May 17, 2009

TWO CENTS

CSI

Why CBS Should Move 'CSI' … and 'The Mentalist'

File this one under total rampant unfounded speculation. Or, perhaps, Modest Proposals.

CBS should consider moving the original-recipe incarnation of "CSI" to 10 p.m. Thursdays.

I have not a shred of evidence to suggest the network has any plans whatsoever to do this. And, if history is any guide, there's no chance whatsoever this will happen.

After all, CBS is the Network of Stability. Scheduling overlord Kelly Kahl is known for running the least bouncy ship on the high seas of network television. He will do just about anything to avoid an unneeded move of an existing hit.

But here's why I think "CSI" might be best served by a 10 p.m. timeslot:

It needs the protection. One of the most underreported stories of the new year has been the sharp drop in ratings for "CSI" since William Petersen left the show. In recent weeks, Fox's "Hell's Kitchen" and NBC's sitcom block have come close to matching "CSI" in adults 18-49; ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" already trounces it by that measure.

The competition is much less fierce at 10 p.m. A shift there would allow the show some breathing room, giving the network time to back a giant cash truck up to Petersen's driveway. (You just know CBS will announce Petersen's return to the show in some form or another in its upfront presentation Wednesday.)

It would crush Jay Leno at 10 p.m. CBS' attempts to launch a show behind "CSI" have been unproductive in recent years ("Without a Trace" is the only show to get a boost from "CSI"). The best way to battle Jay Thursdays at 10 is with an existing hit … like "CSI."

It would make it harder for ABC to gain any traction in the slot. "Private Practice" has benefited from weak competition on NBC and CBS at 10 p.m. Thursdays. "CSI's" relocation to the slot would ding its growth trajectory, or make it tougher for ABC to put a new show behind "Grey's."

It's time. Very few hit network shows stay in one slot forever. "ER," which—other than its Monday premiere—never aired outside of its Thursday 10 p.m. timeslot, is the exception. At every point in a show's life, network executives need to decide when a show has come to the twilight of its lifespan. If so, it makes sense to shift from an offensive strategy to a defensive one. That time probably has come for "CSI."

"The Mentalist" would be a nice fit at 9 p.m. Thursday, and could be CBS' best hopes for a long-term "CSI" replacement. I'm just sayin'….

Of course, there are reasons to keep "CSI" right where it is.

It's tough out there for 10 o'clock dramas. Data shows viewers are increasingly using the timeslot to watch recorded shows on their DVRs. There's no guarantee that "CSI" would do any better if it aired in a later slot.

What's more, shifting an aging series is always risky. Viewers (especially those who favor CBS) are creatures of habit. More than a few shows have been prematurely killed by an ill-advised shift.

In addition, if Petersen really does decide to return to "CSI," then this spring's ratings slide might be quickly halted.

Still, I dunno. I just like the way this feels. And since CBS keeps its executives under wraps this time of year, there's nobody around to tell me why this is the dumbest idea ever.

70 hours and counting....

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