CBS might be the oldest-skewing and fustiest of the broadcasters, but its entertainment chief, Nina Tassler, insisted it’s changing with the times during her network’s portion of the TV Critics Assn. tour Monday.
At the same time, the network continues to be reliant on a brand of programming — the procedural crime drama — that seems deeply rooted not only in industry traditions but, as the Wall Street Journal recently noted, has begun to yield diminishing returns.
So Tassler spoke about the network’s evolution — about how “It’s about finding all viewers – wherever they are, whenever they watch,” and the diminishing influence of overnight ratings — while renewing a trio of new dramas, including “Scorpion” and “NCIS: New Orleans,” which both could have easily been developed in the 1990s. Ditto for an upcoming spinoff, “CSI: Cyber,” which Tassler stressed would be “very relevant” and “very topical” because of its focus on cyber-crimes.
To its credit, CBS has been experimenting with different forms, including its serialized sci-fi shows “Under the Dome” (pictured) and “Extant” during the summer. The network also boasts the most lauded hour on broadcast TV, “The Good Wife,” which remains something of an odd duck given the preponderance of chalk outlines on its schedule.
It’s noteworthy, too, that competitors, perhaps foremost NBC and Fox, have sought to develop their own crime-show franchises by, like CBS, putting the smallest of twists on the procedural format. As much as critics get excited by the new and different, audiences have still exhibited a sizable appetite for the tried and true, which explains why “NCIS” star Mark Harmon is one of the highest-paid people in TV, and MTV is premiering its own junior version of a crime drama this week, “Eye Candy,” starring Victoria Justice.
CBS has always been shrewd about recognizing its niche, which includes scheduling its shows in a manner that actually makes lead-ins still matter — another throwback, seemingly, in this age of DVRs and binge viewing. And the network clearly has no intention — or immediate need — to reinvent the wheel.
Still, over the long term its task is a delicate balancing act and, in automotive terms, might be even more formidable — namely, trying to slap a new coat of paint on a fast-moving vehicle.