We’ve seen a lot of complaints over the years about all the CBS crime procedurals and those in various states of disbelief that Two and a Half Men gets as many viewers as it does. Then there are the obligatory comments about how old CBS's shows skew.
What usually gets lost in discussions about age skew, or the median age of CBS viewers is the relatively fine job CBS has done when it comes to absolute ratings with the advertising coveted adults 18-49. Only the absolute ratings really matter and age skew, etc. is merely fodder for newspapers and websites.
The New York Times recently wrote about CBS’s approach:
Kelly Kahl, who is the chief scheduler for CBS, said the metaphor he often uses, though it sometimes confuses nonfootball fans, is “ball-control offense.” CBS runs familiar plays, does not throw wildly downfield and still scores often. He said the most familiar metaphor for the CBS approach was the “big tent” theory: If you get as many people as possible into the tent, he said, some of them will be in those younger age groups and you’ll be competitive there as well.
What's a better benchmark for watchable, opinions or the ratings?
It’s hard to blame Mr. Kahl for being a bit snippy with TV critics who proclaim network TV unwatchable.
"Unwatchable" is in the eye of the beholder, but the ratings are not. Through the first two weeks of the season CBS is not only the most-watched network, it's the most watched network with adults 18-49, where it averaged 4.05 million viewers. That's ahead of ABC, Fox and NBC as well as all the cable channels.
For the week ending October 3 fueled by Monday Night Football ESPN averaged 1.81 million adults 18-49 in primetime and led all cable networks. ESPN's nearest competitor USA averaged 928,000 (no new scripted shows currently airing). The home of Mad Men, AMC, averaged a mere 301,000 adults 18-49 in primetime for the week ending October 3rd.*
*I have really enjoyed Mad Men this season, but last week it averaged only around 700,000 adults 18-49 in its initial 10pm telecast. Clearly Mad Men qualifies as the type of television critics find watchable, but to put to put things in perspective, the rerun of NCIS on CBS Saturday night at 8pm averaged nearly 1.2 million adults 18-49. So about 500,000 more adults 18-49 than Mad Men for a rerun on a Saturday night.
Hate the capitalism (if you must), not the capitalists
CBS seems to be going about its business as it should, but some people have a problem with it. If you're a broadcast network like CBS (or even a cable network like TNT or USA) what's wrong with programming for the masses?