NEW YORK — All the other broadcast networks that presented their fall schedules at Upfront Week are in the process of figuring out how to reinvent the business in an age of fragmented viewing. They’re talking about shows having shorter runs, doubling up timeslots to avoid repeats, aiming for niches, and other strategies that would have been anathema 10 years ago.
CBS, on the other hand, keeps playing by the old rules — and keeps being incredibly successful at it. It remains the most-watched network on television, and a healthy second place to FOX among the viewers under 50 that advertisers care about, and all while programming an incredibly traditional mix of sitcoms, dramas and the odd reality show.
“I was trying to think of a clever acronym for our strategy,” CBS scheduling czar Kelly Kahl joked at the network’s annual upfront press breakfast on Wednesday morning.
“It’s called ‘HITS,'” retorted the network’s entertainment president Nina Tassler.
“I think you all know our playbook better than that,” Kahl acknowledged to the reporters in the room. “You know what we do. We do pretty much the same thing every year.”
And that thing is to take advantage of the many hits on the schedule to try to develop new hits and to minimize scheduling changes wherever possible — with, it seems, one annual experiment.
This year’s bold move was expected to be a shift to a four-comedy schedule on Thursday nights, with “Big Bang Theory” at 8, “2 Broke Girls” moving over from Mondays to air at 9, and either two new comedies in between or one new sitcom and “Rules of Engagement.” Instead, CBS seems to be taking the Marvel Two-in-One approach to the night, and will now pair its two biggest comedies — “Big Bang Theory” at 8, “Two and a Half Men” at 8:30 — and leave its Monday lineup in the hands of “How I Met Your Mother” and “Broke Girls,” where they’ll sandwich the schedule’s lone new comedy, “Partners.”
New dramas “Vegas,” “Elementary” and “Made in Jersey” will all get protected timeslots after successful CBS shows, and many nights have only minimal changes.
Analyzing the schedule, night-by-night:
SUNDAY: Status quo for the first three hours with “60 Minutes,” “The Amazing Race” and “The Good Wife.” (Kahl rebutted complaints about how football overruns have disrupted the scheduling of “Good Wife” by noting that the show’s best ratings this season all came on nights when the show started late because of sports.) At 10, “The Mentalist” arrives from Thursdays to succeed “CSI: Miami,” which was canceled instead of “CSI: NY” in what Tassler described as “a jump ball.” (The costs of the two aging spin-offs were close enough that they wanted to keep whichever one wouldn’t be changing nights.)
MONDAY: “How I Met Your Mother,” coming off its highest-rated season ever, returns at 8, as do “Mike & Molly” at 9:30 and “Hawaii Five-O” at 10. “Partners,” from “Will & Grace” creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, goes at 8:30 — Kahl said they chose not to launch it after “Men” because “we don’t want to put pressure on it right away” — while “Broke Girls” helps the network prepare for life after “Men.”
TUESDAY: The “NCIS” franchise remains mighty for the first two hours of the night, and leads into another testosterone-y drama in “Vegas,” a period piece about ’60s Las Vegas rancher-turned-sheriff Ralph Lamb, played by Dennis Quaid in his first TV series lead, who clashes with a gangster from Chicago played by Michael Chiklis.
WEDNESDAY: No changes whatsoever: “Survivor” at 8, “Criminal Minds” at 9, and the reinvigorated Ted Danson-era “CSI” at 10. If it ain’t broke, CBS doesn’t try to fix it.
THURSDAY: Kahl’s explanation about the “Men” move was that “Big Bang” is such a broad hit that any other sitcom they put after it this past season — including the canceled “How to Be a Gentleman” and “¡Rob!,” plus “Rules of Engagement,” which may or may not return at mid-season depending on how negotiations go — lost too much of its lead-in audience. Where other networks are okay with their big comedy hits shedding viewers at the half-hour, CBS wanted to try what Kahl called “a super comedy hour” that would, in turn, boost “Person of Interest” at 9, and, by extension, the debut of “Elementary” (a modern day Sherlock Holmes drama starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu that should in no way be confused with “Sherlock,” the BBC/PBS modern day Sherlock Holmes drama with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin freeman) at 10.
FRIDAY: “CSI: NY” survives the battle of the aging, expensive “CSI” spin-offs and moves to 8, where it will lead into “Made in Jersey,” a “Suits”-esque drama about a Jersey girl trying to make her mark in a stuffy Manhattan law firm where everyone else went to an Ivy League school. (“Great street smarts and a lotta Jersey” is how Tassler proudly described it — leaving out the fact that the lead is played by English actress Janet Montgomery.) “Blue Bloods” stays at 10.
SATURDAY: Crime show repeats at 8 and 9 lead into “48 Hours Mystery” at 10. Same as usual.
In addition to the shows mentioned above, “NYC 22,” “A Gifted Man” and “Unforgettable” have also been canceled.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org