The broadcast networks announce their 2017-18 schedules in two weeks. Before that, TV by the Numbers looks at one big question each network needs to answer as they plan for next season.
CBS likes to tout its stability, and rightly so. Not messing with success is an underrated quality in television, and the network is very good at it. It’s not inertia that has kept “Criminal Minds” in the same time period for 12 seasons and “NCIS” in one place for 14; it’s smart business.
There’s a flip side to that, though: A network that’s reliant on older series could find itself at a loss when those shows eventually retire.
All the broadcast networks have at least one entertainment series (i.e., not sports or news) that have been on the air for at least a decade. No one, however, has more than CBS’ five: “Survivor” (17 years) “The Amazing Race” (16), “NCIS” (14), “Criminal Minds” (12) and “The Big Bang Theory” (10).
All of them are still viable, and then some. “Big Bang,” “NCIS” and “Survivor” are the three highest-rated shows on the network this season. What CBS doesn’t have a lot of are young shows that look capable of stepping into their places whenever they do retire.
CBS’ top-rated comedy after “The Big Bang Theory” is “Kevin Can Wait,” which whose 1.6 rating among adults 18-49 for the season (live + same-day) is little more than half of “Big Bang’s” 3.1. “Bull,” the No. 2 drama, is 17 percent behind “NCIS” — with the benefit of the latter as a lead-in.
Those two shows, and several others CBS has already renewed for next season, draw decent ratings. But they’re mid-level performers, the things you put next to the hits rather than the hits themselves.
That’s a potential problem. ABC is going through a similar cycle now, and it’s not pretty. The network hasn’t had a breakout hit in a couple years, and as former tentpoles like “Modern Family” and “Scandal” have come back to earth, the lack of new hits has dragged everything down.
CBS could find itself in that cycle too if it doesn’t bring some newer shows along. It’s obviously a lot easier to say “develop some new hits” than actually do it, so it may take a season or two to get there. A lineup full of slightly above-average shows won’t get there.
The network has had a very strong run over the past decade-plus, and it’s in little danger of free-falling next season. With as many aging shows as CBS has, though, the longer-term picture is a little less clear.