CBS Orders 7 Series Including ‘NCIS’ and ‘CSI’ Spinoffs; Renews ‘Mentalist’

CBS has always surprised audiences and investors and this year is no different as it will add at least eight shows to its 2014-15 schedule…not to mention primetime football.

May 13, 2014 at 6:27AM

The other month CBS (NYSE:CBS) head Les Moonves made some waves when he said his network would likely only order two new comedies and two new dramas. Turns out he was being coy.

When the cone of silence around CBS' fall planning meetings finally lifted on Friday, the industry was stunned to see the network order seven new programs for the fall to go with the already ordered Battle Creek from Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan. With the network ready to make its annual presentation to advertisers on Wednesday, now is when things get interesting.

Spin, spin, spin


Credit: CBS

When CBS announced last year it was planning an NCIS spinoff pegged to megahit NCIS: Los Angeles, analysts expected it to be a lock for the fall schedule -- it was not. So when the network said it was trying again this season, experts weren't sure what to think. This time NCIS: New Orleans is a go. And it will be joined at some point by CSI: Cyber, the fourth spinoff of fellow CBS staple CSI.

CBS is no stranger to spinoffs. The aforementioned CSI extensions ran for almost a decade each and the original is still going strong despite an almost complete cast turnover. TV relies on new blood to succeed and spinoffs are the easiest way to introduce a new show but keep the familiarity of an established hit. In both franchises the programs play extremely well internationally. Passing on these pick-ups would've meant leaving a lot of money on the table.

The two spinoffs will likely serve as anchors for the entire slate of rookies and act as a safety net for CBS, which also picked up a motley crew of drams including the darker thriller Stalker, from The Folllowing's Kevin Williamson, the much buzzed about political drama Madame Secretary starring Tea Leoni, and the actioner Scorpion fronted by Katherine McPhee and Robert Patrick.

Laugh tracking

The bulk of CBS' pickups were dramas but its two comedy pickups (The Odd Couple and The McCarthys) were very telling. Even more so was what (as of press time) WASN'T picked up. As early as Thursday night, (false) rumors were spreading CBS had greenlit the How I Met Your Mother spinoff How I Met Your Dad, but those reports faded and apparently so has the show.

Earlier in the year I wondered if the poor reaction to the Mother finale might affect the spinoff's chances and that could be the case. CBS was right to pause on this one -- would audiences will readily agree to sign up for another long narrative that could end in the same way?

Also of note is that both comedy pickups are multi-camera comedies. CBS experimented last year with two single-camera shows and both tanked. We Are Men was yanked just a few weeks into its run while The Crazy Ones only lasted as long as it did because it had Robin Williams in the lead role. Critics can get on CBS for staying safe but they know how to do multi-camera comedies right. Viewers and advertisers have clearly told them that's what they want to see and it looks like executives were listening.

Bubble burst


Credit: CBS

So now the question becomes where do you put eight new series on a crowded lineup of hits that also has to accommodate eight weeks of primetime football? To start, you clean house. CBS' massive order of projects means all of its bubble shows were dead in the water ... except for one. While it was on life support for a time, reports of the demise of The Mentalist were greatly exaggerated.

CBS came through with a last-minute reprieve for the aging procedural and will bring it back for what could be a final 13-episode swan song season. This was a classy move by CBS to let a series that helped carry the network for years get a proper goodbye (should this really be the end).

Warner Brothers, which owns the show, was pushing for the order because it does so well internationally and because the series has been on the air long enough the brunt of the production cost has shifted off them and to the network. TNT was reportedly interested in taking the show if CBS had passed and I wouldn't be shocked to see those talks heat up again later this year.

The news wasn't as good for Friends With Better Lives, Bad Teacher, The Crazy Ones, Hostages, and Intelligence, which were all axed on Saturday. Lives and Intelligence's cancellations were a little disappointing because both showed some promise. And while still successful, Monday nights aren't as strong for CBS as they once were and that instability cost both freshman series. It will be interesting to see how the new schedule shakes out this week as it's likely some major changes are in store.

CBS is still a powerhouse destination and it probably has one of the most appealing roster of the big five broadcasters, which will make this upcoming schedule reveal fascinating -- anything can happen. If history is an indication expect at least one big move. In the end, this could be a very profitable slate for the network and its investors.

Brett Gold owns shares of CBS. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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