The business of television is on full display now as the networks spend tons of money trying to convince advertisers, investors, and audiences why their new slate of programming is the most profitable. This week it's the major broadcasters' turn as NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, and The CW will unveil all-new schedules as the "upfront" season reaches its climax.
And then there were two. After a week of networks showcasing their shows to advertisers it is now down to CBS (NASDAQ:VIAC) and sister network The CW. As per tradition, CBS didn't disappoint Wednesday as executives delivered a new schedule with a few surprises.
Riskiest move – Monday's comedy cut
Comedies and CBS Mondays have gone hand-in-hand for decades, but executives are making a big change. Starting in the fall the network's two-hour comedy block is being cut in half. This is truly a big deal. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the block has been a staple on the network since 1986 and has produced hit after hit -- Murphy Brown, Everybody Loves Raymond, King of Queens, to name a few. This year CBS will instead launch Scorpion, a new drama in that 9 p.m. hour.
Viewers don't like change and that's why this is a risky move. People look forward to that comedy block to kick off their week and decompress after jumping back into the work week. I wouldn't be surprised if viewers rooted for the new show to fail so CBS will revert back to its old format in the spring.
While that's certainly an option, let's look at this from the glass-half-full perspective. Executives stressed that the show has comedic elements to it and that it would be a nice bridge series between its two lead-ins (The Big Bang Theory/2 Broke Girls & Mom) and lead-out, the relocated NCIS: Los Angeles.
Scorpion stars Elyes Gabel (Body of Proof, Game of Thrones) as the eccentric leader of a new Homeland Security team codenamed "Scorpion," which is comprised of brilliant misfits who "comprise the last line of defense against complex, high-tech threats of the modern age." Think Big Bang meets Chuck meets any CBS procedural ever. In fact Big Bang will serve as one of its lead-ins as it's being temporarily shifted to Monday while the NFL takes over CBS Thursdays for the first two months.
CBS is making a gamble here, but the network has shown similar guts before -- adding a second hour to its Thursday night comedy block last year, shifting Survivor to Wednesdays and Big Bang to Thursdays in years past. The moves usually work.
Boldest move – NCIS: Los Angeles moves to Mondays
Speaking of NCIS: Los Angeles, the spinoff series is finally breaking away from the mothership and moving to Mondays in the fall. After five years on Tuesday nights, the Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J fronted drama will now close the night a day earlier and in the process make a statement.
CBS is hardly immune to failure. That happened last year with Hostages, which as I've detailed, was CBS' way of entering the limited-event series space. It failed for a number of reasons, and it gave NBC an opening. Now, it's NBC and ABC that shared viewers in the Mondays at 10 p.m. slot. This year CBS is moving one of its established hits into the space as a way to reclaim its territory.
Those first few weeks of The Blacklist versus Castle versus NCIS: Los Angeles will be fun to watch play out, but it'll get insane come November. NBC announced earlier in the week Blacklist will go on hiatus just before Thanksgiving and resurface on Thursdays in 2015, leaving the Katherine Heigl drama State of Affairs to hold down the fort.
If the show doesn't appeal to audiences, those viewers will shift right back to CBS and the balance of power will be restored. If Affairs becomes a hit, it'll be a bloody three-way fight to the finish. Either option is possible, but when it comes to NCIS: Anything or a female-centric rookie drama looking to prove itself, advertisers will likely go with the returning champ and CBS knows that.
Most interesting move – Sunday as a launching pad
Starting a show on a Sunday night in its freshman year is dangerous when one of its lead-ins is football. You have to go back to 2009 to find the last time CBS even considered it and it wasn't a success by any stretch of the imagination. This year the network's trying again with Madame Secretary, a new political drama starring Tea Leoni. The series will then serve as a lead-in for The Good Wife and the relocated CSI (which eventually will give way to spin-off CSI: Cyber in 2015).
(Warning: Trailer contains spoilers about pilot episode)
The previous series in question was Three Rivers, a hospital drama starring Alex O'Loughlin. Part of the problem (and there were a few) was the series never played to O'Loughlin's strengths -- he was cast there because the network loved his work on the failed sci-fi series Moonlight and wanted to keep him on its roster. Yet the main reason the show failed was that it aired on Sunday's at 9 p.m., which was often time-shifted because of football overruns. Since the show never ran at a consistent time, it never found a consistent audience.
But I understand the decision to give Madame Secretary the slot -- the show fits like a glove into the schedule. With the equally political/newsy 60 Minutes leading into it and the similarly themed Good Wife leading out of it, it makes for a smooth transition ... at least on paper. However the possibility of a football overrun still worries me and likely a few executives as well, but CBS is content to play the odds and I suspect its advertisers will happily do so also. But will viewers?