Monday, March 29, 2010

Innovations, er, "Innovations" from broadcast networks -- CBS

Curious to what this all means? Read my introduction to this multi-post series.

We tend to think that CBS has had the best run of success in the last handful of years, but after my research did my mind get blown?

Not really.

CBS has aired the least amount of new series in the last five years – 50 – which means to me that they have had a good run. Additionally, the Eyeball also has the best total success rate percentage – 36 percent – so obviously things have not been that bad since 2005-2006.

Where they started

Coming into the 2005-2006 season, CBS was plodding along like they always do. They had the top reality series – Survivor and Amazing Race – the top drama – CSI: – and a slew of reliable, mostly popular procedurals, from the CSI: spin-offs, Without a Trace and the still-new NCIS.

They were not armed with many buzzworthy programs, but ones that picked up big-time ratings.


Total new series: 11
  • Drama: 7; Love Monkey, Threshold, Close to Home, The Unit, Numbers, Criminal Minds, Ghost Whisperer
  • Multi-Camera Sitcom: 3; Out of Practice, How I Met Your Mother, Courting Alex
  • Reality: 1; Tuesday Night Book Club
Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 6 (How I Met Your Mother, The Unit, Numbers, Ghost Whisperer, Close to Home, Criminal Minds); more than two seasons: 5 (All but Close to Home)

Character type count: Cops (3), Young Professionals (2), Scientists (1), Supernatural Girl Power (1), Family (1), Girl Power (1), Military (1)

Thoughts: Wow, pretty big year for CBS here. Five of their seven new drama series were successes and the other two would have probably survived on other networks, but CBS has the highest requirements for ratings. Three of the five were still substantial hits this season, and though Numbers is ending, both How I Met Your Mother and Criminal Minds are key components to the Eyeball’s weekly line-up.

Also interesting is how little variation in format CBS is willing to pursue. Most networks develop at least competition reality series, a few different kinds of comedies and maybe a game show each season. But CBS knows who they are, and based on these early results, and that is why they have done so well.

Any innovation? Not really, but does it matter?


Total series: 9
  • Drama: 4; Jericho, 3 LBs, Smith, Shark
  • Multi-Camera Sitcom: 2; New Adventures of Old Christine, The Class
  • Competition Reality: 1; Pirate Master
  • Reality: 1; Armed and Famous
  • Animated: 1; Creature Comforts
Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 3 (Shark, New Adventures of Old Christine, Jericho); more than two seasons: (Just Christine)

Character type count: Girl Power (1), Lawyers (1), Young Pros (1), Animated Family (1), Doctors (1), Serial group (1), Thieves (1)

Thoughts: Ouch. I remember the articles this season about how CBS was in trouble for this development slate, which was certainly their weakest of the decade’s second half. Smith was quickly canceled, 3 LBs was awful and we all know the story with Jericho.

Does anyone even remember Creature Comforts? I’m still shocked that CBS aired an animated comedy. I guess they do take risks every once in a while. The two reality series were certainly a low-point for a network that usually airs some of the best reality content.

Any innovation? Negative. Unless you count CBS’s reaction to the Jericho fan campaign that allowed the series to come back for a second season – and then get canceled again.


Total new series: 11
  • Drama: 4; Cane, Viva Laughlin, Moonlight, Swingtown
  • Multi-Camera Sitcom: 2; The Big Bang Theory, The Rules of Engagement
  • Competition Reality: 2; Secret Talent of the Stars, Greatest American Dog
  • Single Sitcom: 1; Welcome to the Captain
  • Reality: 1; Kid Nation
  • Game: 1; Power of 10
Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 2 (Big Bang Theory, Rules of Engagement); more than two seasons: 2 (Same)

Character type count: Young (1), Geeks (1), Marriage (1), Supernatural Detective (1), Family (1), Period (1), Musical (1)

Thoughts: Yuck. We can blame the strike all we want, but I guess this is what happens when CBS tries to be innovative and go outside their brand. All four of the drama series aired during this season were outside their usual procedural ranks – and that’s probably why they failed miserably.

I wonder if that was because CBS does not know the right people to work with in terms of non-procedural dramas or if the series were actually good and just failed because CBS’s usual demographic wasn’t ready for something like that. It is important to give them credit for trying something different, and in the strike year, the failures don’t seem as big of a deal.

Any innovation? I wouldn’t say there were any major content innovations here in the larger sense, but like I said, gotta hand it to CBS for trying something different. Of course the failure of those drama series meant they went right back to the procedural well, but hey!


Total new series: 10
  • Drama: 4; The Mentalist, Flashpoint, Eleventh Hour, Harper’s Island
  • Single Camera Sitcom/Comedy: 2; Worst Week, The Ex-List
  • Game: 2; Game Show in My Head, Million Dollar Password
  • Multi-Camera Sitcom: 1; Gary Unmarried
  • Reality: 1; I Get That A Lot
Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 4 (The Mentalist, Flashpoint, Gary Unmarried, I Get That A Lot); more than two seasons: 1* (The Mentalist for sure, the others still up in the air)

Character type count: Idiots (2), Supernatural Cop (2), Cops (1), Serial group (1), Girl Power (1)

Thoughts: A few years after it had become the norm, CBS finally embraced the single camera comedy in 2008-2009, but just their drama changes the season before, they failed handily. Same goes for Eleventh Hour and Harper’s Island. I’m now convinced that CBS cannot necessarily be criticized for its lack of content innovation, because even when they try something different, people are just not interested. At all.

Any innovation? Slight kudos to Harper’s Island, which played with horror conventions within a slightly different one-off 13-episode order. And at least they aired a few single camera comedies.


Total new series: 9
  • Drama: 5; NCIS: LA, The Good Wife, Miami Medical, Medium*, Three Rivers
  • Reality: 2; Live For the Moment, Undercover Boss
  • Multi-Camera Sitcom: 1; Accidently on Purpose
  • Competition Reality: 1; There Goes the Neighborhood
Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 3* (Undercover Boss for sure, surely NCIS: LA and The Good Wife as well); more than two seasons: N/A

Character type count: Doctors (2), Lawyers (1), Cops (1), Girl Power (1)

Thoughts: All five of CBS’ drama series fit their formula, which is probably why three of them have been a success and Miami Medical should be fine as well. They seem to want to go inspirational with their reality series, so I guess Undercover Boss fits in pretty well.

Final wrap up

Total number of series: 50
  • Drama: 24
  • Multi-Camera Sitcom: 9
  • Reality: 6
  • Competition Reality: 4
  • Game: 3
  • Single Camera Sitcom/Comedy: 3
  • Animated: 1
Total number of series that made it past one season: 18; 36%

Final character type count: Cops (5), Girl Power (4), Young Pros (4), Supernatural Cops (3), Doctors (3), Family (2), Serial group (2), Lawyers (2), Supernatural Girl Power (2), Idiots (2), Geeks (1), Scientists (1), Military (1), Animated Family (1), Musical (1), Thieves (1), Period (1), Wedding (1)

Final thoughts: After all this, I’m not even sure what I have to say about CBS. I’m not surprised by any of these results. I feel like they know who they are more than any other network and any time they go outside of that brand, it doesn’t work. So why wouldn’t they stick with what works?

There might not be a slew of innovations in terms of content, but sometimes being good at what you do is better than trying something new that might not work.

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