CBS powerhouse squares off against NBC's 'Community'

By moving “The Big Bang Theory” to 8 p.m. Thursdays for the upcoming fall TV season, has CBS turned its nerds into bullies?

The questions are whether there might be room for both to co-exist peacefully — and whether the move is even permanent on CBS’ part.

NBC’s ongoing rebuilding efforts depend in no small part on sustaining one of its few demo-friendly successes — its Thursday primetime sitcom block — and 2009-10 freshman “Community” has emerged from an uncertain launch to become a key part of that effort. But in one of the more interesting timeslot battles of the fall (although “interesting” is probably not the word NBC would use to describe it), “Big Bang” will attempt to blast NBC right at its foundation.

“(‘Big Bang’) had a great third season,” says Brad Adgate, senior research veep at Horizon Media (which includes NBC as a client). “That’s probably the boldest move any network made for next season, taking a show that could become the linchpin of Monday night — (CBS’) traditional comedy block — and creating a beachhead on Thursday.”

“Big Bang” and “Community” make a compelling compare-and-contrast. Both are faves of young adult males, both are set at colleges but offer characters who are anything but your typical college students. And though the multi-cam style of “Big Bang” differs from the single-cam approach of “Community,” there is a similar sensibility in the shows’ mutual preoccupation with friendship, sex and pop culture.

The biggest difference between the shows is in the size of their audiences. “Big Bang” averages more than 14 million viewers per episode (and a 5.3 rating among adults 18-49), compared with 5.6 million (and a 2.5 rating in the key demo) for “Community.” What analysts will be watching for come September is whether “Bang” has the gravitational pull to draw viewers away from “Community,” or whether this smaller celestial body can keep its fans in orbit.

“NBC’s audience is a little more affluent and educated,” Adgate says, “It may not be as catastrophic for ‘Community.’ There might be room for two comedies at that hour. NBC’s comedy audience is that different.”

The spread of DVRs mean that viewers don’t necessarily have to choose between the two, instead recording one while watching the other. Each network would certainly prefer its show get the live viewing to boost the overnight rating that advertisers see, but ultimately, a delayed viewing is better than no viewing.

“The way the whole industry is set up now, C3 is the currency,” Adgate says. “It’s not as catastrophic in those DVR homes. If you look at NBC’s comedies and you look at Thursday nights, it’s historically been a heavy DVR night. People watch ‘The Office,’ ’30 Rock,’ (ABC’s) ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ (which air opposite each other).”

There is a possibility that the CBS move of “Big Bang” to Thursdays could explode in its face. Until a couple weeks ago, “Bang” was considered the backbone of the Eye’s existing Monday block. Instead, CBS will rely on the aging “Two and a Half Men,” “How I Met Your Mother” and “Rules of Engagement,” along with untested newcomer “Mike & Molly,” against competition that includes ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” and Fox’s “House” and buzzworthy newcomer “Lonestar.”

As relative failures like “Accidentally on Purpose” and “Gary Unmarried” indicate, not every comedy that CBS programs turns to viewer gold. If Mondays start to falter for CBS — and “Bang” lead-out “$#*! My Dad Says” gets flushed down the toilet, might CBS be the first to blink and move “Big Bang” back to its original night?

It remains to be seen, though certainly there are worse problems to have than where to put the hottest comedy on the air — compared with NBC hoping that its ragtag community college students don’t wind up getting expelled.

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