Up Front About the Upfronts, Part 4: CBS Will Continue to Dominate

By Tim Surette

May 10, 2012

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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  • ma_j Jul 05, 2012

    Please, don't tell me that How I Met Your Mother "worked" last season. All they did was stall. Where I come from, we call it "embromation".

  • AriSky May 14, 2012

    The sooner CBS updates its video player so what little they actually do offer on their site actually loads (rather than just the ads), the better. I'm beyond frustrated with their site. I'd love to go through legal channels to watch Person of Interest (after the Thursday air, which I watch on TV), but nothing but the ads ever load. I've tried different computers, browsers and Internet connections, so I know it's their site that sucks. Blarg!

  • vicbjones May 13, 2012

    Wasn't that BS about the days of people watching TV on TV being numbered the same line of bull fans of Heroes used to claim its ratings weren't dropping? I can't see myself straining to watch a TV show on a laptop or a cellphone. I've watched episodes of shows on On Demand when I've missed them, but if I want to see a show, I usually either find the time to watch it or DVR it. Screw the young; they'll get old eventually if they're lucky. These would be the same viewers who complain about episodes being told in a flashback being tropes, right? How many viewers does the CW actually get?

  • thorswitch May 13, 2012

    I've actually been rather enjoying Unforgettable - has it's fate been determined yet?

  • DavidJackson8 May 11, 2012

    PERSON OF INTEREST and CRAIG FERGUSON are really the only two things that I need from CBS.

    I watch Hawaii Five-0, HIMYM, and TBBT, too... but uh... they're nowhere near the greatness that is POI and the LLS.

  • Geek_Queen May 11, 2012

    I do agree that CBS needs to do better with putting all of their series online. I could watch some shows online just fine, but, for some reason, CBS wasn't putting up all of the Mike & Molly episodes. Thankfully, I received M&M;'s first season on DVD for Christmas, so I'll get to watch the episodes I missed that way.

  • AnimeMadness May 11, 2012

    I don't really watch anything on CBS. Strange.

    I never really understood why networks don't schedule any worthy programs on Saturdays. Maybe people have plans to go out but I think the majority of us would be lying that we went out partying every Saturday night.

  • Crazy-for-TV May 11, 2012

    Here's what I would do:

    The only two comedies I watch on CBS are "The Big Bang Theory" and "Rules of Engagement," so I think CBS needs to shake up Thursday night a bit. I would move "Two and a Half Men" (never cared for the show, but hear me out) to 8:00pm, thus allowing "2 Broke Girls" to transition to the 9:00pm hour on Mondays. Then at 8:30pm on Thursdays, put "Rules of Engagement" for a mid*final*season, which would allow for another comedy to take its place in the Fall/Spring. At 9, put "The Big Bang Theory" here because it is probably the highest rated show of the night, and thus would be the perfect launching pad for a new comedy at 9:30. Then at 10:00pm, they could always put a drama/procedural show. CBS has been debating a second night of comedy, and this could be it. Yes, TBBT does great at 8, but you can't have your best comedy lead the night off, because the rest of the night will drop in comparison. Just my thoughts...

  • safibwana May 11, 2012

    Mediocrity wins again. I watch some of these shows, but wouldn't miss any of them at this point.

  • pcsjunior002 May 11, 2012

    First instance of a real disagreement with you here. I don't think that Saturdays would be a good move. I agree that if anyone could do, it would be CBS, but I still don't think it would work fine.

    FULLY with you about the online stuff, though. The SINGLE biggest thing that they can do to start improving younger viewing is get it all online, and promote the online stuff with your POI and "The Good Wife" and "The Big Bang Theory"s and do it now.

    Again, then, with the shows that they will bring in in an attempt to skew younger, pair them with POI and "The Good Wife" and such until they get their own followings and then separate them. But you're right, CBS doesn't really need to do that much. Their formula is working well.

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