CBS and NBC are approaching the end of the season from opposite ends of the success spectrum, but both face 2011-2012 as partners in crime. Or, rather, crime reassessment. And the laffs won’t come easily for either network, either.
As the two broadcasters prepare their new fall schedules, both may reject the latest spinoffs of their franchise procedurals, while at the same time bracing for life without the leads of their anchor sitcoms.
At CBS, while “NCIS” spinoff “NCIS: Los Angeles” is humming along nicely in its second season, midseason addition “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior,” despite having a potent lead-in from its progenitor, has lagged for the most part. And none of the three series in the once-dominant “CSI” franchise is guaranteed a spot on the fall sked.
One of the reasons “Suspect Behavior” hasn’t really clicked on Wednesdays is because it’s up against “Law & Order: SVU,” the lone drama in the “Law & Order” franchise that’s still working. But the fourth “L&O” spinoff, rookie “Law & Order: L.A.,” has put up weak Nielsens upon its recent return to the Monday lineup, and is perhaps the longest shot of the spinoffs on either net to return.
In the comedy realm, CBS is pondering what to do with “Two and a Half Men,” with the return of troubled lead Charlie Sheen unlikely at best, even if the show comes back for its contracted ninth season. And NBC’s “The Office” heads into season eight without Steve Carell, who ended his run on the net’s top-rated scripted skein last week.
Overall, CBS remains primetime’s most consistent network from night to night and month to month, while NBC is the broadcaster with the most needs next season — and that’s assuming a resolution of the NFL labor strife that doesn’t sideline its top-rated “Sunday Night Football.”
Here’s a look at the networks:
The Eye added some solid but unspectacular performers this season, perhaps making its fall strategy more problematic. While it has few hours that really tank — modestly rated, older-skewing dramas like “Blue Bloods” and “The Good Wife” are expected back — it is in need of breakout hits with young-adult appeal.
“Hawaii Five-0” is a good-enough addition to Monday, but the net may make some Tuesday tweaks to take advantage of megahit “NCIS” kicking off the night. One idea would be to save current 10 p.m. drama “Good Wife” for midseason and to move “NCIS: L.A.” from 9 to 10, opening up space at 9 in the fall for a newbie like crime drama “Person of Interest” starring Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson. This would be a great spot for a new drama, since it doesn’t figure to face an hourlong on any of the other major nets.
“Survivor” and “Criminal Minds” should return to Wednesday, but look for something new at 10, perhaps Sarah Michelle Gellar-fronted drama “Ringer”; “Suspect Behavior” could still return here, especially if the net wants to avoid too many fall launches.
On Thursday, the fading “CSI” is presumed to be leaving its long-held 9 o’clock slot, but it may work to the Eye’s advantage to keep it in place for the fall. This would allow time to see how the comedy situation plays out (both how its new laffers fare and how “Two and a Half Men” does without Sheen) and also to gauge how strong a competitor “The Office” (which airs Thursday at 9) is without Carell.
In January, CBS’ options would include shifting “Big Bang” from 8 to 9 o’clock or perhaps sliding down 10 p.m. drama “The Mentalist” to 9, making room for a new drama at 10.
On Friday, the net would like to find something that could work at 8, with lower-cost Canadian drama “Flashpoint” a possibility (it gets a tryout there starting this week). Something like the new supernatural-tinged medical drama from Susannah Grant could also work, or perhaps cop drama “Rookies,” which would seem a good fit on a night the net airs “Blue Bloods.”
As for current Friday 9 p.m. show “CSI: NY,” it could join the original “CSI” and “CSI: Miami” in getting 13-episode orders, which would provide CBS with midseason flexibility. The net might also opt to let two of the “CSIs” share a timeslot, playing as two parts of a wheel, although that might be too expensive a proposition.
Sundays figure to stay the same, but the net will keep a close eye on “Undercover Boss,” which has cooled considerably and could be replaced by a drama at midseason.
In comedy, don’t expect to see either “Mad Love” or “Bleep My Dad Says” return for a second season, though “Mike & Molly” will be back; also, vet “Rules of Engagement” is a 50/50 bet.
Among pilot hopefuls, the most appealing on paper are the still-untitled Jackie Filgo family laffer starring Gerald McRaney and Becki Newton, and Heather Locklear starrer “The Assistants,” though the latter workplace comedy might not mesh well with other CBS half-hours.
New entertainment prexy Robert Greenblatt will get to put his stamp on things by selecting and skedding his first batch of new shows — and Monday and Wednesday figure to be his top priorities.
Monday could see anywhere from one to three new hours, with perennial “bubble” show “Chuck” and decent newbie “Harry’s Law” perhaps sticking around; the Peacock may want to see how “Harry’s” fares with a compatible lead-in (perhaps the new “Prime Suspect”).
Hopefully NBC learned its lesson from skedding the dense and serialized “The Event” in such a crowded timeslot last fall (Monday at 9) and won’t return to the time period with something like Stephen Gaghan’s untitled crime drama, projected to be in the vein of “Traffic.”
Instead, the new take on “Wonder Woman” could work here (taking advantage of promotion during football on Sunday) but depending on the super show’s tone, it could also be a good choice at 8 on Monday or Wednesday. The Broadway drama “Smash” (with heavyweights Steven Spielberg, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron attached) might also work well on Wednesday — and might be something to pair with singing competish “The Voice,” which opened well last week and could be asked to return in the fall.
With other nets opting to use Friday for older-skewing shows, or those not quite strong enough for any other night, it would be nice to see NBC try something ambitious in the 10 o’clock hour following “Dateline.” This might be a good slot for swinging-’60s period drama “Playboy” or fantastical cop drama “Grimm.”
On the comedy side, the Peacock should consider keeping its six-comedy Thursday, which will succeed only if auds get used to the scheduling pattern. It should, however, flip “30 Rock” and “Community”; the former (never a ratings winner and unlikely to grow at this point) should be in the leadoff slot, with the promising, younger “Community” at 10.
“Parks and Recreation” is doing well enough to stay at 9:30, and a new show could play at 8:30 or 10:30. “Outsourced,” which did OK in the tough 10:30 slot, deserves to return at some point as well.
Another way for NBC to get at least one more sitcom on the air would be to tighten the belt on “Biggest Loser” to 90 minutes on Tuesday, allowing a laffer to work between the weight loss skein and “Parenthood” at 10.
As it is with every night, though, it won’t be easy for NBC, which will have to bow most of its new skeins opposite its rivals’ hits. But such is life as a fourth-place network.
Next week: ABC and Fox