Maybe Brent Musburger could get me to care that THIS IS CBS

8 February 2012
by R.A. Porter

Since I started out my little project with a spotlight review of How I Met Your Mother, I might as well stick with CBS.

I bet that a clever monkey (like a Nielsen statistician) with access to Nielsen’s numbers (like a Nielsen statistician) and some secondary studies about television viewing habits, traditional vs. alternative broadcast models, and a well oiled slide rule could easily demonstrate that the lower overall numbers for shows with younger skewing demos are artificially depressed because many of those shows’ viewers watch through alternative, unmetered avenues. This problem is similar to that where the ratings service under-reports for shows that are commonly watched in groups. Then again, no clever monkey working for Nielsen is ever going to point out to its clients that its product is only good at figuring out what your mom likes to watch.

Top of the Nielsens (even if their demo still skews old) and able to successfully promote new shows and their overall brand from just about any timeslot, CBS has been the king for quite a few years now. They do an excellent job of building on their successes and duplicating a few formulas over and over, which means there are only a small handful of genera to which most of their shows fit.

  • Copus forensicusCSI and all its offspring. Numb3rs also fit in this genus when it was on the schedule (though a case could be easily be made that it could have been classed as Copus giftus).
  • Copus darkus - Here’s where you’d find your Criminal Minds, NCISes and Person of Interest. Given that CSI: NY tends to embrace the darkness  more than its kin from sunny climes, it could also fall into this classification.
  • Copus giftus - That special someone with that special gift. Poppy’s idiot show1 and the Unfunny Version of Psych slot in here.
  • Chuckus lorre - You’d better believe if I were in Moonvest’s place I’d give Chuck Lorre free reign to give me at least one hour of programming for the 8-9 timeslot each weeknight. My only special request would be that he provide a family-friendlyish block of shows for Friday nights in the mode of ABC’s old TGIF.
  • Survivus maximus.

That’s a whole lot of CBS shows. If you look at their schedule, there aren’t that many outliers. And that programming model has worked brilliantly for them. It’s not exactly niche programming, but they’ve found what works (and works well) and know how to stick with it.

But let’s not heap the praise too high here; as successful as they are from a numbers standpoint, their demo is getting older. And on a personal note, I just took a look at my DVR’s list of season passes…of the 44 current season passes, exactly three are for shows on CBS (and one of them, as you can imagine from yesterday’s post, is holding on by a thread).

So after the jump, let’s take a quick walk through the CBS week. I’ll try not to forget any shows that aren’t airing right now but make no promises.

 Monday

I won’t say any more about that show right now, but it’s “going strong” in season too goddamn many. Then we’ve got ethnic stereotypes and vagina jokes at 8:30,2 Demi Moore’s future alimony at 9, and Mike & Molly rounding out the two-hour comedy block.

We watch M&M. I want to like it more, but the performances are all over the board. The sweet relationship at the heart of the show is played beautifully by two very talented and funny people…and everyone around them is parachuting in from other shows. Remember how Josh Malina was playing to the cheap seats in the Sports Night pilot before he became the Jeremy we all know and love in the second episode? Everyone of the supporting actors on M&M is still playing to the cheap seats3 and it hurts to watch.

Rounding out the night is another show I wish I liked better; I grew tired of H50 midway through the first season and just stopped watching. CBS finally found a good fit for Alex O’Loughlin (who hopefully finally burned whatever blackmail pics he was holding onto for the few years prior) and Scott Caan is freakin’ great in this show. And still I don’t care. There’s just something perfunctory about the whole affair that I couldn’t put my finger on and still can’t. It’s written adequately, shot adequately, acted quite well, and all adds up to “meh”.

Tuesday

Dark and quirky, dark and quirky, Poppy with red hair. That’s three hours of television built for someone who isn’t me. I know it’s built for someone—many someones, in fact—but I couldn’t guess whom.

Wednesday

I’ve never watched Survivor. I’m sure it’s great or something. I don’t know. I tend to watch a lot less reality TV than most of y’all;4 that’s just my nature. Oh look: there’s some more police and their policing ways.

Thursday

I’ve watched a couple of episodes of BBT: Evil Wil Wheaton’s been on a couple of times, right? This show’s not really my cuppa. Let me expand that thought: Chuck Lorre’s not usually my cuppa. He’s a capable and competent show runner who has put shows on the air that I have enjoyed in the past (and produces Monday night’s M&M which I almost like) but my comedy sensibilities and his aren’t quite sympatico; his shows usually just don’t quite click for me.

And what can I say about ¡Rob! that isn’t going to make me wish I hadn’t wasted the time thinking of it?5

I guess some people like Person of Interest? Okay. I like liver and kale; who am I to judge.

Ah, Psych. You’re actually quite a fun little show with one of the best theme songs on the…oh fuck. It’s the other one. The not funny one with the dude with a woman’s name. Right.

Friday

This is just a night of I don’t give a fuck. A show whose premise I barely remember, but think it’s like Everwood without the good stuff, yet another paean to sexy forensic scientists who do sexy science in the sexy labs, and Tom Selleck in a show built for my father (but airing long past the old man’s bed time).

Sunday

Holy mother of—

It’s a goddamn brilliant show!

The Good Wife is good, solid storytelling that feels like a throwback to an earlier time but simultaneously doesn’t feel stale. I don’t know if Robert and Michelle King traded for magic beans, traded for magic mushrooms, got hit by a blast of gamma radiation, or were just always this good and hadn’t a chance to shine before, but whatever the source of these powers of theirs, I hope they keep using them for good. Why CBS hasn’t started the cloning machine working on this show is a mystery to me. 27 different flavors of CSI and 503 Chuck Lorre sitcoms still leaves room for at least one more King & King joint on the schedule.

and in conclusion…

CBS is doing great. Their audience is slowly aging and I’m not sure they’re doing the right things to attract a younger demo (although I hear vagina jokes are all the rage at Whitney’s house), but they’ve got a few more years before that’s going to be a real concern. A little species variety would be healthy—a limited ecosystem is a fragile ecosystem—but it’s hard to make that argument too forcefully when the few genera of shows they have are eating up the competition.

From a creative perspective, I would love to see CBS make some bold and risky choices. This is, after all, the network of All in the Family, M*A*S*H, and The Dukes of Hazzard. It would be an intriguing business decision to set aside one or two hours a week as high-risk slots on the schedule, times when the network could throw out the rules, put aside the brand, and reduce their ad rates so they could experiment with different tones, genres, and styles. It won’t happen, but as the behemoth they should be the ones taking those occasional risks.

R.A. Porter is an aspiring television writer who currently toils away in the software mines. He can be found at Sketch War, Tumblr, and stalked on Twitter.
  1. I gather from the ads that criminals must spend a lot of time hanging around crime scenes when the police show up; else, how would her gift be of any damn use? []
  2. From the creative genius of Whitney Cummings. []
  3. Except Holly Robinson Peete in her recurring guest spot this season; she’s nicely modulated and would fit just fine in the show I wish this would become. []
  4. As long as we exclude cooking shows, home improvement shows, and the fucking unstoppable juggernaut that is House Hunters and HH:I from the equation []
  5. Actually, I have a good ¡Rob!-adjacent joke planned for a future network. It’s a throwaway, but I’m looking forward to it. []

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posted by R.A. Porter in → Analysis

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