CBS (NYSE:CBS) is no stranger to success in the world of scripted television. Currently, the network boasts the top-rated drama, NCIS, as well as the top-rated comedy, The Big Bang Theory. Both of those staples will return this fall and renewals also seem likely for strong performing dramas like Criminal Minds and Elementary. With Thursday Night Football added to line up, it's safe to say CBS will continue to please viewers and advertisers alike .
The real question becomes, will CBS be able to develop new shows to replace its classics when the time comes? After all, How I Met Your Mother, while dipping as of late, is still a ratings success that will leave a hole this fall . Investors will need to keep an eye on the pilots CBS is set to produce this spring to determine if the network can once again build a fan base strong enough to keep its ratings on top.
It won't be easy
Based on what we've seen so far this year, launching successful new shows can be challenging. Here's a quick run down of some of this year's new shows on CBS:
- Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Hostages performed poorly and looks unlikely for renewal, as star Dylan McDermott has already joined a Kevin Williamson pilot.
- Another new drama, Intelligence, has consistently dismal ratings and doesn't look like it will pull Criminal Minds numbers anytime soon.
- The comedy We Are Men was canceled after just two episodes.
- New Robin Williams comedy The Crazy Ones and generation-mixer The Millers are both picking up steam this winter .
- Younger-skewed ensemble, Friends With Better Lives debuts at the end of this month and could be a sleeper hit.
Even among the stronger performing new comedies, there are no guaranteed renewals. With that in mind, let's look at what CBS has brewing this pilot season.
Bring on the pilots
The network's development slate is a mixed bag, and the executives will have some interesting choices to make before upfronts this May, the annual event for advertisers to buy airtime. CBS has already given a series order to Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan's police drama Battle Creek. The show follows a team of two very different detectives cleaning up the titular down-on-its-luck Michigan town.
There are also a couple of familiar titles in the works, including spin-offs of NCIS and CSI. It would be interesting to see if the network toes the franchise line, or takes a chance on the more modern-leaning crime scripts. One such risk would be Red Zone, which follows a retired CIA agent pulled back in to the agency to investigate home-grown terrorists.
There are also familiar faces at work in CBS's drama pool, including Jamie Lee Curtis and Tea Leoni, each set to star in a drama pilot .
The comedy slate presents a similar blend of safe spinoffs and 40-something stars. Execution will be key for these pilots, as several of the stories tread in familiar territory.
Keep an eye out for the Matthew Perry-starring Odd Couple revamp, as well as How I Met Your Dad — a female flip on the How I Met Your Mother formula. Then there is The Mistake, which follows a couple who discovers they're pregnant after they decided to stop having kids (Father of The Bride Part 2, anyone?). Save the Date's premise of a woman who books a wedding venue and needs to find a husband seems unlikely to keep viewers interests for long .
Finally, we break away from the family themed premise with Taxi-22, which follows a cynical New York cab driver struggling in an increasingly politically correct world. The pilot is based on a French-Canadian format and was previously developed for HBO with the late James Gandolfini .
CBS's scripted slate this spring leaves the network at an interesting crossroads. When it comes time to select pilots for series and present for advertisers, will they take chances on younger skewed shows with more unusual concepts? Or fall back on the franchises and formulas that have worked and hope they keep working? Only time will tell, but investors should watch closely.