Surveillance Spring Stumping: Why CBS should renew The Good Wife

It’s May, which means we’re very close to the network upfronts. Choices about which series live and which series die are probably being made right now by all the major networks. This of course means it’s time for fans and critics to start stumping for their favorite series stuck on the bubble between cancellation and renewal. This year though, this are a bit different. So many of the series that would have received heaps of praise and #SaveX hashtags were renewed extremely early. Thus, we don’t have to worry about Community,Parks and Recreation or Fringe. All three of them are coming back next season for full seasons, which is just shocking and amazing.

Meanwhile, the slate of programming left on the proverbial bubble is a bit thin this spring. When I realized I wanted to do this feature, I was surprised to find that there were only a few series I thought were worth saving. I tried to find one for each network, but I think you’ll see that a few of them aren’t necessarily super-bubble series in the traditional sense (we’ll talk more about this when I get to those posts). And even one of the go-to barometers for “saving” criteria doesn’t quite apply this season either. So many of this season’s new broadcast programming was terrible and is thus obviously not coming back, and there is thus very little reason to try to discuss how they could theoretically improve in a possible second season.

Nevertheless, there are five series that have yet to be renewed (maybe they’re officially on the bubble, maybe not) that should be. There’s one series for each of the five broadcast networks. Over the next few days, I’ll be discussing why I think each series should come back for the network’s benefit, not just for the fans. Hopefully there are good reasons why ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and the CW should keep these series around. Some of them have stronger cases than others, but this is always a fun exercise to partake in.

Time for CBS’ turn in the spotlight, or something. This post won’t be very difficult to craft and I also have to imagine that of all the cases presented in this little mini-feature, The Good Wife has the best chance to return for another season. It seems that all indications are that it will in fact come back for a third season, but I guess the big question is just where it goes on the schedule. It did better in the ratings last week without Parenthood bringing it down, but I have to imagine that CBS might want to try something new in the 10 p.m. Tuesdays slot after the double shot of NCIS, and I don’t blame them. But no matter where it ends up on the schedule, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that The Good Wife will be back in some capacity next season. And here are three reasons why it should be.

1.) It’s your best show…

CBS has high standards for its series ratings-wise and with good reason. The network has been tremendously successful and consistent in recent years. But despite that consistency, the network hasn’t really had a “great” series for a long time. I guess you could say that Chicago Hope was the most recent one and it hasn’t been on the air in ages. Clearly, most of CBS’ series have their fans and I’m not one to talk a lot of trash about the likes of NCIS or even the original flavor CSI:. I see why people like them and any time I watch an episode of either, I find myself mostly content. Criminal Minds and the CSI: spin-offs are horrendous, but I understand and see the value in CBS’ programming approach. But appealing to the older folks in middle America isn’t the only strategy the network has to take. There is value in having some “good” and “great” series on the schedule that keeps critics and high-value advertisers interested in your network. The Good Wife is that series for CBS. It’s very smart, sprawling and ambitious, which aren’t three adjectives most people would probably assign to the majority of CBS’ programming.

That being said, Wife is, without a doubt, CBS’ best scripted series. That’s not just my personal opinion, that’s the collective opinion of nearly all critics who write about television. Even those who don’t love The Good Wife appear to recognize its value and appeal. It seems like very poor business to cancel the program that almost everyone considers your best. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember any recent case where a network canceled the series that nearly everyone considered its best. As my buddy Craig pointed out on Twitter, some might say that The CW’s canceling of Veronica Mars fits this bill, but by that point in the series’ run, I wouldn’t say so. It’s debatable. Clearly every series has its fans and there are arguments to be made, but in this specific case, The Good Wife is so far and away better than everything else on CBS’ schedule drama-wise that it just seems completely insane to me CBS. You can’t do that. Not only does it take away one of the only series that gets you some positive buzz, but it does something else that I will discuss momentarily.

2.)…and thus clear Emmy bait

Though CBS can trumpet its success in the total viewer ratings and its generally consistent performance in an era of instability, the one thing the Eyeball network hasn’t really had in years is a prime Emmy candidate in the drama category. The Good Wife is that series. I mentioned Chicago Hope a few paragraphs ago, but it’s important to note that only it (1995-1997), the first few seasons of CSI: (2002-2004) and one season of Joan of Arcadia are CBS series that have been nominated in the Best Drama Series category since 1995. None of those series one in the seven years they were nominated. Moreover,  this slump followed a period in which CBS won the award three straight years between 1993 and 1995 with Northern Exposure and Picket Fences. Cable has a lot to do with that, but NBC, FOX and ABC have all found series that the Emmy voters have deemed worthy of their attention. CBS has been left out of that conversation for a good amount of the last 15 years.

The Good Wife brings them back into that conversation. Obviously, Emmys aren’t everything. The voters are fickle — just case point: Wife‘s Julianna Margulies was a near-lock last year in Best Actress and didn’t walk away with the award — and people end up more frustrated with them than they probably should be. But having an Emmy-nominated/-winning series is a feather in the cap of any network, one that CBS hasn’t really had in recent years. Last year, The Good Wife was nominated for eight Emmy awards, winning one (Archie Panjabi’s Best Supporting Actresses victory). This year, I would bet that the series will be nominated for even more awards in even more categories. If the series is going to be low-rated, it can make up for that a little bit with Emmy wins, which may attract more “quality” advertisers.

3.) It keeps your brand “fresh”

I debated over what word to use in that instance because it’s hard to really determine the value or quality of a network’s brand, in the minds of both the industry and audiences. However, in this case, The Good Wife‘s place on CBS does hold some major value for the Eyeball, at least from my humble perspective. Keeping Wife around signals to those within the industry, advertisers and audiences that you are interested in more than just simple, open-and-shut procedural storytelling that isn’t controversial or complex in any way, shape or form. I would have to imagine that it might tell the creative types (writers, producers, etc.) with interesting ideas that they can still consider CBS for their new projects that might have more interesting things going on. CBS is powerful enough that it can probably get any series it wants, but you never want to be complacent with your brand identity and the kind of series you want to air.

Moreover, sticking with The Good Wife tells both advertisers and audiences that you’re interested in “quality television.” CBS has its reputation for good reason, but if the network keeps Wife and maybe picks up another complex and ambitious procedural with a character base, there’s enough evidence there to suggest that CBS doesn’t want to just fill its schedule with spin-offs of its successful sterile procedurals. People have said The Good Wife is kind of like a broadcast TV version of The Wire and CBS needs more series like that. With those kinds of series in tow, in theory, it should be able pull in more “high-income” advertisers and audiences. I’m not sure Les Moonves would be willing to let Wife and similar series’ struggle for years on end, but if there’s a network that can take a few fliers on “good” series and make up for later with highly-rated, mainstream-appealing series, its CBS. I’d personally like to see CBS move The Good Wife to Sundays and start a little quality television block there.

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