HOLLYWOOD — It’s hard to remember a net as consistent and workmanlike in its performance as CBS in 2004, capped by the net’s historic November sweep victory.
But as 2005 has kicked off with rival nets finding new hits, CBS must work harder if it’s to maintain its new lofty status as the No. 1-rated broadcaster across the board.
The Eye web had cranked out one hit after another in recent years, but its run of frosh phenoms has largely come to an end this season.
Sure, “CSI” spinoff “CSI: NY” is performing well enough on Wednesday, but both “Clubhouse” and “Dr. Vegas” came and went in a flash, and new comedies “Listen Up” and “Center of the Universe” are nothing to build a night around.
Also, unscripted skein “The Will” was mercifully yanked last week after just one airing, and domestic-diva series “Wickedly Perfect” is off to a sluggish start.
Here’s a look at CBS, which is up in all key demos vs. last season, according to Nielsen, and leads the pack in 18-49:
WHAT WORKED: Best news this season has been the performance of “The Amazing Race” on Tuesday, where it regularly challenges for the lead at 9 o’clock and has helped improve one of the net’s weaker nights.
Another positive has been Monday laffer “Two and a Half Men,” which has built in season two despite some falloff for lead-in “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
And then there’s “CSI: NY,” whose 5.4 rating in 18-49 may be well below the two hit shows in the popular franchise but nonetheless has improved the net’s Wednesday standing.
CBS also has several young crime dramas on the rise, including a pair of 10 o’clockers — Monday’s “CSI: Miami” and Thursday’s “Without a Trace” — that have helped funnel more viewers to the late local newscasts on the net’s affils.
WHAT DIDN’T: “Vegas” clone “Dr. Vegas” predictably crapped out on Friday, and baseball-themed drama “Clubhouse” struck out in its few airings on Tuesday.
Such is the fortune of CBS dramas these days that unless a corpse and/or a cop is front and center, it has no chance.
Outside its numerous whodunit hits, the Eye’s other dramas — the three “Js” of “JAG,” “Judging Amy” and “Joan of Arcadia” — are all struggling.
More than anything, the network of “Dallas” and “Northern Exposure” needs to take a page from the ABC playbook and think outside the box in the drama arena, because even its most loyal viewers will grow weary of seeing the same storytelling form night after night.
WHAT’S AHEAD: “Numbers,” a drama in which two brothers, one a mathematical genius, team up to — you guessed it — solve crimes, looks to become the net’s first midseason hit since “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” in 1992.
The third Los Angeles-based crimeshow to bow in the Friday-at-10 slot on CBS in as many years, “Numbers” is stronger than either “Robbery Homicide” or “The Handler,” but doesn’t figure to add up to a hit.
Otherwise, the rest of the CBS season is pretty much what you see right now: sturdy-to-strong in most slots, including TV’s most-watched show in “CSI,” with repeats of crime dramas to fill in any hours that aren’t working.
Of slight concern, reality staple “Survivor” won’t be back until mid-February, and “Everybody Loves Raymond” has only a handful of original episodes remaining — putting additional pressure on the net’s other series.
BOTTOM LINE: CBS looks rock solid for the rest of this season, winning again in adults 25-54 and total viewers and in the best shape in memory to grab the coveted 18-49 title.
Still, it would be a crime if the net’s development for the coming season doesn’t shake things up a bit — both on the drama and comedy side.