Fall check-in: CBS

Hey all. It’s been too long. I’ve been really busy this fall and writing elsewhere (hopefully you’re following me over at This Was Television and TV.com). But frequent contributor Wesley Ambrecht decided to exchange some emails about the state of the broadcast networks with sweeps upon us (well now over, but still). We have tackled Fox and NBC, and now it’s CBS’ turn.

Cory: Let’s move on another network that is perhaps surprisingly struggling: CBS. Although the Eyeball never totally dominates in the 18-49s, CBS is down 18 percent there this fall (not as bad as Fox’s staggering 23 percent dip but still troubling). The network is still doing pretty well with eight shows in the top 25, but there’s a prevailing sense that it’s a down year. Elementary and Vegas started pretty well (especially the latter), but neither is lighting the world on fire in their respective 10 pm time slots. I, for one, thought Elementary would be a bigger hit than it is. Not only is it pretty damn good, it also manages to be so while staying within the typical CBS parameters.  I’ve enjoyed the three episodes of Vegas I’ve seen, but the way things are going, it could very well be canceled at the end of the season. Partners was an abomination and should have been killed before last Friday. Made in Jersey didn’t make good use of Janet Montgomery’s talents and my parents were really bummed it was cancelled so quickly.  Have any of CBS’ new shows hit with you?

Wesley: CBS is weird. That’s truly the best way to put it. Things that on paper should be HUGE hits for them occasionally flop and I’m left shaking my head in confusion. Never mind the fact that shows deemed failures by CBS would typically be considered hits on the other 4. Take Partners, for example. It had all the makings of a CBS hit that I would largely ignore (see The Big Bang Theory and Mike and Molly) and then it tanked. Well, tanked by CBS standards that it, because it would be FOX’s highest rated comedy. Again, CBS is weird.

Anyway, I digress. Of the eye network’s four new shows, I’ve watched exactly one episode of each of the dramas and two episodes of Partners. I have every episode of Elementary and Vegas on my DVR, but I don’t feel any rush to watch either. I quite liked Elementary‘s pilot, especially Johnny Lee Miller, but it didn’t scream appointment TV to me. And, I’ve had to scale back my load this fall to accommodate for grad school nonsense. Vegas I was more mixed on. I thought the pilot was directed rather poorly and only 50 percent of it worked (Michael Chiklis’ half). Still, I do plan to check back, if only to see how Sarah Jones has been worked in. 

With half of CBS’ fall offerings having already been axed and Vegas having had its episode count reduced to 21, what do you think the network needs to do this winter to feel good about the 2012-2013 season. And, if you’re Nina Tassler, what kind of show do you think CBS needs most next fall?

Cory: I’m wondering if this is a transition year for CBS. Last year’s hits 2 Broke Girls and Person of Interest are doing solid this year, but haven’t grown into the monsters that I honestly figured they would. None of the new shows have blown the doors off viewers either. 10 pm is such a problematic time slot for all the networks that it’s hard to throw a bunch of money at it on two nights (well three if you count The Mentalist‘s move to there on Sunday) and expect really great returns. Elementary will be around next season for sure–and I think it’s telling that the network gave it the post-Super Bowl time slot and not 2 Broke Girls–but I can’t say I have confidence in Vegas making it to September.

Meanwhile, you have to imagine that at least one more of the CSI:s is out the door this season, along with (hopefully) How I Met Your Mother. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that CBS is in trouble by any means, especially since they have the Super Bowl, but you’re right, it’s a weird network. The easy suggestion would be for CBS to “try something different” but the thing is that they’ve spent the last few seasons doing that, at least on the drama side. Person of InterestElementary and Vegas are all outside of the obvious realms of the network’s formula and they’ve produced mixed results. 

Unfortunately, CBS seems to think that the best option is another NCIS installment and they’re probably right. I wonder if this third one comes to pass if the network actually takes a chance and splits them up on multiple nights, or at least two of them. No way that they stupidly shove them all on Tuesdays next fall, right? I’d imagine that they’d move NCIS: LA to Wednesday or Sunday (because The Good Wife is probably done after this year) and let the new one build out of NCIS classic. It’s tough to give CBS advice because even when I try to think about how to move shows around on the schedule, I stop and realize, “oh, well, they’re still doing well on Mondays with the comedies” or “oh, yeah, Criminal Minds is still there on Wednesday.” There’s a lot of stability here. The foundation might be weakening a little bit, but it hasn’t fully cracked yet. What would you suggest?

Wesley: I agree with you that Vegas is skating thin ice, but a slew of Golden Globe nominations would all but ensure it a 2nd season. That is, after all, what saved The Good Wife for a few years now. Elementary, on the other hand, is poised for Grey’s Anatomy-esque growth. Thus, giving it the post-Super Bowl birth makes perfect sense.

I don’t think the turnover will be as great as your predicting, but we’ll have a better sense of where Tassler’s head is at when CBS announces what’s going to pilot. If they order more than the last two years, then we’ll know your right. If anything though, I think this year may force the network to be more conservative not less. CSI: NY continues to hold its own on Fridays, a notoriously difficult night, while shows like Made in Jersey and Chaos have failed in recent years. Because of both this and the enduring success of their other franchise shows, I’m not terribly surprised that the network would attempt another NCIS spin-offalthough oddly this one sounds formula breaking. 

I’ve said this multiple times, but the only way I’d be supportive of another season of How I Met Your Mother would be the introduction of the mother at the end of this year. Exploring how Ted and the mother interact is worth another year; nothing else is. Still, the ratings are there, so it’ll probably just return for more of the same. 

CBS has only 3 midseason offerings, so their schedule isn’t poised to change drastically until next fall. Friend Me seems like it was developed with a post-Big Bang Theory birth. For that reason, I see it sliding it into the Thursday 8:30pm slot for at least a few weeks. Rules of Engagement likely fits in where Partners was on Monday by January. That just leaves Berlanti TV’s Golden Boy, which could really go anywhere. Last year, CBS threw NYC22 on Sunday and let it fail, so predicting what they’ll do with Golden Boy would be silly. 

We talked about summer TV with NBC, so it is only fair we do the same for CBS. What do you think of their plan to bring Unforgettable back? And, do you think this next season of Big Brother will be All Stars 2?

Cory: Maybe there won’t be much turnover after all. You make some good points. I’m very curious to see how Elementary progresses after the Super Bowl and if it gets the bump it kinda-sorta deserves. I like the show quite a bit. The less said about How I Met Your Mother, the better. I’m three or four episodes behind now and have no real desire to catch up; just done with the show.

As for the summer, CBS is always going to be fine. Big Brother does well enough and another All Star season is probably just what the show needs considering the ratings were down a bit this summer. At least they’re not doing a celebrity version, apparently the network isn’t that desperate yet. And I’m glad you brought up Unforgettable because I think CBS is poised to do really, really well with it this summer. It shouldn’t have been cancelled in the first place. There’s no doubt that it will succeed, so I’m more curious to see what impact it might have on the network programming the summer more consistently in the aftermath. 

I addressed this, but I’d be interested to hear what you think CBS needs to develop and pick up moving forward. You suggested there won’t be that much turnover, and maybe there won’t be, but what kind of show would you like to see them try? 

Wesley: I think CBS needs to be smart with how they push their viewers and their brand. Anything too out there like Jericho is bound to fail but stock dramas like NYC22 haven’t worked either. If I were developing at CBS, I guess I’d take a two pronged approach.

First and foremost, I think they should be making a concerted effort to program single camera comedies. Ever since the [relative] failure of Worst Week, CBS has balked at venturing outside of the multi-cam bubble. Last cycle, they had arguably the 2nd most high profile comedy pilot [The Mindy Project being #1] in Nick Stoller’s Entry Level and they passed on it. Why? Because, it was single cam and they didn’t know how to program it. I’m sorry but that’s just baffling to me. I’ve seen Entry Level and it would have made just as much sense behind How I Met Your Mother as Partners did. This cycle they’ve ordered a couple single cam scripts that I have high hopes for, including Hilary Winston’s TV adaption of Bad Teacher, Danielle Sanchez-Witzel’s Capturing Crazy, and an untitled project from Tad Quill with Dave Walton set to star. They also have a single cam pilot with Robin Williams attached. I have to think that goes to series. Right? I mean it’s sort of weird that Michael J. Fox got a guaranteed 22 episodes from NBC and Williams has to go through the motions of pilot season at CBS. 

On the drama front, I’d love to see a family drama. There’s a real dearth of good dramatic television centered around a family, in part because the few that do exist net small numbers. But, CBS has seen success with Blood Blues, proving that they could be the network to make a sturdy family series into a hit. Ideally, I’d love to see something like The WB’s Jack & Bobby, but I’d settle for something like USA’s Political Animals. Thus, of the numerous drama scripts they’ve bought, the two that interest me most are Ran Quartet from David Marshall Grant and the currently untitled drama from Margaret Nagle. Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued by Shawn Ryan’s take on Beverly Hills Cop and David Mamet’s Have Gun, Will Travel remake. 

[Update: Wesley wanted me to add these links to CBS’ pilots: CBS Drama Script Orders and CBS Comedy Script Orders]
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