Wednesday, May 16, 2018

CBS Schedule Analysis for the 2018-19 Season

Earlier today, CBS unveiled its schedule for the upcoming 2018-19 season and then promoted the lineup to advertisers. But right now, I'm taking a closer look at the network's scheduling plans and analyzing what is likely to work and what might fail.

CBS' schedule for the 2018-19 season can be found here.
Trailers for the new shows can be found here.

CBS has long been heralded as the network of stability. The network has frequently renewed more than its competition with there not being a ton of changes to their schedule from year-to-year. There are always just a couple of holes to fill which the network frequently does with its new shows. It's been awhile since the network has radically done something different with its lineup. Yes, it experimented with three hours of drama on Mondays starting with Supergirl just a few years ago. But that didn't last beyond a season. But this year, it seems like things are much more unstable for CBS. Yes, there's still some strong stability throughout the network. The NCIS franchise remains a global hit. The Big Bang Theory was able to successfully launch a new show after it. And yet, the network found itself challenged as the most viewed broadcast network this season. This past Monday, NBC used its upfront presentation to say that they were going to win the 2017-18 broadcast season in the ratings and total viewers. Now, CBS came out to refute those claims saying that they'll still win in viewers once the final tallies come out in a few weeks. But the fact that it was so close should be troubling to CBS even if NBC is unlikely to repeat it next year without the Super Bowl or the Olympics. Moreover, CBS and Viacom are having an epic battle in the courts right now. In fact, that's probably the most important story in the industry right now that could potentially change so much about these corporate structures. That's shocking to say during the week of upfronts. And yet, this is the time CBS chose to file this lawsuit with Shari Redstone at Viacom pushing back. It's gotten ugly fast for the two companies that were rumored to be exploring a merger just a few months ago. In fact, a judge was ruling a verdict in CBS' favor at the same exact time that Leslie Moonves was on the stage in New York giving his presentation to advertisers. This may actually be a tumultuous time for the network. But it's also clear that everyone in that room still has affection for Moonves. And why not? He has led the network well during his reign.

Plus, it's clear that CBS took its criticisms about diversity and inclusion to heart after years of being called out for all of its new shows being toplined and created by straight white men. The network was quick to point out the success of S.W.A.T. last season as a step in the right direction. But here, it's clear that the network can do so much so quickly in order to rectify these poor diversity statistics. Of course, the end result still skews heavily male. It's surprising to me that the trailer for new drama FBI positions Missy Peregrym as the lead when all of the previous press notes said Zeeko Zaki was in the starring role. If that's true, she's the only woman leading a new CBS show this fall. But still, it's a step in the right direction with Brandon Michael Hall, Cedric the Entertainer, Damon Wayans Jr. and Jay Hernandez playing the leads or co-leads in new shows this fall. That proves that this was a direct directive from the new programming chief. This was his first development cycle. And it appears as if it was a successful one for boosting these numbers. Now, it should be fascinating to see if any of the shows actually have the legs to be successful for the network. Some of them are safe and reliable bets. Others have premises that may grow tired after awhile. I still struggle to see how Happy Together is a premise that could last for multiple seasons. And yet, it should be very interesting to see what happens because CBS can no longer be faulted for no longer telling diverse stories. The brand is growing and evolving while still hoping to be comforting to those who think they know what a CBS show is like.

And of course, the night that needed the most attention from this schedule announcement was Monday. The network has been flailing on that night for a long time now. It was once the home for its iconic two hour comedy block. Then, the network expanded to Thursday nights and placed more of its notable shows there. Mondays became the night for the comedies that just weren't as special and memorable. They were the ones that felt the most derivative and lame. That reflected in the ratings as well. Only one show that aired on Mondays last season is returning for another round of episodes. But even with that, Man With a Plan is being held as midseason filler should anything on the schedule fail. It's surprising that that was the show CBS decided to bring back - with the decision mostly coming down to the network also fully owning the show. It could also be seen as a risk to move Bull to the night and away from its safe and comfortable spot on Tuesdays. The argument could still be made that Bull is just a time slot hit. It only does well in overall viewers because it happened to follow NCIS for its first two seasons. Now, the drama will need to prove that it has a loyal audience that will stay with it no matter where it moves. Of course, it will probably get a boost from the Magnum P.I. reboot as well. That always seemed like a slam dunk show for CBS all through the development process. It comes from the same showrunner who does Hawaii Five-0 and MacGyver. Now, those two shows have never been my thing. They are just so big and in-your-face with the cliches. But there's clearly an audience for that. Sure, I laughed all the way through the trailer released today because it seems like another example of Justin Lin directing a pilot that can in no way be replicated on a regular basis. So, that first episode may not be the best indicator of what that show will ultimately become even though it's pretty to look at. And yes, it'll be surprising if the show doesn't stage a crossover with Hawaii Five-0 or gets Tom Selleck to stop by for an episode. The iconic mustache needs to return somehow!

However, it's much more surprising that the Murphy Brown revival isn't given a prominent place on the schedule. This trend of bringing back once successful shows has proven to be very lucrative for the networks as of late. Will & Grace and Roseanne returned as these monster hits. They were complete self-starters for their respective networks that helped them relaunch some struggling nights. It felt like CBS was going to do the same with Murphy Brown. Putting it on Mondays could have been exactly what the network needed to add some excitement and urgency to the night. Instead, it is given a spot following Mom on Thursday nights. It's a much more curious and conservative approach. The network doesn't want to put all of its eggs into that particular basket. Yes, they're very hopeful that the show returns to high ratings and will give a boost to S.W.A.T. But it's not expected to completely launch its own night. As has also been clear from Will & Grace and Roseanne, these revivals tend to start with ridiculously high numbers before ultimately coming down to at least half that for the season average. CBS hopes that this current place on the Thursday lineup will bring more consistency to this revival. That it will be able to return as a hit and remain a hit throughout its run. Of course, that will ultimately depend on the creative side of things. The show has yet to film its first episode back. It's waiting until July so that it can be more topical. That's probably for the best for a show like that which aims to be very political. Of course, playing with politics has created so much controversy for Roseanne. Murphy Brown will have a much more liberal take. But now, it's also been revealed that the story of the new season will be a battle of the morning shows with Murphy going against her son, Avery. That could be fascinating as a way to dissect the different ways conservatives and liberals view the same news. It could strive to bring everyone closer together. But again, all of this will ultimately depend on the tone and balance that the actual episodes set.

Elsewhere, the new Dick Wolf drama FBI replaces Bull in the Tuesdays at 9/8c. slot. It will get a huge audience because of that NCIS lead-in. Of course, NCIS isn't doing the numbers it used to do. And yet, it will continue as long as Mark Harmon wants to keep starring in it. It can probably still launch a new show. It's just going to be more difficult now because This Is Us is already so dominant in that time slot. FBI may win in total viewers but it won't come close in the core demographic. And finally, God Friended Me on Sundays is the same exact strategy that CBS implemented there last year with Wisdom of the Crowd and Instinct. That was a strategy that didn't work at all even though Instinct is returning for a second season. CBS probably only brought it back because it didn't want to be the network that had an openly gay character leading a procedural only to cancel it quickly into its run. Sure, it was pulled from the schedule until the end of the month. But it will return at some point. God Friended Me appears to be a huge swing for the network. Yes, it could clearly appeal to a conservative and religious audience. That's an aspect of programming that has been mined successfully in the past. And yes, football in the fall means the drama will get a heavy audience lead-in on a couple of occasions. Of course, that will also bring delays with it because those games tend to run long. It's a show that once again will live or die based on the creative side of things. Brandon Michael Hall is a charming actor. But that wasn't enough to save ABC's The Mayor last fall. Will it work for CBS this year? Only time will tell.