Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ratings Roundup Midseason Review - CBS: The Steady Stalwart

"The Big Bang Theory" continues to dominate for CBS

We’ve reached the end of November Sweeps, so it’s time to start taking stock of where the networks stand on the season as we enter the winter break.  Over the next four weeks, I’ll be using the Ratings Roundup column to offer my mid-term grades for each of the four broadcast networks.  First up: CBS

CBS has a reputation for stability and not taking chances.  Their long history of spinoffs and reboots would seem to confirm this reputation, but every couple of years CBS will make a big move to either try to break into a new night or solidify an existing property.  In 2010, the network saw an opportunity to break NBC’s grip on the mantra of Thursday night’s “Must See TV” and moved a promising comedy entering its fourth season to the top of the Thursday lineup.  That move set the television world atwitter because it involved moving Survivor, which had held down the Thursday at 7:00 timeslot for almost a decade at that point, but which had steadily been losing steam since its early seasons.  That comedy, however, was The Big Bang Theory, which has since exploded to become the number one scripted show on network television, sitting behind only The Walking Dead as the number one show on all of television.  And you could easily argue that it’s the most valuable property because of its ability to draw a reasonable number of viewers even in repeats, which the vast majority of series can’t do anymore.

After a couple of years of trying to launch new comedies after The Big Bang Theory, and after Person of Interest turned into a hit of its own at 8:00 on Thursdays, CBS decided it was time to lock down Thursday night once and for all by moving the down, but still solid comedy Two and a Half Men to follow Big Bang.  It was a successful move and helped to make CBS the most-watched network on television’s most valuable night.

This year, CBS decided to take yet another chance on Thursday nights, by moving Person of Interest to 9:00pm on Tuesday, where the network had struggled mightily for the better part of the last decade.  In its place, CBS decided to expand its Thursday comedy block to two hours, debuting a pair of new comedies in between veterans Big Bang and Two and a Half Men.  The network’s fate didn’t necessarily hinge on these changes, but it was definitely the biggest move of the year, and so is deserving of the most scrutiny.

After the first ten weeks of the season, the experiment can only really be called a mixed success.  At this point last year, POI’s Tuesday predecessor, Vegas, was pulling 18-49 ratings in the mid-1s, on its way to being moved to Fridays at midseason and replaced by The Golden Boy which, likewise, was unable to even occasionally get its ratings above 2.0.  Person of Interest, in contrast, has averaged a 2.08 rating on Tuesday nights, allowing CBS to finish first or second in the night every week, even in spite of good competition from NBC and ABC in the forms of The Voice and SHIELD.

The Thursday side of the equation, unfortunately, has not held together so well.  Last year, during November sweeps, Person of Interest averaged a 2.95 rating at 8:00 on Thursday nights.  This year, the comedies are averaging 2.38, almost two-thirds of a  ratings point lower than the network averaged in 2012.  The Millers has been doing well, averaging close to a 2.8 rating, but most of that is likely due to it following monster hit The Big Bang Theory.  You’ll note that the one week when the show didn’t have Big Bang as a lead-in, The Millers drew only a 2.1 rating.  And while The Crazy Ones and Two and a Half Men haven’t been doing terribly, their recent ratings have been ahead of only Mom amongst CBS’s comedies. 

So the Thursday night experiment has had mixed results to date.  But how is CBS doing as a whole?  So far, I’m giving them a C+.  They’re currently in second place, but their problem is that they’ve dropped the most year-to-year of any network thus far.  Without the primetime AFC Championship Game or the Super Bowl, they’re going to be much closer to ABC and NBC and likely behind Fox, who is actually coming closer to last year’s numbers as we approach the end of the year. 

Looking at each night individually, it’s easy to see CBS’s weak spots: Friday and Sunday in particular and the 9:00pm hour in general.  On Friday nights, while Undercover Boss has been a legitimate Friday hit, Hawaii Five-0 regularly loses to Shark Tank and even finishes behind Grimm more often than not.  And Blue Bloods is the lowest-rated show on the network.  Obviously, Fridays are a struggle for every network, but Sunday night is quickly becoming another Friday night for CBS with The Good Wife and The Mentalist both drawing ratings on par with the Friday shows.  To be more specific, all of the Friday and Sunday scripted shows are averaging between a 1.39 rating and a 1.49 rating.  CBS has spent the last few years trying to lock down Tuesday and Thursday nights, but their biggest challenge moving forward is going to be figuring out how to repair their Sunday schedule.

The good news for CBS is that they are dominating on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, typically winning every night in both total viewers and Adults 18-49.  The problem that success is causing, however, is that the network’s audience seems to be solidifying behind its aging hits while only tentatively tasting the new shows.  Four of the five highest-rated shows on the network are in their seventh season or later, with How I Met Your Mother ending this year and NCIS in its eleventh season and Criminal Minds in its ninth.  Aging hits aren’t necessarily a problem, mind you, but when you can’t develop new hits, they become an issue. 

Just look at the other broadcast networks.  Each one has a legitimate new(ish) hit, whether it’s Sleepy Hollow on Fox, The Blacklist on NBC or SHIELD and Scandal on ABC.  The closest thing to new hits that CBS has are The Millers, which is entirely lead-in dependent, and 2 Broke Girls, which had to be moved from its timeslot and protected by HIMYM because its ratings were falling so quickly this season.  And the one legitimate hit the network has launched in the last three years (Person of Interest) just saw its young audience cut by a third thanks to a timeslot change.

CBS isn’t exactly in dire straits.  They don’t have the schedule black holes that NBC and Fox have.  But their hits are aging, and they need to develop some new shows to eventually take their place.  Maybe How I Met Your Dad will be the next big hit.  I’d wager against it, but it’s not impossible.  Whatever shows the network finds, it needs to find them soon, or these precipitous ratings drops will only continue for the foreseeable future.

CBS Midseason Grade – C+

So  thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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