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CBS Takes Risks to Load Up on Laughs

The Eye ventures out of comfort zone to expand its comedy brand

Comedy is king at CBS this fall, as the net aggressively targets Monday and Thursday with two new half-hours each.

The four fresh fall laffers are the most the Eye has tried in 17 years, but it’s a risk the net needed to take. Last year saw CBS offer its weakest comedy slate in memory (only the short-lived “Partners” hit the air) and the network needs to find replacements for “How I Met Your Mother” (wrapping in May after nine seasons) and, eventually, “Two and a Half Men” (entering season 11).

But it’s also a strategy that only the sturdiest of the Big Four can afford to make — and actually pull off.

CBS is largely keeping its other five nights intact, merely changing timeslots for two dramas, and can pour nearly all of its promotional budget onto top priorities on Monday and Thursday.

The Eye is coming off a 2012-13 season that saw it prevail in adults 18-49, in addition to its more customary triumphs in 25-54 and total viewers. It ran first or second in 18-49 on all five weeknights.

Still, the network was down vs. the previous year in regular-program 18-49 Nielsen averages by 10%. Much of the damage came on Monday, where the loss of “Two and a Half Men” to Thursday and competition from NBC’s “The Voice” resulted in a 23% decline.

On the other hand, Thursday benefited from “Men,” and the net was up 8% and a clear No. 1 on the night.

In program selection, CBS is taking more fall risks than usual, hopping aboard the serialized drama bus with “Hostages” while also experimenting with its first single-camera comedy — actually, two — in five years.

Chuck Lorre’s “Mom” looks to be the strongest of the net’s rookie comedy quartet, and its place on the sked suggests CBS thinks so, too. “Mom,” starring Anna Faris, has a tough task opposite the conclusions of reality contests on NBC (“The Voice”) and ABC (“Dancing With the Stars”), but it could do as well as the under-rated “Mike & Molly” in holding its lead-in.

In the 8:30 p.m. slot between “How I Met Your Mother” and “2 Broke Girls” is iffy single-camera entry “We Are Men.”

The show doesn’t seem as good a fit with “Mother” as perhaps “Friends With Better Lives,” another greenlit CBS comedy pilot, but the network probably thought “Men” was better suited to air during football season, when it draws more male viewers.

“Friends,” which sounds like a possible replacement for “Mother,” could come onboard midseason and air behind the final episodes of that show, a reliable workhorse for the Eye.

Thursday’s expansion to four comedies makes sense, even if newbies “The Millers” and “The Crazy Ones” are somewhat underwhelming.

The broad domestic comedy “Millers” will benefit from a “Big Bang Theory” lead-in but hardly looks like a game-changer, while the look and feel of Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar in the single-cam “Crazy Ones” could be jarring for CBS viewers accustomed to more conventional comedy formats.

Odds are that “Millers” and “Crazy” won’t both click (CBS hasn’t launched a hit comedy outside of Monday since “Everybody Loves Raymond” in 1996). So it wouldn’t be surprising to see “Mike & Molly” on Thursday at some point, taking over for one of the new shows and meshing well with the night’s two other Lorre comedies.

As for the new drama, Monday’s gripping “Hostages” is certainly a different, more intense hour for CBS, and the net readied viewers for serialized skeins with “Under the Dome” in the timeslot this summer.

It faces tough competition from ABC, NBC and ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

Elsewhere, CBS smartly shifted “Person of Interest” to Tuesday and “Hawaii Five-0” to Friday, taking over in what have been troubled timeslots. “Person” is a good fit with the “NCIS” shows, and “Five-0” is a clear alternative in its hour and should be a timeslot gainer.

The show had clearly hit the limit of its growth potential in the plum Monday 10 p.m. berth, but it has always generated a solid DVR lift in the L-7 ratings measure that will likely continue on Fridays.

Wednesday’s lineup of “Survivor,” “Criminal Minds” and “CSI” is long in tooth (and was down 11% last season), but given its solid second-place finish on the night, you can understand why CBS kept it in place. Ditto for Sunday, where the team of “The Amazing Race,” “The Good Wife” and “The Mentalist” is about the best CBS can do for now.

Overall, give CBS points for stepping outside of its comfort zone and shaking things up while it’s on top. If there’s one criticism that rivals lob at the Eye, it’s a tendency to stick too close to tried-and-true formulas. Now the question is whether its loyal audience is ready to go along for the ride.

CW Widens Its Tent

CW stopped the bleeding last season and looks to continue gaining this fall with a lineup that should appeal to more men and younger viewers.

After relying on soaps aimed at women, the net is building off its successes with superheroes (last year’s “Arrow” begets “ The Tomorrow People”) and vampires (“The Originals” spins off from “The Vampire Diaries”).

CW will still skew female, but the tent is wider this fall. The lineup also seems more geared for the 18-40 crowd after too many shows in recent years, including “Nikita” and “Emily Owens, MD, ” were cut from CBS’ cloth. CW’s median age last season was above 41 after hovering around 37.

“Tomorrow People” has the best chance, and should skew younger than its “Arrow” lead-in. The wild card is “Reign” because period shows
aren’t youth magnets.

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