CBS steps up the hunt for

Flush with dramas, the Eye steps up the hunt for its next big laffer

No network has done a better job of consistently seeding its lineup with new hits than CBS. As a result, the Eye is expected to bring back a whopping 20 series for next season, and certainly doesn’t have much shelf-space for new shows.

(From the pages of the April 16 issue of Variety.)

But it will probably do some dusting. CBS has shown a knack for making smart sked moves to keep things fresh, sometimes retiring shows that were still faring relatively well or shifting them to lower-profile timeslots. And this fall feels like one of those shake-up seasons.

That’s because even though CBS has made it to the mountaintop ratings-wise by becoming the No. 1 network among adults under 50 for the first time, it’s down about 10% year-to-year in regular-program averages in the demo, according to Nielsen. Compare this decline to its scant 3% falloff in total viewers, and it’s clear that CBS still has some work to do in attracting younger viewers.

The Eye certainly hopes its comedy development will provide more laughs than it has this season, when an underwhelming crop of half-hour pilots produced only one show that made it to air (the quickly dismissed “Partners”).

The pressure’s on to find replacements for “How I Met Your Mother,” which will wrap after next season, and “Two and a Half Men,” which could do the same. CBS is taking some big swings in comedy, ordering more pilots this year (12) than last (eight) — including seven of the single-camera variety it has largely shunned.

Five comedies will return, including megahit “The Big Bang Theory” on Thursday, and Monday anchor “2 Broke Girls.” A shift to a sked with eight half-hour slots (and three new shows) seems risky. CBS likes its Thursday 9 p.m. show, “Person of Interest,” and would probably move it to make room for a two-hour Thursday block only when it’s bursting at the seams with hit comedies.

Other nets have stacked two new laffers in an hour, but that would seem to go against the grain for CBS — unless it purely wanted to experiment with a pair of single-camera half-hours that might not mesh well with the net’s bread-and-butter multicam comedies.

One scenario that could allow for expansion would be to schedule new comedies Monday behind “Mother,” and Thursday behind “Big Bang,” saving “Two and a Half Men” for midseason. If both newbies work, CBS could then add “Men” to the mix plus another rookie for a Thursday quartet.

Elsewhere, a third “NCIS” series appears bound for the schedule, although perhaps not in the fall.

If “NCIS: Red” does make it, would CBS stack its three “NCIS” shows on Tuesday? The network has struggled closing out the night, and such a strategy would allow it to bank on a proven formula.

CBS could tweak Wednesday, where it’s down 11% in 18-49, rather than return “Survivor,” “Criminal Minds” and “CSI” — shows that have been around for a combined 34 years — for a third straight season.

The net didn’t divulge how many editions of “Survivor” or “Amazing Race” were picked up, but these reality vets could share a timeslot at some point. Or if either had a single edition, that would open up an hour of real estate for half a season.

On Sunday, CBS has to ask whether it’s smart to have critical darling “The Good Wife” face the night’s acclaimed cable biggies. What makes this decision tough, though, is that “Good Wife” and skedmates
“Amazing Race” and “60 Minutes” are the Eye’s three strongest shows among affluent viewers, so there is good flow there.

One option in a different direction would be for CBS to go for more popcorn fare on Sunday, perhaps pairing “Hawaii Five-0″ and the new “Beverly Hills Cop.” That would free up Monday at 10 for a new drama and put “Good Wife” on Fridays alongside the compatible “Blue Bloods.”

Overall, CBS ranks first or second in adults 18-49 on every weeknight, and was up across the board on Thursday, the biggest advertising night. It should again generate the most coin in upfront advertiser
commitments, too — and continue to be the envy of its rivals.

Yuk It Up

Five comedies will return to CBS this fall:

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