Comedy helps CBS lower audience age, brings hip to network

“How I Met Your Mother” may be a clever, well-acted comedy about a rather hopelessly romantic young man’s search for his true love. But more importantly for its network, it’s a show that has helped CBS in a decades-long search for more young adult viewers, which of course are Madison Avenue’s true love.

A match made in smallscreen heaven.

“How I Met Your Mother” is the Eye’s youngest-skewing show, earning boffo numbers in the all-important 18-49 year-old demo, where its ratings are higher than a majority of sitcoms on the air. With the lowest median age on the network (43.9), it has helped feed the pipeline for the rest of the CBS’ powerful Monday night lineup, which also includes “Two and a Half Men” and ratings powerhouse “The Big Bang Theory.”

Monday night is a really good night for CBS,” says Shari Anne Brill, senior VP at ad-buying firm Carat. “People always thought of NBC for comedies, but CBS quietly built a night with solid performers week in and week out, and I’d say the advertising community has taken notice. What they did with comedies is show that they can be a little hipper — and ‘How I Met Your Mother’ is a pretty hip show.”

That’s for sure. This isn’t your father’s CBS comedy. It’s an urbane ensemble series set in Gotham, focusing on a likable group of characters, complete with enviable apartments and a cool hangout.

CBS scheduling topper Kelly Kahl has anecdotal evidence to support the Nielsen data. When he speaks to college students and asks what their favorite shows are, “How I Met Your Mother” gets a large response. Perhaps it’s because two of the stars — Neil Patrick Harris, known to a generation of twentysomethings from the “Harold and Kumar” movies and to another with “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” and Alyson Hannigan, who brought with her fans of “Buffy the Vampire Slayers” and the “American Pie” movies — entered the series with substantial young-adult fanbases. Or, maybe, it’s just because the show is good.

It doesn’t get the credit it deserves for its unique storytelling,” Kahl says. “In addition to it being funny, people like the show because they are really invested and bonded with the show and its characters.” Indeed, How I Met Your Mother” may be the gift that keeps on giving for CBS. Since its launch in 2005, the skein has altered the way Hollywood scribes look at the Eye.

It has made the creative community more comfortable bringing shows to us,” says Wendi Trilling, CBS’ comedy development chief. “For years NBC was the place you brought the younger, hipper, cooler shows. ‘How I Met Your Mother’ has helped us shake the perception that CBS was for suburban types of shows, slightly older and less edgy.”

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