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.

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