Up Front About the Upfronts, Part 4: CBS Will Continue to Dominate
Next week, the major TV networks will announce their 2012-2013 schedules to a crowd of advertising executives in hopes that those executives will throw down a ton of money to run ads during the networks' programs. These sessions are known as the Upfronts, and they're where we'll all find out for good (mostly) what shows are renewed, what shows are canceled, and what new shows we can look forward to next year. It's, like, a really big deal you guys! So in preparation, we're spending this week looking at each one of the five major networks by reviewing what they've done in the past year and predicting what's in store for 2012-2013. Next up: CBS!
Where CBS stands now: Mostly on the throats of its competitors. The name of CBS's game is still overall viewers, and though that doesn't necessarily translate to ratings wins in the younger demographic, statistically speaking, at least some of that massive audience is going to be young. But the label of being "old" still haunts the network, and CBS knows there's still work to be done in transforming "America's Most-Watched Network" into "America's Most-Watched Network By Young People Too, We Swear!" However, when you dominate total viewers like CBS has over the past few seasons, life is pretty comfortable.
What worked this year: Don't look now, but CBS's wrinkles appear to be fading slowly! And that Botox injection started a few years ago, when The Big Bang Theory became a hit, allowing CBS to follow it up with more youthful shows like 2 Broke Girls while keeping existing sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother strong. Person of Interest has also become a hit, and CBS should be doing backflips over that series because it's the perfect bridge between the network's traditional procedurals and something that more young 'uns might like. Plus, POI was dropped right into a tough Thursday-night slot, and it performed with aplomb. The Good Wife also repeatedly comes up in conversation as one of the best shows on television, gets award recognition, and hasn't showed signs of slowing down in its third season. All seasons long, all of CBS's existing franchises did what they do best, week in and week out: sponge up viewers. It was a stellar season for CBS.
What failed this year: For an easy recap of how CBS did this year, all you have to do is go back to mid-March when CBS handed out early renewals for 15 of its series. That was in addition to way-early renewals for both The Big Bang Theory and HIMYM. In other words, not much failed at all. But if we need to find something that didn't work, one attempt at luring the young folk—the dismal How To Be a Gentleman—was a major bomb and showed that CBS still has a bit to learn about wooing young audiences. Unforgettable, NYC 22, and A Gifted Man didn't break out, but they're lessons CBS can learn from.
What's ahead for CBS: Expect more of the same from CBS until the network's formula stops working. That means a mix of "safe" shows and series that bring its median viewing age down a bit. It won't always work, but when it does, it's going to improve the brand significantly.
What CBS should be careful with: Don't push to get too young too quick. A lot of CBS's franchises still have a lot of life left in them. No one can just step out of the house one day with a sideways hat, baggy pants, and a Rebecca Black T-shirt. Also, I know CBS is stingy with the online stuff, but the days of watching TV on a TV are coming to a close and CBS had better have a plan in place.
Risky proposal that could pay off: Ready for this? Program Saturdays. Do it. CBS already thought about it with Rules of Engagement, which was originally scheduled for Saturdays last season, and the network has hit series oozing out of its ears. Opening up Saturdays would allow it to develop more new shows and get younger while keeping older shows alive. People don't watch TV like they used to. Adding Saturdays is risky, but if anyone can do it, it's CBS.
What scheduling changes would YOU make if you were a CBS executive?
– Up Front About the Upfronts, Part 3: ABC Is Headed in the Right Direction
– Up Front About the Upfronts, Part 2: Where Does Fox Stand?
– Up Front About the Upfronts, Part 1: Where Does NBC Stand?
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom
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