hostages-TV

I hate to say ‘I told you so’… but, well, I did tell you so!

A couple of years ago I wrote a post here at Remote Patrolled centered around CBS and what I perceived as an attitude of complacency at the network.

At the time CBS was riding high on huge ratings and was by far the number one network on TV. Sure they had some issues in the 18-49 demo, but who cares when you pull in the number of viewers that would make other networks wince. At the time the CBS slate was stuffed full – as always – with procedurals and comedies, while long running shows such as NCIS, Survivor, Two And A Half Men and CSI just kept chugging along. I argued in my piece that CBS needed to innovate more and try some fresh ideas – or else they’d be facing some serious problems down the line.

Fast forward 2 years and CBS haven’t changed – and now they’re starting to pay the price. However you spin it this has not been a good Fall so far for the eye network.

First there are the new shows. Serialized drama Hostages is a total flop at Mondays at 10pm. There’s no way it gets a second season – and it will be lucky to see out its current (limited) run. We Are Men has already been cancelled, but not before damaging the once mighty Monday night comedy block. The much hyped The Crazy Ones is already starting to fade, last week pulling in less than 10 million viewers and a middling 2.4 18-49 rating. The same goes for Mom. And The Millers is only just getting by thanks to its huge Big Bang Theory lead in.

But that’s only half the story. Take a look at CBS’s veteran shows. Sundays are a disaster. The Good Wife – a show which has never been a hit – is now pulling in 1.2’s (that’s almost at CW levels). The Mentalist is barely rating higher. Mondays have collapsed – How I Met Your Mother is in its final year and none of the net’s follow up shows can sustain a night on their own. After a time slot move Person of Interest hasn’t blossomed into the hit it seemed destined to be. Elementary has faded in season 2. And while the network’s veteran reality shows like The Amazing Race and Survivor still do well enough – they’re hardly must see TV.

Sure CBS still has some big guns. The Big Bang Theory is bigger than ever and dominates Thursday nights. Ditto NCIS – still the number one show on TV, even though hardly anyone under 50 watches it. And CBS is still well ahead of its competition in total viewers.

But as I said in my previous post, a network cannot be complacent. It has to innovate. And CBS is now reaping the seeds sown over previous seasons. It’s the network your parents watch. And even this audience is tuning in less.

To be fair, CBS haven’t completely rested on their laurels. You could argue that Hostages failed because it wasn’t a procedural and was a serialized series – except of course that CBS scored a big hit with the similarly serialized Under The Dome this summer. And The Crazy Ones, a single camera comedy, isn’t your usual CBS fare (and is subsequently struggling). Plus every network has problems this Fall – ABC (new shows like Lucky 7 and Betrayal), Fox (Tuesday’s comedy block) and NBC (almost everything not called The Voice).

But to me CBS seem in a uniquely tricky position because of their brand and current slate. Fox, ABC, even NBC, feel younger and fresher and more in tune to the changing TV landscape. And the fact is these other networks aren’t even CBS’s key competition anymore. As we’ve seen in recent weeks the real competition for ALL the Big Four is cable. Breaking Bad ended its run with over 10 million viewers. American Horror Story: Coven launched its third season with a mighty 5 million (FX’s biggest show to date). And The Walking Dead – talk about a monster. 16 million viewers and an eye-popping 8.2 18-49 rating. Nothing on network TV comes close to that demo rating. Compared to these edgy, innovative shows, CBS looks and feels like a dinosaur.

The writing is on the wall – now the question becomes will CBS change – or crumble. The next few seasons will indeed be very telling…