Wednesday, May 14, 2014

CBS 2014-15 Schedule Preview - Blowing it All Up

"The Big Bang Theory" will be launching two nights this fall.

As I wrote this afternoon, I refuse to predict CBS schedules because they always make far bigger moves than I ever think they will.  That strategy came in handy this year as a programming slate I would have predicted mostly stability from will end up changing half of its lineup from year-to-year.  Thursday Night Football was always going to cause problems, but the network made changes on every night of the week, trying to strengthen every weak spot all at the same time.  It is a bold schedule, designed to halt the ratings drops CBS has seen for the last few years.  At the same time, it’s a schedule that relies on old hits to build new ones, a tried and true CBS strategy than has been successful for years.  As I wrote in my preview piece, I don’t expect CBS to win next season (thanks to NBC’s airing of the Super Bowl), but this is a strong play for an uncontested second.

CBS’s 2014-15 Schedule (New shows in BOLD)
7:00pm – The Big Bang Theory/Mom2 Broke Girls/Mom
8:00pm – Scorpion
9:00pm – NCIS: LA

2014 is the year for ending long-standing programming traditions, apparently.  NBC will be abandoning Must See TV sitcoms at 7:00pm on Thursday for the first time since 1982.  Fox will break up the Animation Domination that has held court on Sundays for a decade.  And CBS won’t be airing a two-hour sitcom block on Monday nights for the first time since 1985. Moreover, the network has been airing sitcoms at 8:00 on Mondays since 1954, when December Bride replaced The Red Buttons Show (a half-hour variety piece) behind I Love Lucy.  That’s sixty years of comedy tradition that CBS is shuffling off in the name of the NFL and Thursday night ad revenue.
Tradition aside, the biggest news here is not that The Big Bang Theory is returning to Monday, at least temporarily.  That was to be expected.  The biggest news is that How I Met Your Dad did not get picked up.  Josef Adalian has the full(ish) story here, but the short version is that CBS wanted to reshoot the pilot (and potentially recast two parts) and executive producers Carter Bays and Craig Thomas did not.  Seeing HIMYD land at Fox wouldn’t be surprising (it is a 20th Century Fox production), but it’s just as likely to end up dead over “creative differences.”
The fact that Mom, then, gets the Big Bang lead-out is as much due to CBS’s weak comedy development this year as its own success.  They ordered only two new sitcoms, one of which is headed for midseason after a recasting and reshoot of its own.  Airing after Big Bang will give Mom a nice boost for a few weeks but 2 Broke Girls proved last fall that it wasn’t a self-starter anymore.  Will people stick around once the juggernaut moves back to Thursdays?
As for the 9:00 slot, putting NCIS: LA there is a strong play.  While Hostages and Intelligence failed this year, Hawaii Five-0 was struggling in the slot even before that, so there’s no guarantee that LA’s 2.44 season average will translate.  But even if its ratings drop to Person of Interest levels, that will still be a marked improvement over anything aired there for the last few years.

Tuesday –
7:00pm – NCIS
8:00pm – NCIS: New Orleans
9:00pm – Person of Interest

I speculated earlier today that NCIS: New Orleans could slot in behind the mother ship and it makes perfect sense.  If New Orleans can pull down what LA did last year and LA can be a modest success on Monday nights, this move should work out perfectly.  And if New Orleans fails, they can always bring LA back and slot something else in on Mondays.

Wednesday –
7:00pm – Survivor
8:00pm – Criminal Minds
9:00pm – Stalker

A similar strategy was put in place for Wednesday nights.  Move a consistent performer off to anchor a trouble spot on a new night and slot in a new, potentially more compatible drama in its place.  We’ll get to CSI’s move to Sunday in a bit, but this move, while aggressive, makes a lot of sense.  Stalker seems to be in the mold of Criminal Minds, only focusing on stalkers instead of serial killers.  Given CSI’s recent turn to a bit more comedic under Ted Danson’s watch (at least compared to the show with Laurence Fishburne as the lead), this pairing works a bit better.

Thursday –
7:00pm – Thursday Night Football The Big Bang Theory/The Millers (beginning Oct. 30)
8:00pm – Thursday Night FootballTwo and a Half Men/The McCarthys (beginning Oct. 30)
9:00pm – Thursday Night FootballElementary (beginning Oct. 30)

Brief foray in football aside, Thursdays actually end up with the most consistent schedule, with the only change being new comedy The McCarthys taking The Crazy Ones’s place on the schedule.  CBS will surely get a good boost from the NFL for the first six weeks of the season, but after that it will be business as usually for the network’s strongest night.  It may seem odd that The Millers continues to get the prime post-Big Bang timeslot, but this is a perfect example of the changing nature of television.  CBS owns The Millers, whereas The McCarthys is a Sony production, meaning that the greater CBS Corporation stands to profit hundreds of millions of dollars by getting The Millers a nice, fat syndication contract, whereas they will get nothing on the backend from The McCarthys.  I expect this pairing to last for a while, or at least until CBS finds another homegrown show it wants to support.

Friday –
7:00pm – The Amazing Race
8:00pm – Hawaii Five-0
9:00pm – Blue Bloods

Fans of The Amazing Race will either praise or lament its move to the “Friday Death Slot.”  Some will lament it, obviously, because Friday is seen as the night where shows are sent to die, but those who praise it may have the better argument, because moving the show to Fridays means no more obnoxious football and golf overruns.  Truthfully, the difference in ratings between Fridays and Sundays on CBS has diminished almost to nothing at this point and The Amazing Race actually skews quite young for a CBS show.  So if it can bring its demo viewers with it, this could become a perfectly fine lineup.

Sunday –
7:00pm – Madam Secretary
8:00pm – The Good Wife
9:00pm – CSICSI: Cyber (bridge show between CSI half seasons)

On Sundays, The Good Wife stays put, paired with the Tea Leoni-helmed Madam Secretary.  It seems like a good match, but one not likely to build the night.  And CSI moves into the most-vexing timeslot formerly occupied by The Mentalist, meaning its start time will regularly be pushed back to 9:30, 9:45, or 10:00 in the fall.  The aging veteran’s ratings were already flagging on Wednesday night, so it will be interesting to see what happens on Sundays.  Obviously, the best case scenario is that will continue to draw a demo rating in the high 1s, but given The Mentalist’s drop when it moved into this very spot, I find that prospect unlikely.

In the end, exactly half of the network’s timeslots will feature new shows this fall, even more if you count Thursday Night Football instead of the shows that will follow it.  It’s an aggressive schedule, trying to launch new shows and use aging hits to fill in established holes.  I don’t see it being a total disaster, but there is definitely some risk to balance the potential reward.

Network Upfront Preview: CBS - Never Content

Network upfronts – where the networks all come together to announce their fall schedules and pitch their new shows to advertisers – are here, which means the 2013-14 television season is quickly coming to a close.  I’ll probably have a season wrap-up post at the end of May, but I wanted to take a quick look at each network and its shows (and maybe make a few renewal/cancelation predictions) before upfronts hit.  Previously I discussed NBC, Fox, ABC. Next up is the most stable network on television: CBS.

[Editor’s Note: The CBS schedule was released after this was written but shortly before it was posted. The schedule preview will be up later tonight.]

I refuse to make schedule predictions for CBS because every year it seems like the same thing happens: I predict stability because the network inevitably has the fewest problems to fix and then they go and make some kind of major change.  In 2010, I predicted stability and they moved Survivor, which had been occupying the Thursday at 7:00 timeslot for an entire decade, to Wednesday to make room for The Big Bang Theory and a new comedy block.  In 2012, I predicted stability and they moved their second highest-rated comedy behind their highest-rated comedy in an attempt to lock down the Thursday night audience.  Then, last year, I again predicted stability and was again made to look foolish when CBS moved Person of Interest to Tuesday nights to make room for a fourth hour of comedy.  I am out of the CBS predicting game.  They’re bound to do something completely unexpected.  I might lay out some options, but the only thing I will confidently predict is that The Big Bang Theory will not be on the shelf until November, when Thursday Night Football ends.

The Questions
The biggest question CBS has to answer is how they’re going to work around Thursday Night Football.  There’s no way that the network is going to allow its number one show to ride the bench for six weeks at the beginning of the season, so I have to think that The Big Bang Theory makes its way to Mondays, at least for a while.  But after that, who knows?  There are rumors (owing mostly to CBS’s many drama pickups and the surprise renewal of The Mentalist) that the network plans to pare its comedy offerings to three hours per week but does that mean Elementary will stay put or will they try new dramas on Thursday after football ends?  There’s also the possibility that, with only 30 weeks to fill instead of 36, we might get something close to uninterrupted seasons of television, if CBS would dare greenlight 26-28 episode seasons.

The other bit I want to know is what CBS plans to do with 9:00pm on every night.  Their final hour has been dropping significantly this year, to the point where CBS’s 9:00 hour is only barely beating ABC’s, despite currently standing a full half-point ahead in the overall same-day ratings.  Across every night the 9:00 ratings are down.  Moving Person of Interest to Tuesday nights has helped boost that one timeslot’s ratings, but at the cost of twenty percent of the show’s ratings from last year.  Both NBC and ABC have been able to find 9:00 hits in recent years with Scandal and The Blacklist, so it’s not impossible.  But CBS just can’t seem to keep people watching at that hour.

The Numbers
CBS is going to easily finish in second place in the Live+Same Day ratings this season and is in a neck-and-neck fight with Fox for the Live+7 runner-up title.  The network’s greatest strength is its across the board depth, as it will finish first in scripted comedy ratings and second in scripted drama.  To give you an idea of how deep the roster is, CBS canceled Friends with Better Lives and Bad Teacher, both of which would have been the highest-rated live-action comedies on Fox and NBC this year.  It’s very difficult to predict what Thursday Night Football will do on CBS both because its previous ratings were on a cable channel that was typically reserved for a higher tier and because the Thursday night games are generally not as high profile as those on Sunday Nights.  CBS won’t pull the same numbers that NBC does with Sunday Night Football, but they could be high enough to lock CBS in second place again in 2015 (even without the Winter Olympics having the Super Bowl is likely enough to guarantee NBC a second straight first-place finish).

The Schedule (Titles in BOLD have already been renewed for next season; titles in strikethrough have already been canceled)
2013-14 Schedule –
Monday –
7:00pm – How I Met Your Mother (3.28 average rating)/We Are Men (1.90) – How I Met Your Mother (3.28)/Two Broke Girls (2.55) – Two Broke Girls (2.55)/Friends With Better Lives (2.00)
8:00pm – 2 Broke Girls (2.55)/Mom (2.10) – Mike and Molly (2.22)/Mom (2.10)
9:00pm – Hostages (1.20) – Intelligence (1.33)

CBS’s first foray into timeslot sharing did not go as well as they would have liked.  You can blame the timeslot if you’d like, but the more likely explanation is that Hostages and Intelligence just weren’t very good shows.  Intelligence, at least, got a huge sampling airing after an episode of NCIS but couldn’t carry that audience over to Monday nights.  I don’t know that CBS abandons the experiment, but I hope they don’t use this year’s failures as an excuse to stop trying short-run programming.

On the comedy side of the night, 2 Broke Girls turned out not to be the anchor CBS hoped it would be.  After cratering briefly in the fall, the show picked back up once it was moved behind HIMYM earlier in the night.  Two months ago, I would have put money on The Big Bang Theory leading into How I Met Your Dad at 7:00 to open next season but, for some reason, there has been some stalling on CBS’s pickup of HIMYD.  Despite renewing, canceling, or picking up every other series already and the announcement of CBS’s schedule barely more than twelve hours away, HIMYD is still in limbo.  My bet may still be won, but it’s looking less likely by the hour.

Tuesday –
7:00pm – NCIS (2.84)
8:00pm – NCIS: LA (2.44)
9:00pm – Person of Interest (1.99)

This is the exact night that’s made me stop predicting CBS schedules.  Old me would say nothing is going to change here.  These are three of the four highest-rated dramas on the network (Criminal Minds being the other) and this was almost exactly the outcome CBS was looking for when they moved Person of Interest here last spring.  But the pickup of another NCIS spinoff, NCIS: New Orleans, throws a kink in those plans.  There are some rumors that CBS will use New Orleans as a bridge show for NCIS, but the mother ship’s reruns do just fine.  They could move Person of Interest to Mondays or back to Thursdays and finally bring about the long threatened all-NCIS night.  Or they could move NCIS: LA to a new night to survive on its own and give New Orleans the cushy lead-in.  There are a half-dozen different ways this could go, and I have no idea which they’ll path they’ll take.

Wednesday –
7:00pm – Survivor (2.43)
8:00pm – Criminal Minds (2.49)
9:00pm – CSI (1.91)

The same thing applies to Wednesday night that did to Tuesday.  There’s nothing wrong here, so why try to fix what’s already working.  But then CBS greenlit CSI: Cyber.  Will they use it as a limited, bridge series for CSI?  Or will they move Criminal Minds to put the two CSIs together?  Or does Survivor get the boot?  I have no idea how any of this will play out.

Thursday –
7:00pm – The Big Bang Theory (5.13)/The Millers (2.72)
8:00pm – The Crazy Ones (2.11)/Two and a Half Men (2.29) – Two and a Half Men (2.29)/The Crazy Ones (2.11) – Two and a Half Men (2.29)/Bad Teacher (2.10)
9:00pm – Elementary (1.77)

I was extremely surprised that CBS won the bidding war for Thursday Night Football because if any network doesn’t need help on Thursday nights, it’s CBS.  But the NFL is a tempting mistress who can seduce anyone.  And Thursday is the most profitable night on television.  So The Big Bang Theory, broadcast television’s top scripted series (behind only Sunday Night Football overall) is moving…somewhere…at least temporarily.  It will be taking with it one of CBS’s strongest nights.  I know that this move was as much about keeping another network from getting into the NFL game as it was about strengthening CBS’s lineup, but I’m a little worried about what will happen when CBS keeps one of its strongest lineups off the air until November. 

Should CBS, as rumors suggest, decide to cut back on their comedy schedule, this is probably where we’ll see it, given that the network only just added its second comedy hour here last season.

Friday –
7:00pm – Undercover Boss (1.47) – Unforgettable (0.93)
8:00pm – Hawaii Five-0 (1.45)
9:00pm – Blue Bloods (1.40)

The move to Friday nights had Hawaii Five-0 fans rending garments last May, but this actually seems to have been the best move to ensure its long-term survival.  The ratings it drew on Friday nights were near where it was on Monday nights a year ago and the pairing with Blue Bloods means CBS is the most-watched network every week (even if total viewers aren’t as valuable as the 18-49 demo).  This entire lineup was renewed early and I would bet it comes back largely intact, though I could see Undercover Boss being held for midseason, depending on how the Thursday night shakeup plays out.

Sunday –
7:00pm – The Amazing Race (1.90)
8:00pm – The Good Wife (1.46)
9:00pm – The Mentalist (1.48)

Sundays are easily the most troubling night for CBS.  Thanks to the NFL in the fall and golf in the spring, the evening shows are often pushed back as much as an hour every couple of weeks.  This leads to The Mentalist regularly airing outside of primetime and an inconsistency in scheduling that is unparalleled by any other network.  At the same time, the ratings for the night's dramas have been dropping steadily, to the point that The Good Wife and The Mentalist are going to only barely beat Friday night shows Hawaii Five-0 and Blue Bloods this year.  Prior to the last minute renewal of The Mentalist, I thought that Elementary would fit nicely behind The Good Wife, but I have no idea now whether CBS will change anything on this night.

CBS will be making some changes for next year.  They have to if only to accommodate football.  The only problem is I don’t know where they will be.  Tuesday and Wednesday are strong enough to not need any tinkering but, at the same time, Friday and Sunday are so weak that it seems inadvisable to try and launch anything new there.  It remains to be seen if Thursday Night Football will be the juggernaut that its Sunday night companion is, but I expect to see CBS as possibly the only network claiming year-to-year growth come next May.

Tyler Williams is a professional librarian and an amateur television critic.  You can reach him at tytalkstv AT gmail DOT com or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

ABC 2014-15 Schedule Preview - Taking Chances

ABC believes "Scandal" can take on the NFL and "The Blacklist"

Earlier this week, NBC and FOX both debuted relatively stable schedules that were designed to build on current success.  But NBC has the luxury of both strength and depth, meaning that it can leave the bulk of its schedule alone and just slot in new programs where the previous ones had failed.  And Fox only has to program two hours a night, so they have the easy task of pairing new shows with returning shows.  ABC, unfortunately, has to program three hours each night and they don’t have the stable of average shows that they can leave alone while they try to fill the problem spots.  So ABC’s schedule for the fall makes a couple of big moves, including shuffling SHIELD back an hour and making an aggressive counter-programming play on Thursday nights that could pay huge dividends in the fall but which will pit broadcast television’s two highest-rated dramas against each other in the spring.  Let’s look at the day-by-day.

ABC’s 2014-15 Schedule (New shows in BOLD)
Monday –
7:00pm – Dancing with the Stars
9:00pm – Castle

There was some speculation that ABC would finally use Dancing with the Stars to launch a new drama, but Castle remains for its seventh season.  There are two possibilities here.  Either ABC doesn’t believe Dancing can launch a new series or they got spooked by NBC keeping The Blacklist at 9:00pm in the fall.  Given CBS’s struggles in the timeslot, had NBC decided to launch a new series of their own Monday nights, this seems like it would have been the perfect place for a female-skewing drama.  But it’s just as likely that ABC saw a night that wasn’t struggling and decided to spend its resources fixing numerous other holes. 

While it’s not specifically mentioned in the press release, it’s safe to assume that The Bachelor will air on Monday nights again the winter.

Tuesday –
7:00pm – Selfie/Manhattan Love Story
8:00pm – Marvel’s Agents of SHIELDMarvel’s Agent Carter (bridging SHIELD’s split season)
9:00pm – Forever

SHIELD saw a noticeable uptick in the ratings last year whenever it aired against repeats, indicating that there are some viewers who were choosing NCIS first.  So ABC makes the sensible move and slides SHIELD back an hour where it will steer clear of both NCIS and The Voice.  They also avoid the mistake they made last year with Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.  The original plan with Wonderland was to use it to bridge the two halves of Once Upon a Time’s season.  But the network decided instead to air on Thursdays, debut it in October, and then pull it from the schedule when Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal went on hiatus.  The result was pretty much a disaster for both Wonderland and OUaT’s Sunday timeslot, which needed Resurrection’s debut to recover.  This year, though, ABC will use Agent Carter, which follows Haley Atwell’s character following the events of the original Captain America film, to fill in the gap between SHIELD’s half-seasons, which also allows the network to avoid the numerous repeats and stops-and-starts SHIELD had this winter. 

The rest of the Tuesday schedule looks a lot like what ABC already tried this year, however: a pair of single-camera rookie sitcoms and a new drama.  I find it unlikely that the network will succeed where it failed last year, though SHIELD might give the same boost to Forever that it gave to The Goldbergs.  Those comedies look very shaky, though.

Wednesday –
7:00pm – The Middle/The Goldbergs
8:00pm – Modern Family/Black-ish
9:00pm – Nashville

Modern Family finally gets its family comedy lead-out, one year too late for Trophy Wife.  Otherwise, not much here changes.  The Goldbergs slots in behind The Middle for what seems like a more natural pairing than either Back in the Game or Suburgatory did this past year and, after some last-minute financial wrangling, Nashville returns for a full 22-episode season.  Networks are a little more lenient with actors taking other gigs, but I wonder how available Laurence Fishburne will be for Black-ish given Hannibal’s renewal.  He’s an executive producer for the series and prominently featured in the production stills but has already been downgraded from regular to recurring actor.  No matter, the “torn between two worlds” nature of this sitcom intrigues me and I’m always interested in shows from new voices, in this case writer and producer Kenya Barris.

Thursday –
7:00pm – Grey’s Anatomy
8:00pm – Scandal
9:00pm – How to Get Away with Murder

I wondered in my upfront preview if ABC would be willing to move one of its two strongest shows to another night or if they would rather try to counter-program against CBS’s Thursday Night Football.  The answer is obviously “counter-program” and aggressively so.  The network decided to double-down on Shonda Rhimes (who also signed a new four-year development deal with the network this morning) by moving Grey’s and Scandal up to slot her new Viola Davis-starring drama, How to Get Away with Murder, in at 9:00. 

This is a brilliant move because it kills two birds with one stone.  First, it gives ABC a powerful, female-centric lineup to run against the male-skewing NFL.  Second, it shores up what had been an incredibly troubling timeslot for the network for almost a decade now.  The last show to have any success on Thursdays at 7:00 was Ugly Betty, which aired in the timeslot for three years from 2006-2009.  Other than that show, however, the last series to air more than one season there was Whose Line Is it Anyway, back in 2001.

The real adventure comes in February when The Blacklist moves to 8:00pm opposite Scandal.  These were the two highest-rated dramas on broadcast television last year, so it will be interesting to see if they can coexist or if somebody will have to run away.

Friday –
7:00pm – Last Man Standing/Cristela
8:00pm – Shark Tank
9:00pm – 20/20

Shark Tank seems like too strong of a show to not try and use it as a lead-in for something else, but ABC seems content to keep it at 8:00.  The only change here is new comedy Cristela getting the slot previously inhabited by Malibu Country and The Neighbors.  Hopefully it will have better luck than its predecessors.

Sunday –
7:00pm – Once Upon a TimeGalavant (bridging OUaT’s split season)
8:00pm – Resurrection
9:00pm – Revenge

Sunday nights, like Mondays, stay largely the same, with ABC’s spring schedule returning in its entirety.  It’s already been announced that Resurrection will not air a full 22-episode season (the currently speculation has it between 16 and 18), so the only question is whether they will put it on a midseason hiatus with Once Upon a Time and Revenge, or if they keep airing it with midseason bridge show Galavant and whatever else ABC decides to air on Sunday nights in January and February.

For as many holes as ABC has, it’s a little surprising that Tuesday is the only night debuting more than one new series, but the moves on every other night seem reasonable.  There’s a bit of a question of whether Scandal’s audience will follow to a new show or if it will be more like Lost in its ability (or inability) to launch new series.  Tuesdays also still seem very questionable. But there is potential here for growth, which ABC desperately needs more than any other network.  As I've said before, they don't necessarily need more superstars, so long as their new shows don't completely bomb, as they did this fall.

Tyler Williams is a professional librarian and amateur television critic.  You can reach him at tytalkstv AT gmail DOT com or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.