“Most stable network” is the phrase industry experts typically use to describe CBS, which this year is looking to take calculated risks to freshen its lineup and find some younger viewers.
During the tumultuous 2006-07 season, that stability has come in handy, with the network once again leading in total viewers for the season. Its lineup of mature, self-contained, episodic content scheduled in a traditional manner of originals and repeats has helped it avoid the more topsy-turvy swings felt by serialized programs and series that took long hiatuses. CBS’s Monday night comedies continue to constitute the strongest sitcom block on television.
Still, the recent broadcast ratings drain has firmly impacted CBS, which is down 3 percent in the 18 to 49 demographic. Take away sports, which for CBS includes the Super Bowl, and the network is down 8 percent-more than competitors NBC, ABC and Fox.
As for new shows this year, CBS offered a mixed bag. The network has shown patience with “Shark,” which has gradually worked its way up to a competent performer. Its Monday night comedy “Rules of Engagement” has been modestly successful in a year when almost all other sitcoms have failed.
The most dramatic entry into CBS’s schedule was “Jericho,” the network’s younger-skewing serialized drama, whose ratings took a dive after a lengthy winter hiatus and never recovered. The finale last week matched its series low, making a renewal unlikely despite a cliffhanger ending and some recent critical favor.
“Last year they touted six new shows coming back; this year they have ‘Shark,'” said Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media.
Still, the sheer number of “stable” shows means CBS has fewer holes to fill than competitors. With its pilot picks (including shows about vampires, exorcists and swingers), the network is clearly aware of its reputation and is trying to generate some buzz.
One front-runner is 20th Century Fox’s “Babylon Fields,” a zombie drama crossed with a police procedural (call it “ZSI”). Other strong pilots include Sony drama “Viva Laughlin” and CBS Paramount comedy “I’m in Hell.”
With “Survivor” and “Amazing Race” showing their age, CBS is also planning a significant infusion of reality and game shows this summer, which could see a title or two rolled into the fall.
“Program diversity is important, and particularly to evolve beyond the police procedurals toward lighter and more inclusive dramas like ‘Grey’s Anatomy,'” said John Rash, senior VP and director of media negotiations at Campbell Mithun.
When: Wednesday, May 16, 4 p.m. (ET)
Where: Carnegie Hall
Key executives: Leslie Moonves, President and CEO; Nina Tassler, Entertainment President; Jo Ann Ross, President of Ad Sales
Adults 18-49 season to date: 3.7, -3%
Total viewers: 12.5 million, -1%
2006-07 breakouts: “Shark,” “Rules of Engagement”
Biggest holes: Tuesdays at 10 p.m.
Source: Nielsen Media Research ratings data for Sept. 18, 2006, to May 5, 2007, compared with Sept. 19, 2005, to May 7, 2006