CBS Upfront Scorecard: Serving Up an ‘NCIS’-‘CSI’ Alphabet Soup


With its amalgamation of “NCIS” and “CSI” spinoffs on its new fall schedule, CBS appears to have resigned itself to being a butt of jokes within the TV industry, as well as accepting that a sizable part of the younger cohort advertisers crave will be watching only when visiting their grandparents. Still, the network also enjoys what is quite possibly the coup of the fall by having snagged a September-October package of Thursday-night NFL games, which should be the sort of ratings grabber – and breather for the network’s lagging comedies – that covers up a multitude of sins.

Even if it doesn’t work, there’s a foundational TV logic in everything CBS does, and almost all of its new shows — even if they aren’t direct brand extensions — look like dead ringers for the existing series with which they’ll be paired. So the new drama “Stalker” could just as easily be “Criminal Minds: Stalker,” and “Madam Secretary” — about a female Secretary of State, played by Tea Leoni — looks very much like “The Good Wife,” which it will join on Sunday nights.

“Strong lead-ins still matter,” said CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler, and because of its older profile, that’s especially true at the Eye network. Then again, a cynic could argue that replacing “NCIS: Los Angeles” (which moves to Mondays) with “NCIS: New Orleans,” or “CSI” with “CSI: Cyber,” amounts to having an audience base that might watch two or three episodes before realizing the difference.

The main negative for CBS has been its recent comedy performance, and the network was forced to shrink its footprint in that area, going to a single hour on Monday nights, leading into the new drama “Scorpion,” which, frankly, looks like a slightly snazzier version of ABC’s since-departed “Mind Games.” With “Two and a Half Men” heading into its final season, the pressure will be on for another half-hour to work, lest CBS be forced back to a single comedy four-stack, as the clock to capitalize on “The Big Bang Theory” ticks down.

There’s also something slightly confining about the CBS formula, which might explain why the network will hold “Battle Creek” — a series whose auspices include “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan — in reserve, since little in the clips suggested the show is a natural fit with its lineup.

In terms of pure showmanship, CBS’ presentation eclipsed earlier presentations by its broadcast rivals, hands down – from “The Good Wife’s” Alan Cumming appearing to perform a cleverly modified number from “Cabaret” to a classy sendoff to David Letterman, who made a rare upfront appearance to take the first of what should be many well-deserved victory laps. (Stephen Colbert was a no-show, but there’s plenty of time for that, and better to let Letterman have his moment in the spotlight.)

Competitively, CBS’ stability and the addition of football bode well for the fall. And while it’s hard to get terribly excited about a schedule with so many semi-colons in it, who knows? As long as there’s an audience that craves comfort food, there’s no telling how many American cities can look forward to eventually having their own “CSI” or “NCIS” franchise.

Preliminary grade: B


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  1. Thanks a lot for sharing this superb website

  2. Daryle Gardner-Bonneau says:

    Well….I’m sure CBS can endure being made fun of, or at least I hope they can. At least they HAVE an audience. And I’d love for someone else to tell me what Quality TV show there is to watch on 9:00 on Wednesdays as an alternative to Criminal Minds. I’m not a sports fan, and it looks like everything else is mindless comedies or STUPID reality shows, or dumb soap-type fare. At least the shows like the CSIs, NCIS’s, Criminal Minds, Hawaii Five-0, and Blue Bloods have watchable characters, decent stories, and don’t center around zombies, vampires, werewolves, etc. I’m 60…but I’m not dead. I also enjoy Game of Thrones, Masters of Sex, Mad Men, Vikings, etc….but those limited run series just don’t cover enough hours for those of us who actually enjoy spending our evenings after a hard day’s work relaxing in front of the TV. If CBS was no more, there’d be precious little beyond the 10:00 hour (where most of the good stuff is on cable) to watch.

  3. Mark Isenberg says:

    Most tv viewers do not think about who owns CBS-Viacom. A 90 year old billionaire in Beverly Hills named Sumner Redstone who used to build the drive in and movieplexes via National Amusements in suburban Boston way back when. The point is he got wealthy and has stayed wealthier and helped Mr. Moonves,the CBS President stay wealthier by finding a star in a well written series preferably murder mysteries like CSI,like Mark Harmon in NCIS or everybody’s favorite Angela Lansbury in Murder,She Wrote. David Letterman has made a point of reminding us just how old he is as he retires not soon enough and don’t forget Barbara Walters at 80ish who is only leaving the regular View appearances but like Larry King or Regis Philbin,will be revived when all else fails.

  4. Jacques Strappe says:

    If you can’t wow ’em with content, go for the sizzle in the presentation. Sounds like CBS did just that. I certainly hope for CBS’ sake that 7 weeks of football on Thursday can carry the network demo ratings Friday through Wednesday till the start of the summer season. The rearranging of the retirement age cop procedurals and the addition of their new cop procedurals grandchildren does indeed lend stability to the CBS brand, like a 3 prong cane.

  5. Dee Liter says:

    Why so ageist? I am one year away from exiting the coveted demographic and I can assure you that I able to recognize a crappy spin-off from its crappy original series. I am also confident that next year, or even in 10+ years, I will still be able to tell one crappy show from another.

    As someone with an “older profile”, I have more disposable income than most of those in the demographic to which advertisers pander. Network programmers and writers like yourself need to understand that times have changed. Older profile folk like myself have the know-how to view shows online, on-demand and time shifted. Strange as it may seem, with all the better quality cable programming available year round, we have moved on from network TV. It may also surprise you that we watch and enjoy many of the same shows that the younger profile view.

    • Brian Lowry says:

      It’s a fair point, but the ageism emanates from the TV industry itself, and the ad market’s preoccupation with younger demographics. One can certainly make the case that older viewers have more disposable income, etc. — and I’ve advanced this argument many times — but the reality is the business currently doesn’t reward the networks for attracting them.

    • Jacques Strappe says:

      CBS has the oldest overall audience in the television industry but they also have the highest number of total television viewers. Commercial television sponsors only care about viewers 49 and under. Everyone else is more or less dead to them. Sad but true. Younger folks tend to watch a lot less television compared to older folks. Advertisers assign value to viewers based on the degree of difficulty to reach them. Younger are harder to reach and are therefore considered more valuable. Both higher income and younger is the the platinum standard for advertisers.

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