2013-14 Television Broadcast Season: CBS

Moving on to the individual network schedules in my 2013-14 broadcast television upfront blogs, I’ll be starting with the Eye (CBS; cause their logo looks like a creepy eye).

CBS is generally a very quick study when one is discussing up fronts, as they have only developed three types of shows over the last…well, dozen seasons or so. These are: (1) 60 minute crime procedurals, (2) 30 minute, broad-reach sitcoms with laugh tracks and (3) “reality” shows (all game shows except one).

They’ve also kept their schedule relatively fixed over the last few years, owing in part to their older-skewing audience who tend to resist show-shifting, don’t have or often use their DVRs and generally tend to be a bit ornery when they can’t find CSI.

So, in that vein, The Eye’s upfront presentation last week was a pretty big surprise which featured serialized dramas, at least two sitcoms that don’t appear to have laugh-tracks and a bit of a reshuffled, streamlined schedule.

Lets start with the new programming. Since The Eye maintains its spot as America’s Most Watched Network (though generally not in the “key” 18-49 demographic), its shows are generally pretty successful, not leading to many open slots. In fact, there’s shows that anchor other networks that couldn’t even make the cut ratings-wise at CBS (Fox’s New Girl and NBC’s Chicago Fire come to mind).

Therefore, by my count, The Eye is debuting four new sitcoms, one serialized drama and NO new crime procedurals or reality shows in the fall, making for a total of 3 new hours of programming (conversely, ABC has 3 new hours on Tuesday nights ALONE).

But the choice of shows is what particularly gets my attention. Starting with the sitcoms, I’ve been through the four previews and I’m pretty sure two of them don’t have laugh tracks. If this is the case, I think these are the first two non-laugh track sitcoms on CBS…well, probably ever.

All four of these comedies do fall into the way I would develop comedies, however: Find proven comedic talent, then build a show around what they do best. Down the line:

The Crazy Ones: (Thursdays, 9pm): Best looking 30 minute comedy to hit the airwaves in years, without question. Talk about finding comedic talent: this show is built around Robin Williams with the idea that he is allowed to improve and riff anytime he wants. Throw in Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy, of the Vampire Slaying) as his straight man, and hilarity will ensue.

We Are Men (Monday, 8:30pm): Another one without a laugh track, also involving some pretty high-level talent, including Kal Penn, Jerry O’Connell and Tony Shalhoub, the three of whom counsel a man who was left at the alter, and all of whom live in one of those apartment complexes that cater to divorced men. Figure on this concept wearing thin after a while, but could be good for a few laughs along the way.

There’s two others I won’t be partaking in, featuring Will Arnett of Arrested Development and Anna Farris, who made her mark with (disturbingly) the Scary Movie franchise. Each are laugh-track and punchline heavy and I got bored before the trailer ended. Both seem to cover the antics of parents balancing their home lives with their work lives.

CBS will also be making their foray into serialized dramas with Hostages and Intelligence. The former features a woman (Toni Collette), who somehow gets pulled into a political conspiracy and is forced to assassinate the President of the United States in order to save her family.

Intelligence marks the return of Josh Holloway (Sawyer from Lost) to regular television. Holloway plays a former Delta Force officer who has a chip planted in his head that allows him to access anything in the electromagnetic spectrum in the blink of an eye to prevent terrorism. Figure this as sort of a cross between the Rockford Files and Chuck with a splash of Hawaii Five-O if you get the right characters.

Hostages and Intelligence will share the same timeslot on Monday nights at 10pm, recently vacated by Hawaii Five-O. The former will hit the airwaves in the fall, while Intelligence will take up the mantle in the spring. Both will air shorter seasons without repeats (following the cable model).

These weren’t the only interesting scheduling moves made by The Eye for the fall. With four new comedies on the schedule, CBS has expanded its Thursday night comedy experiment by an hour, fully taking on NBC’s much weakened Must See comedy night, which it has held for years. Using two of its highest rated shows to book-end the night at 8 and 9:30pm (Big Bang Theory and inexplicably Two and a Half Men, which is down to only one of the titular men) is a great start. Putting Robin Williams’ The Crazy Ones at 9pm to take on NBC’s rather weak offering “Sean Saves the World” is another. Rounding out the night is Arnett’s The Millers.

Though the lineup looks good on paper, I very much question isolating Williams’ non-laugh track, largely improv, comedy in the midst of larger, broader, punchline oriented offerings. My choice would have been to leave Two and a Half Men (which is so far gone I keep expecting Alan to show up as a walker in The Walking Dead) at the 8:30 timeslot, with The Crazy Ones at 9pm and We Are Men, The Eye’s other non-laugh track show following at 9:30pm.

This doesn’t match up as well on paper with NBC’s Michael J. Fox show (more on this later), but running a two hour comedy block is much more about establishing a rhythm and chemistry between shows. I just don’t see people who watch The Crazy Ones sticking around to see Kelso for 30 minutes, whereas its much more possible the other way around.

Farris’ Mom makes total sense after Two Broke Girls at 9:30pm on Monday, while Arnett’s The Millers probably would have done quite well after How I Met Your Mother an hour earlier (and would’ve had a better chance to take over the night’s lead timeslot when HIMYM ends after this year).

In other scheduling changes, H:5O moves to Friday’s at 9pm, which is probably good for the show. It’s one of CBS’s lower-rated crime procedurals, despite the terrific chemistry between its leads), and it will pair well with the well-established Blue Bloods at 10pm and have very little competition (Fox is airing Sleepy Hollow repeats, ABC has the lunatic offering of Shark Tank, a game show where people literally fall into water) and should out-draw NBC’s fantasy procedural Grimm.

The more interesting move is the bouncing of Person of Interest to Tuesdays at 10pm. Person of Interest, entering its third season, is one of the more interesting shows on broadcast television. While technically a crime procedural (which will give Tuesday night’s a really streamlined feel with the two NCIS programs leading up to it), PoI is also a relatively serialized tech drama who was one of only six broadcast shows to gain an audience in the 2012-13 season.

This move spells trouble for NBC, which probably thought it was getting away with something by moving Chicago Fire into their Tuesday at 10pm slot. ABC has a very weak-looking dramady there and Fox is on local news by the time, putting this slot fully up for grabs with not one broadcast net returning their 2012-13 offering. Shrewd move by the The Eye, to say the least.

Elsewhere in CBS’ schedule, I’ve never fully understood the paring of Survivor with Criminal Minds and CSI on Wednesdays and The Amazing Race with The Good Wife on Sundays, but they seem to work. Other networks should take note of how CBS runs their reality shows: never more than one hour at a shot, but two cycles a year (meaning they will do two seasons of Survivor in 2013-14). In addition, there is no goofy “results show” either.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about (and I sincerely hope you don’t), shows like American Idol, The Voice and Dancing With the Stars have generally run two hours each episode on one night, and then had a whole other hour on another night to announce the results of the voting from the previous one. I have yet to understand the need for this goofiness of results; seems to me best to draw people to next week’s episode, or maybe announce the results on a website, drawing traffic on multiple platforms. Plus, note how long Survivor and The Amazing Race have lasted (and continue to draw well), while Idol seems to be on the way out.

CBS isn’t America’s Most Watched network for nothing, you know.

To see the full fall TV grid, click here (and scroll down a little bit once you get there).