Many Happy Returns: Strong Ratings for CBS Comedies May Bode Well for Nets

Mar 23, 2008  •  Post A Comment

If the ratings for CBS’ Monday night comedies last week are any indication, things might be looking up for the return of scripted television after the Writers Guild of America strike—but don’t uncork the champagne just yet.
“The Big Bang Theory,” “Two and a Half Men” and “How I Met Your Mother” all beat their pre-strike first-run episodes in both average ratings and viewers.
“I think going in, we were a little apprehensive and we didn’t know what to expect,” admitted Kelly Kahl, senior executive vice president of CBS prime time.
The return of scripted comedies on Monday still couldn’t carry CBS to a first-place finish for the night, however, as the season premiere of “Dancing With the Stars” gave ABC the win. CBS, currently running fourth among 18- to 49-year-old viewers, last week also ceded the season-to-date crown in average total viewership to Fox, which was propelled by the strength of “American Idol.”
For CBS on Monday, “Big Bang” posted a 3.6 rating/11 share in the 18-49 demo. That’s its third-best rating to date and nearly ties its premiere numbers. “Two and a Half Men” saw its highest rating since February 2007 with a 5.4 rating/11 share. “Mother” had its second highest showing to date with a 4.3 rating/11 share.
That momentum helped “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” which had already returned with post-strike original episodes, to a season-high 4.3 rating/11 share.
Those numbers indicate that after the 100-day hiatus forced by the writers strike, viewers did come back to their shows. “Stars” beat “Two and a Half Men” by only two-tenths of a rating point to become the highest-rated show of the night in the 18-49 demographic.
“Men” also improved upon its season average by 26%.
The CBS return also took the steam out of NBC’s and Fox’s fresh programming. NBC’s “My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad” dipped 33% week-to-week, while Fox’s “Canterbury’s Law” failed to improve from its 1.7 rating/5 share from the previous week, marking the worst showing in the 8 p.m. hour season-to-date, excluding holidays.
To drum up interest in its returning Monday comedy block, CBS ran a weekend campaign for the shows under an “All Gnu” banner, which featured a wildebeest. The network also heavily promoted the comedies during its weekend coverage of NCAA basketball’s March Madness tournament.
Even with the uptick, Mr. Kahl said they’ve got a long way to go.
“We’re not high-fiving yet, but we’re excited,” he said.
Any strength in CBS’ Monday showings may not provide much reassurance to executives at other networks preparing their own returns to original programming, said Gary Carr, senior vice president/director of national broadcast at media buyer TargetCast tcm.
Just because an old favorite has new episodes doesn’t mean that viewers will flock back.
Mr. Carr cited this season of “Lost,” which has been running new episodes for weeks, as an example. That fan favorite, even competing against repeats and reality fare, hasn’t posted a gain from week to week during the entire season.

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