Upfronts Week continues to chug along in New York, with the broadcast networks chiseling away at their schedules like artists turning slabs of misshapen marble into something that's slightly less misshapen and almost resembles a naked man (this isn't cable, folks). We've already dissected NBC, Fox, and ABC's new schedules for the 2014-2015 season, and now it's CBS's turn. So, what does the network that was once again the most watched—but that finished behind NBC in the ratings in 2013-2014—have to offer? More of the same, mostly, but with one huge, football-shaped change. Let's break it down!
First thing first: Here's CBS's full 2014-2015 schedule.
When I say, "good," I mean "good for CBS." The network is poised to enjoy a huge 2014-2015 thanks to the addition of Thursday Night Football to its lineup. You know why NBC finished first last year? Football. Having pigskin count as primetime programming is a ridiculous boost, and adding it to CBS's schedule is like giving a grizzly bear plate-mail armor and a howitzer. NBC's Sunday Night Football averaged more than 21 million viewers last season, and even if CBS's Thursday editions perform even half as well, it'll be a huge gain, particularly in the 18-to-49 demographic, where CBS needs viewers the most.
The question is whether or not Thursday Night Football's 5pm start time on the West Coast will be a problem. That will certainly cut into the numbers a bit, but probably not enough to make a real difference. On the weekends, by the time Sunday Night Football rolls around, we've already gorged ourselves on an entire day's worth of dudes tackling each other, and our fantasy teams are already looking at another loss. But Thursday kicks off a new week on the gridiron, the NFL is looking to put more meaningful match-ups on Thursday nights, and the Thursday schedule is packed with East Coast teams—which is important, since it will air live in primetime on the Atlantic. I expect CBS's Thursday Night Football ratings numbers to approach those of Sunday Night Football on NBC. (Once CBS is done with football, it will restore its Thursday comedy lineup—The Big Theory, The Millers, Two and a Half Men, and new comedy The McCarthys will air from 8pm to 10pm starting on October 30, followed by Elementary.)
Football's domination of Thursdays will force everything else on CBS's schedule to shift, spreading out the wealth, so to speak. The Amazing Race will still thrive on Fridays, CSI will do fine on Sundays, and NCIS:LA is big enough that a move to Mondays won't hurt it. The Big Bang Theory could move to Siberia and people would still watch it, so its temporary return to Mondays shouldn't be a problem for anyone except CBS's competitors. With the network's 2014-2015 season starting early because of football—the first game is on September 11—and with The Big Bang Theory on Mondays, I feel sorry for any network that's trying to launch a new show on either of those nights. All of a sudden it makes a lot more sense that Fox and ABC are holding back some of their highest-profile shows for the midseason. And don't be surprised if several networks set their premiere dates in early September in an attempt to avoid conflict and hook viewers early.
Also good: No How I Met Your Dad.
One downside of adding football is that CBS doesn't have much space in its lineup to add anything else. So the network enters the 2014-2015 season with a grand total of zero new comedies on its schedule. The McCarthys joins Thursday nights once football exits in October, but since the network debuted three new comedies in 2013-2014, zero is a big step down. The lack of laffers shouldn't hurt CBS that much, but for a guy like me who loves to try out new programs in the fall, it's a letdown.
In related news, none of CBS's original non-spin-off dramas sound all that interesting. Scorpion, about a band of super-smart masterminds who team up to stop high-tech threats; Madame Secretary, starring Tea Leoni as a female Secretary of State; and Stalker, following detectives who investigate stalking incidents, all feel like cookie-cutter CBS shows.
Oh boy, five hours of CSI or NCIS programming? NCIS, NCIS: LA, NCIS: New Orleans, CSI, and CSI: Cyber? I thought CBS was moving away from these types of procedurals and more toward the world of serialized thrillers like Person of Interest, but apparently I was wrong.
THE SAME-OLD (BUT STRONG) STRATEGY
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, basically. After flirting with change in recent years (Intelligence and Person of Interest were a step outside of the procedural formula, and The Crazy Ones was a single-camera comedy), CBS is returning to its faithful brand of vanilla programming because it works. The network is bringing back 21 existing series to its schedule, alongside only eight new shows—two of which are spin-offs of CSI and NCIS. By comparison, NBC may have finished first in 2013-2014, but it's bringing in 16 new series in 2014-2015 because it just canceled a huge chunk of its schedule. Sure, I might bemoan the way that familiarity results in a lack of new shows, but there's a reason CBS isn't stuffing itself with comic-book adaptations and dating comedies... it doesn't need to.
Best-looking New CBS Series: Battle Creek
It was created by Vince Gilligan, he of Breaking Bad fame, so that's a point already. No one expects Battle Creek to be the next Breaking Bad, but this buddy-cop drama oozed charm in the trailer that was screened for advertisers and press (why you no put it online, CBS?). Sadly, you'll have to wait until the midseason to see the finished product, because that's when the network has scheduled it.
Worst-looking New CBS Series: The McCarthys
With CBS too scared to try a new ethnic family comedy (Rob! is the only one in recent memory, and we all know how that went), the network aimed for what it considers to be "cultural expansion" by ordering a family comedy about a sports-crazy white clan from the far-off land known as "Boston." And one of the sons in the family is gay, so that provides what looks like 90 percent of the humor. Progressive!
The Show That Flashes Some Serious CGI Insanity But Won't Come Anywhere Close to Keeping It Up By Episode 2: Scorpion
Whoa! Director Justin Lin brought some of his Fast & Furious chops to this trailer, which features a near plane crash, cars racing through the streets of Los Angeles, and nerds shouting at a chalkboard. But that means we can expect Episode 2 to be about the gang trying to prevent an ice cream store from losing its shipment of Rocky Road, or something equally less spectacular. But at least the show will still have Katharine McPhee. *drool*
The Show That Will Make You Scared to Ever Be Anywhere Alone (But Don't Worry, You Won't Be Alone): Stalker
Look out, ladies! You's gonna get stalked! This new Kevin Williamson drama continues the show creator's penchant for grisly scares in the wake of his marginal success with The Following. Remember when Williamson he created Dawson's Creek? Stalker kind of looks like a Lifetime Movie told from the viewpoint of the cops.
How do your first impressions of CBS's new schedule and shows match up to mine?
AIRED ON 12/10/2014
Season 1 : Episode 11