2010’s over — but for the broadcast networks, December marks only the halfway point of a season-long campaign to capture viewers. Before the ratings race starts up again next week, Vulture is taking a look at where each of the Big Four broadcasters stands, mid-season. First up today: CBS.
The Numbers: Still making jokes about CBS being the network for people who wear Depends? Well, stop it! While lots of old folks do love their NCIS and 60 Minutes, the Eye ends 2010 as far and away the No. 1 network with people under 55; its 4.2 rating in this category is nearly a full point ahead of the No. 2 networks (NBC and ABC). CBS also wins with viewers 18 to 49 (an advertiser favorite) and overall viewers, where its average audience of 12.3 million makes it the only TV network to regular break the 10 million mark. CBS is up about 3 percent in viewers versus this time last year; it’s flat with younger viewers. Like Wal-Mart, CBS might not be hip, but so far this season, it’s steamrolling everything in its path. Respect.
What’s Working: Pretty much everything. First-year reality show Undercover Boss combined with the resurgent 60 Minutes and The Amazing Race have revitalized Sundays; newcomer Hawaii Five-0 has kept Mondays fresh; and Blue Bloods is a solid draw on Fridays. But the Eye’s big one-two punch this fall — shifting Survivor to Wednesdays and relocating The Big Bang Theory to Thursdays — is the move that’s really paid off. “I really like the idea that we were able to get a comedy beachhead on Thursday night,” CBS strategist-in-chief Kelly Kahl says. “Once you establish a comedy block, with some patience and good luck, you can have it on for quite a while. And I’m thrilled with how Survivor is doing. That’s one that had me a little nervous [going into the season.]” He’s also psyched about Five-0, even though the show hasn’t turned into the breakout hit some predicted before the season’s start. “We’ve created a new property that could be on for several years and have a very nice [syndication] back-end,” Kahl says.
What’s Not: The Defenders has been decidedly lackluster on Wednesdays at ten, which explains its relocation to Friday nights early next year. And while The Good Wife is a bona fide pop-culture success (and an awards magnet), it hasn’t gotten the season-two ratings bump it deserves. Kahl thinks the problem with both shows, as well as the reason Five-0 isn’t bigger, is their 10 p.m. time slot. Many viewers now check out marquee shows on cable or just watch shows sitting on their DVRs during the hour. “As much as we’d like to see something completely break out at ten, in this day and age, that’s very heavy sledding,” he says. “I look at Five-0 or The Mentalist and think maybe that’s the best you can do at ten Monday through Thursday. It’s going to be a challenge for any show at ten.”
2011 Resolution: Fox should come back strong in the second half of the season with the return of American Idol, making it tough — but not impossible — for CBS to keep its No. 1 status with viewers under 50. But with all viewers, “To a large extent, the die’s pretty much been cast for this season,” Kahl says. His goal now is “looking for any new pieces that can help us out next year,” which is why comedy Mad Love is getting a February try-out behind How I Met Your Mother, and Blue Bloods will get a month to strut its stuff in The Defenders’ Wednesday time slot. Kahl thinks the Eye’s new Thursday comedies will do fine despite Fox’s decision to shift the Idol results show to the night. “Big Bang has a very large fan base. I don’t see them abandoning the show for American Idol,” he says. Meanwhile, it’ll be interesting to see if CBS’s low-risk gamble with Paula Abdul and Live to Dance pays off: So You Think You Can Dance flopped when it aired during the regular season, but it’ll be interesting to see if Paula brings enough of the crazy to rope in the viewers.