The 10pm hour is getting harder to program. This isn't a problem unique to CBS, and ABC & NBC have the 10pm shows to prove it. At this point nobody is probably more familiar with how difficult it is to succeed at 10pm than Jerry Bruckheimer Productions' Kristie Anne Reed. She's been involved as a producer with a string of 10pm shows the last couple of seasons:
- the forgotten (canceled)
- Miami Medical (on Fridays to boot, and canceled)
- The Whole Truth (canceled/production ending at 13 episodes)
- Chase (picked up for a full season, but barring a miracle, won't be renewed for next season)
The three lowest-rated non-Friday scripted shows with adults 18-49 this season (using the Live+SD data) on CBS are all 10pm shows. The Renew/Cancel Index already thinks about Friday shows a bit differently, but it does not think about 10pm shows differently...yet.
But is CBS ahead of the Renew/Cancel Index in thinking about those shows differently? My guess is yes.
Will CBS Chase Its 10pm Tail?
It's true that CBS has typically canceled its lowest-rated shows (excluding some Friday shows) to make room for new shows. This season is no exception, CBS added 4.5 hours of new programming to its fall schedule. An hour and a half of the 4.5 hours was sitcoms. The other three hours were all 10pm hour-long dramas: Hawaii Five-0, The Defenders and Blue Bloods.
Between seasons CBS handled waning 10pm hour by canceling the 10pm shows on Sunday and Friday from last season and moving the 10pm show on Monday (CSI: Miami to Sunday at 10pm) and Wednesday (CSI: NY to Friday at 9pm). Last Friday CSI: NY was the highest-rated 18-49 show on the broadcast nets with a 1.9 rating. CSI: Miami is doing better than last year's Cold Case, so at least so far, those moves have worked out well for CBS.
CBS can't really riff like it did last year and just move waning 9pm shows to 10pm, opening up slots for new shows at 9pm. Sundays doesn't have a scripted 9pm show presently, and you can count on CBS having a Monday 9pm comedy block next season. Is CBS ready to split up the NCIS's? Maybe, but I doubt it. Criminal Minds is still doing well at 9pm. I can definitely see the original CSI moving to 10pm next season, but if they wind up just flip-flopping it and The Mentalist, that's not opening up a slot for a new show.
So if something truly does gotta give, it looks to come mostly from 10pm.
But why should CBS chase its own tail at 10pm by canceling its lowest-rated 10pm shows only to replace them with shows that will seemingly inevitably wind up among its lowest-rated?
I don't think CBS will throw in the towel on 10pm, but I can see it relaxing its standards to the point where a 2.5 average Live+SD rating with adults 18-49 for new episodes doesn't look nearly as bad to CBS as it used to look.
Don't Worry About Hawaii Five-0... Yet.
I'm not swayed by any of the DVR PR, but I'm not close to worried about Hawaii Five-0 yet. The trend is not its friend, and if it continues to go down it's a different story. ButI'm not going to worry about it any more if it drops to a 2.7 adults 18-49 than I am with this week's 2.8. A 2.6 won't make me frantic either. Why? Because the odds of CBS replacing it with something that winds up with a better average after 6 episodes than Hawaii Five-0 is low, and getting lower with each new home equipped with a DVR. At even a 2.3 adults 18-49 rating that's still probably true, but by that that point I'll have already swung into "Awww, poor Hawaii Five-0!" mode. You gotta draw the line somewhere.
Why I Wouldn't Move The Good Wife To Friday
If CBS is going to take a bit of a lump with The Good Wife's ratings for Emmy glory and critical acclaim, why not take those lumps on Tuesdays? The Good Wife will obviously lose more than a few tenths of 18-49 ratings by moving to Friday and perhaps ten whole tenths. Sure, initially things might look good. But after a couple of weeks more people will be surprised if The Good Wife is doing a 2.0 or better on Fridays than they will be if it's doing under a 2.0 adults 18-49 rating.
And how surprised will anyone be if whatever CBS replaces it on Tuesdays levels off to the same area that The Good Wife performed on Tuesdays?
I've completely avoided the inevitable "The Good Wife is not an 8pm show!" comments for purposes of this discussion.
Though I do buy the point made by commenter Tommy that if you move The Good Wife to Friday now with plans to leave it there next season you'll get fans acclimated to the move, I still wouldn't move it there. If The Good Wife is a high profile show only because of things like critical acclaim and Emmy nominations, but there's not much (if anything) to be gained in the ratings by moving it, why not let it keep a higher profile night rather than banishing it to Fridays?
If CBS does move The Good Wife to Fridays for mid-season, that's a sure sign that I've already relaxed my standards for CBS at 10pm more than CBS has.
What About The Defenders?
Within CBS, there are surely those who think relative to the other networks' 10pm efforts, The Defenders is doing just fine. And relative to the other networks, that is true. But for now I'd guess The Defenders will ultimately be an odd show out for CBS regardless. CBS can relax its standards, but no matter, something's probably still gotta give. Which it probably does unless CBS is shooting for "we renewed ALL of our new series" as a point of pride. I'd be surprised if that happens, but it wouldn't be the first time I was surprised.
More Bold Moves In Store?
CBS some bold moves (Survivor to Wednesdays, Big Bang Theory to Thursdays to launch a new comedy block) heading into the season that have worked out well so far. Someone e-mailed me that CBS should move The Mentalist to Mondays at 10pm, Hawaii Five-0 to Tuesdays at 10pm, and The Good Wife to Thursdays at 10pm. There was a logic to the moves, but whether I agreed with the logic or not (I didn't think about it much) I got too caught up on how many in-season changes that was and how much marketing would be necessary in communicating all the changes.
It's easier to make such wide-scale changes between seasons. That kind of schedule movement intra-season doesn't strike me as bold, just confusing.
All of the above commentary is made based on what has happened so far (which includes Medium's order being shortened to 13 episodes) and as based on the ratings landscape as of October 26, 2010. The landscape can, and undoubtedly will change. We have the end of Daylight Saving Time around the corner and then the reemergence of it. A lot can change between now and May.