Thursday, May 3, 2018

2018 Upfront Renewology: CBS

Welcome to Upfront Renewology! This is the SHOW-centric half of the upfront preview, digging into the merits of individual shows by network. The next round will be Upfront Questions, the SCHEDULE-centric look ahead to upfront week. The following week, the schedules come out, and with them come the Upfront Answers.

Averages up to date through Tuesday, May 1.

More Upfront Renewology: NBC | Fox | ABC | CBS | CW

The Bubble Dramas
Criminal Minds95%

Criminal Minds seems like the best bet to be the Last Man Standing of this season, a strong but expensive perennial down-to-the-wire decision. I'd probably make it a modest favorite to return, as always, but its time will be up someday. To continue the LMS comparison, we shouldn't try to pretend there is some case that it's a borderline-rated show. (Maybe that happened more with LMS because of the political firestorm.) Building from or matching SEAL Team at 10/9c is a big deal, and it's become an impressive DVR gainer in the later hour. Losing this show would hurt the CBS schedule. Whether that can get it over the finish line is anybody's guess.

Scorpion has also been a big R% favorite all season long. It is sort of the Designated Survivor of CBS, in that it has poor raw numbers but gets a lot of love from the True formula for airing at 10:00 with little lead-in support. It's also a good delayed viewing gainer, usually passing the Monday bubble comedies below in Live+7 ratings. And as others have observed, it would be kinda odd for a CBS-owned procedural at this point in its life cycle to get dumped. A cancellation here would definitely be a bucking of some conventional wisdom, but it can't be ruled out after it missed out on the early renewals.

The Bubble Comedies
Kevin Can Wait80%
Life in Pieces71%
Man with a Plan54%0.990.990.971822%42%
Superior Donuts43%0.910.950.971923%42%

You can go back and read what I said last year, but I have a history of being fairly down on Man with a Plan and Superior Donuts. They are OK live retainers with very scant DVR interest. Those are not compelling things to have in CBS' current comedy climate, when the thing they are "retaining" is not that impressive to begin with. Renewology has been harsher than most observers on Man with a Plan for most of the way (usually somewhere in the 60s), and it's now drifting toward the true bubble after a low True for the April 16 episode.

When I started following ratings, they might have been the kind of show that would get dragged out for syndication (see According to Jim and 'Til Death), but that particular well does not seem as fruitful anymore. CBS itself was more down on MWAP than expected last year when they left it off the fall schedule, and now it and even Kevin Can Wait have missed out on an early renewal for season three. So maybe I am just too wrapped up in the days of CBS Monday comedy glory, but based on CBS' own decision-making I don't think I'm being too crazy. A lot of the "cut a comedy hour?" discussion should be saved for next week, but this Kevin / MWAP / Donuts / burn-off lineup is too weak to fly on CBS.

By the way, just in case we end up in a situation where only one of Man with a Plan and Superior Donuts survives in some kind of spackle/backup role... Man with a Plan is the stronger of the two and should have the edge. But it's not such a huge gap. If they like Donuts better or see it as some sort of diversity play, I wouldn't be that stunned. I feel like this would be a relatively minor reach that has become widely perceived as a massive difference. Shrug.

Life in Pieces: All the reporters' bubble watches have been suggesting that Life in Pieces is also in trouble. I am morbidly interested in this prospect just because it would be big news for a "Third Season Rule" skeptic like me, but even I would find this one rather surprising. It's not in lock territory from an R% standpoint, but it's doing acceptably enough that this is not a "drag it to four seasons" situation either. If this one goes, it would be a jarring message about how valuable comedies are, both on the front end and the back end.

The Trailers
Code Black42%0.920.840.88116%36%
Wisdom of the Crowd8%0.670.650.881317%49%

Instinct has been a bit tough to gauge because of its wide variety of 60 Minutes lead-ins. It actually gets a decent boost on the big 60 Minutes nights, but the 0.6's when the dust settles are just not good. The only way I think it survives is if CBS sees the show (starring an Emmy-nominated Good Wife alum) as some sort of prestige play in the tradition of The Good Wife and Madam Secretary. I don't think it's that likely, but if that's how they feel, its power can't be discounted; CBS was making reach renewals for TGW and Madam long before they had big syndication deals.

Just a quick housekeeping note on Quantico, along with the very late-season CBS entries Elementary and Code Black: I'm putting up what their R% are in this model just for fun, but it's very possible these are now "off-cycle" shows that will not be decided at the upfront and should not be judged by regular season standards. (And I'm not doing Ransom at all just because I don't want to have to dig up PUT estimates for Saturday night.) I guess I will throw them into the evaluation of the model next year if they are decided at the upfront, but clearly Quantico and Elementary decisions have nothing to do with ratings anyway.

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