Thursday, May 7, 2015

2015 Upfront Questions, CBS

Part two of the upfront preview is the SCHEDULE-centric portion, examining the big-picture scheduling questions each network faces on each night in the final week before its upfront. This post tries to lay out the reasonable possibilities rather than spending a lot of time committing to one, but I am including "Spot's Answer" in each section to try to be a little clearer about where I'm leaning. They're not really "official predictions" (more like a hybrid of predictions/recommendations) but you can consider them that way if you want.

Last week's Power Rankings were the SHOW-centric portion, in which I drilled more into the merits of individual shows: CBS True Power Rankings

Other Upfront Questions: NBC | Fox | ABC | CBS | CW


2014-15 Schedule
8:00 - The Big Bang Theory | 2 Broke Girls
8:30 - The Millers | Mike and Molly
9:00 - Scorpion | Stalker
10:00 - NCIS: Los Angeles

Question: Are there too few new drama slots to keep NCIS: Los Angeles on Monday?

NCIS: LA started a little softer than expected and has had a couple odd stinkers, but overall the show has worked at 10/9c and been a massive improvement on the new dramas in the hour last year. CBS historically has gone slightly out of its way in the name of minimizing show moves, so in a pre-Thursday Night Football world they would've taken the win here and left the last two hours alone.

Spot's Answer: But it's not a pre-TNF world, and all indicators are pointing to yet another CBS development class with several drama favorites and no comedy standouts. If CBS wants to premiere three new dramas before the new year, they've probably got to put one either here or on Thursday/Friday/Sunday. And Thursday seems... not ideal. (More on that later.) So I think LA is on the move unless the network only ends up with two new dramas in the fall.


2014-15 Schedule
8:00 - NCIS
9:00 - NCIS: New Orleans
10:00 - Person of Interest

Question: Which newbie (if any...?) pairs best with the NCIS brand?

Let's assume Person of Interest is not staying on this night. There are really only three weeknights on CBS that aren't messed up by football, and PoI isn't at the level to hold onto one of these hours.

Spot's Answer: CBS has tried some weird, off-brand stuff like Smith, Cane and Vegas in the 10/9c hour over the years. In the NCIS generation, they've never really had a resounding success, at least among newbies, but the closest thing was actually the very generic crime drama Unforgettable. If there's a slot in which CBS should embrace its old skew, this is it. I could see one of the medical dramas here.


2014-15 Schedule
8:00 - Survivor | The Mentalist | Survivor
9:00 - Criminal Minds
10:00 - Stalker | CSI: Cyber

Question: Is the second Wednesday drama worth shuffling Criminal Minds to 10/9c for?

Spot's Answer: With limited space, Minds softening late in the season and CBS liking its new dramas, "yes" is looking like a better bet here. There are only a few ways it could stay at 9/8c and feel like the right call as opposed to 10/9c: 1) a Criminal Minds spin-off could go after the mothership; 2) a reprieve for CSI: Cyber; or 3) Empire stays put at 9/8c. I'm rooting for none of the above, but 1 is definitely plausible and some of the early renew/cancel buzz is surprisingly favorable toward Cyber.


2014-15 Schedule
8:00 - Thursday Night Football | The Big Bang Theory
8:30 - Thursday Night Football | Mom | The Odd Couple
9:00 - Thursday Night Football | Two and a Half Men | repeats/Mom
9:30 - Thursday Night Football | The McCarthys | Mom/repeats
10:00 - Thursday Night Football | Elementary

Question: Can CBS put anything high-priority on Thursday before January?

OK, this is brutal. The network could debut its lineup on November 5 and air it for four uninterrupted weeks... but the fourth week would be Thanksgiving Day. Then it has to be off the next week due to yet another NFL game on the first Thursday in December. It could then come back for two weeks... but the second one would be December 17, the kind of mid-December date when viewers are often quickly bailing on television. Then there are the totally unusable Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. So there are seven possible Thursdays and really only five good ones in the first ten weeks after TNF. It just doesn't seem tenable for new series.

Spot's Answer: The only way I could envision a new drama on Thursday is if it's held till January. This could be accomplished with some creative November/December half-assery, like a short final season of CSI on its historically dominant night. But it seems simpler to just lock in a veteran at 10/9c for the whole season. Comedies are in the same sort of predicament, but with a two-hour lineup I wouldn't rule out CBS giving a newbie a shot. Hopefully they will just wait for January. There's some added motivation for the November/December half-assery in this case since the network could sneak in more of the necessary 8/7c The Big Bang Theory repeats.


2014-15 Schedule
8:00 - The Amazing Race | Undercover Boss | The Amazing Race
9:00 - Hawaii Five-0
10:00 - Blue Bloods

Question: Will CBS open up another drama hour by killing unscripted at 8/7c?

For all the shows lingering around the CBS margins, this may be the biggest question of all. It's possible CBS could still renew the same number of dramas in both scenarios, and the "last" drama (be it Person of Interest or Hawaii Five-0 or The Good Wife or CSI: Cyber) survives even if The Amazing Race returns to the fall. But if CBS is operating under the assumption that TAR will be back in the fall, it definitely doesn't help.

CBS will probably want to have some winter "bridge" stuff for the slots with weak repeaters again, and there are a couple general schools of thought: 1) they can strip Friday 8/7c for parts and put The Amazing Race on one night and Undercover Boss on another; or 2) they can leave that hour intact (maybe using some Boss eps again on another night) and do another short-order veteran drama (for this specific role, I'd vote CSI) plus maybe some other piece of unscripted filler.

Spot's Answer: I've always been hesitant to put three hours of the same genre together, and the schedule in general is getting a little overloaded with dramas. So if syndication money wasn't a massive factor, I'd keep the unscripted hour alongside one of Five-0/PoI (likely axing the other) and Blue Bloods. But it's possible if not probable that all these shows' rich syndication deals make the tri-drama configuration better financially. I'm not sold here, but the commenter consensus seems strongly tri-drama, so I guess that is my tiebreaker...


2014-15 Schedule
7:00 - 60 Minutes
8:00 - Madam Secretary | Undercover Boss | Madam Secretary
9:00 - The Good Wife | The Mentalist | The Good Wife
10:00 - CSI | Battle Creek

Question: Which drama is the latest exile to Sunday?

Let's get this out of the way: if Madam Secretary and The Good Wife have to come back at all, they should be on Sunday. The one thing going for them is that they optimize the flow out of the NFL lead-in, since the 60 Minutes buffer makes it a lot older-skewing. I don't like giving an advantage to shows that are this low on the 18-49 totem pole, but it's a situation where the alternative could be a significant net negative for the schedule as a whole (unless they can somehow be run on Saturday).

By the way, a recent Deadline article hinted Supergirl could go to Sunday at 8/7c. I like it on Wednesday after Survivor, but admittedly this is one of the few ways CBS could actually make some kind of splash on Sunday. If it happens, maybe it could be saved for after the Oscars? This gives the network a chance to burn furiously through Madam Secretary and The Good Wife in late December and event season if necessary.

Spot's Answer: Especially since its horrible early-season ratings, I've assumed the third Sunday drama would be Elementary. It's not quite as weak as it looked very early in the season, though, and maybe studio favoritism kicks in and it goes to Person of Interest instead. However, if the other slot for these two shows would be on Friday at 8:00 or 9:00, they should put the stronger show on Friday since it has to lead into other dramas.

Only one plausible way it's PoI and not Elementary: if CBS ends up with only two new dramas. Dumping PoI on Sunday and letting Elementary ride out the Thursday chaos would minimize moves and still put the newbies in good spots on Tuesday and Wednesday. But again, the drama-heavy CBS development probably renders this a long shot.

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