a fall lock is that it hasn't been a fall lock in the past. But it's had a very good season, running very close to even in Plus overall and better than that since a weak opening month. It's also a lot stronger than all but the top three CBS dramas. But that has not seemed to matter historically.

The only show with any kind of renewal question mark is The Odd Couple, which has looked pretty The Millers-esque since returning from an NCAA basketball break. It'd be hard to blame CBS if they wanted to avoid rehashing the whole Millers debacle and cut bait now. But it's still a likely renewal if only for sheer numbers reasons -- in other words, it would help the network have the inventory to keep three comedy hours going. Will it get another 8:30 shot when the Thursday lineup returns in the "late fall"? The best reason to try it again is how strong it looked early in the run, and the reasoning/excuse that this spring scheduling with DST and two early weeks of preemptions was far from ideal overall. But unless it passes the test pretty quickly, I'd rather see another newbie or even another 8:30 run for Mom, a show that seemed to be building some real momentum in the slot.

CBS ComediesTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
The Dunzo
5Two and a Half Men1.95+4%2.20-1%31%48%5
7The McCarthys1.52+10%1.6028%46%4
8The Millers1.43-13%1.50-36%30%41%2

CBS DramasTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
The Elites
2Criminal Minds2.11-3%2.03-13%27%36%7

2014-15 saw CBS produce its best new drama class in quite some time, and it may well have benefited from largely avoiding the 10:00 hour; Scorpion and NCIS: New Orleans were both at 9:00 with good 8:00 hour lead-ins, while Madam Secretary rode the NFL lead-in. If CBS is looking in that direction again, the choices are limited. That's why even an elite drama like Criminal Minds might be a candidate to move to the tougher 10/9c hour. (I wouldn't do it with the much younger Scorpion, though.) For Minds, it likely comes down to what that second Wednesday drama is. If it's a Criminal Minds spin-off, I'd rather have it at 10/9c after Minds. If it's something like Supergirl that doesn't strongly resemble Minds, go 9/8c after Survivor.

CBS DramasTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
The High-End Syndication Factory
4NCIS: New Orleans1.71-13%1.8717%43%7
5NCIS: Los Angeles1.70-0%1.64-34%22%42%7
6Blue Bloods1.66+6%1.34-7%15%40%7
7Person of Interest1.63+3%1.53-21%21%47%7

Earlier editions of this post have grouped most of the CBS dramas under the term "syndication factory." In the early part of the year, there was frighteningly little separation among everything below the NCIS spin-offs. But at this late juncture, there are a few shows developing (a little) actual ratings separation.

The first notable development is that NCIS: New Orleans has really cooled off in the last couple months. A big part of that is another steep spring decline for the mothership, but it's even steeper with this show. It's very hard to make the case that its recent upper 1's (including 1.8 even with no Voice competition) are the same show as the one getting low-to-mid 2's in the fall and winter. It's almost certainly returning to the post-NCIS catbird seat for next season, but this will be interesting to watch over the longer term.

While the Tuesday NCIS twins have struggled, Person of Interest has stayed pretty steady in the 10/9c slot and is looking better by comparison. Not sure that anything below #5 on this list gets a Monday through Thursday slot, but the leader for that "honor" should probably be PoI. (Though the "honor" may well be Thursday 10/9c, which the football schedule would make even more chaotic than usual.) Blue Bloods has also held up very well in the second half of the season and will likely have a series high Plus, which should get it that familiar Friday 10/9c slot for another year.

CBS DramasTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
The Low-End Syndication Factory
8CSI: Cyber1.60-0%1.5022%40%2
9Hawaii Five-01.50-3%1.21-12%17%42%7
13The Mentalist1.47-0%1.35-8%18%50%4

CSI: Cyber is closer to the previous tier than to everything else in this one, but the average will come down a bit tomorrow when last Tuesday/Wednesday's eps are included. Anyway, the show had a very troublesome week three drop to 1.4 but has gotten a tenth of that back and held on very tightly since then. It's certainly not made this a trivial decision, but it's going to be very tough for yet another show of this middling caliber to squeak through when other, lesser masters like Elementary, Madam Secretary and maybe The Good Wife have to be served. If it can keep its current pace up, maybe someone could argue it's the most ratings-worthy cancel of the season (the Friends with Better Lives or Almost Human, if you will). But I'm still guessing it does not make it.

With Elementary seemingly a renewal lock for syndication reasons and Stalker seemingly a clear dunzo for being just another CSI: Cyber that got weaker later in the season, that leaves CSI and Hawaii Five-0. Both of these shows seem to be somewhat at the mercy of other scheduling decisions, with CSI probably just angling for a short "thanks for all you've meant to the network" order. Five-0 seems like a true toss-up that could go anywhere from outright cancelled to another full season on Friday at 9/8c. Among the other factors here: the renew/cancel decisions on The Good Wife/CSI: Cyber, whether a new drama ends up on Thursday, and whether they want to open up another drama hour on Friday or stay unscripted all season again.

CBS DramasTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
The Sunday Head-Scratchers
14Madam Secretary1.33-16%1.2616%43%7
15The Good Wife1.13-24%1.03-14%16%39%7
16Battle Creek1.07-6%0.7316%46%3

Perhaps the biggest derp in the True formula in the second half of the season has been with CBS Sunday. In the fall, they actually looked like sort of legitimate bubble shows, just looking at 18-49 ratings and not even factoring in stuff like the upscale audiences and critical acclaim. These shows have simply not looked like the same programs since the new year, especially The Good Wife.

One thing we've said historically is that the NFL overrun with its weird start times is a net positive for the 8/7c show, about a break-even proposition for the 9/8c show, and a bad thing at 10/9c. But another thing we've said this year is that this version of CBS Sunday had a much better flow. Back in The Amazing Race days, the network went from ancient-skewing with 60 Minutes to (relatively) young-skewing with Race back to ancient-skewing for the dramas. This new lineup was all ancient, so it seemed more likely those extra 60 Minutes viewers were staying tuned for Madam Secretary and then The Good Wife. Maybe it wasn't all about weird start times; maybe all that skew incompatibility was another big factor limiting the benefit of the NFL lead-in in past seasons. The True formula has never been good at accounting for "indirect" lead-ins, but it's clear they matter sometimes, and maybe this was a case where The Good Wife benefited much more from the NFL than the formula said (and much more than it ever has in the past).

To sum it up in less technical terms: The Good Wife's apparent stabilization in the fall was probably pretty fraudulent. If this theory is correct, there is a silver lining: that benefit will kick back in once fall and the NFL hits. So assuming The Good Wife gets yet another of those ratings-inexplicable renewals (and I always assume that), things may not look as bad in the fall for Madam and The Good Wife as they do right now. The bad news is that these just don't really look like shows CBS ought to be airing in the spring. I'd be looking to try something different with Sunday after the 2016 Oscars, whether it's lower-cost filler or an actual splashy attempt to get ratings.

CBS UnscriptedTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
1Survivor Spring2.56+4%2.30-4%30%44%3
2Survivor Fall2.18-9%2.16-6%32%44%5
3The Amazing Race Spring1.57+8%1.17-30%26%n/a3
460 Minutes1.55-4%1.41-6%19%55%10
5Undercover Boss1.44-9%1.18-8%21%48%4
6The Amazing Race Fall1.31-11%1.15-42%25%42%4
748 Hours1.25+3%0.81-2%20%39%9

I would lean more confidently toward a renewal for Hawaii Five-0 and an extra drama hour on the CBS sked... except that The Amazing Race has looked a little better this spring than it did in the fall. It's a subtle difference, getting about the same raw numbers in a super-low viewed time of year, but on the whole that is a better performance True-wise. Other than maybe the one odd 1.3 on April 3, it's not quite doing "well," but that term hasn't really applied to Five-0 for most of the season either. All I'm saying is if CBS wasn't ready to can The Amazing Race as a fall/spring player after that very weak fall season, these spring developments wouldn't necessarily make them any more ready. Perhaps it returns to the fall, or perhaps CBS strips this Friday unscripted hour for parts to use as filler during repeat season.

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