The broadcast networks unveil their 2016-17 lineups the week of May 16. Before that happens, TV by the Numbers will look at each of the Big 4 networks and assess a few things they really need to happen next season. (The CW has renewed virtually all of its series, so it just has to deal with making a schedule to fit them all.)
CBS has the top comedy on TV and a Top 5 broadcast drama leading its roster, and it’s poised to finish at the top of the ratings for this season. It’s a good place to be. But it’s also a precarious one.
Those two flagship shows, “The Big Bang Theory” and “NCIS,” are entering their 10th and 14th seasons in the fall (“NCIS” has been renewed through Season 15, while “Big Bang” is coming to the end of a three-year pickup). The network is likely to renew half or more of its first-year series, but none of them looks like the heir apparent to either one. CBS doesn’t need to rebuild, but it does need to shore up some spots. Here are a few of them.
A more solid Sunday
The first half of CBS’ Sunday lineup (“60 Minutes” and “Madam Secretary”) will likely remain the same, and remain solid, in 2016-17. The network doesn’t chase the 18-49 demo as hard as others anyway, and it’s fine with a somewhat older audience on Sundays, so “Madam Secretary’s” low 1s are nothing for fans to get too worked about.
The second half of the night, however, could use some work. With “The Good Wife” and its barely-above-1.0 rating leaving the schedule, there’s room for a new show — maybe Michael Weatherly’s drama “Bull,” if the network decides not to put it “NCIS”-adjacent.
The last hour of primetime on Sunday has become the network’s weakest spot, and surely CBS can do better than the “CSI: Cyber”-“Elementary” combo that aired there this season and managed to get over a 1.0 same-day rating only six times this season. If “Elementary” doesn’t stay put, another established show will probably get the spot.
Some franchise cord-cutting
CBS has built its 21st-century success on some combination of the letters C, I, N and S. But with the “CSI” franchise all but done (if “Cyber” somehow gets renewed, it’s only because the brand as a whole does well globally) and “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders” pulling in only so-so ratings, perhaps it’s time to ease back on the spinoff throttle.
“NCIS” will be around for at least two more years, and “NCIS: New Orleans” likely will too. “NCIS: Los Angeles,” however, has suffered in the ratings away from its brethren (it’s down 19 percent vs. last season), and it might be time to think about winding it down.
“Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders” likewise may get a second season, but it’s hardly a world-beater in ratings. CBS has found some success in recent seasons with shows like “Scorpion” and “Limitless” that fit the brand without seeming like an all-but-the-setting copy of other shows.
A comedy refresh
“Life in Pieces” was the top-rated freshman comedy this season, and the rest of the Thursday bloc — “Mom,” “2 Broke Girls” and, to everyone including the network’s surprise, “The Odd Couple” — puts up respectable numbers. But as “Big Bang” enters its later years, none of those shows looks like it’s ready to be the new CBS standard-bearer. (“Mom” is capable of greatness, but three seasons in, it has the audience it has.)
To be fair, it’s unlikely any new or new-ish show will ever put up “Big Bang”-level ratings given the state of the business. Still, it’s worth shooting for, and it’s worth breaking the CBS template a little: An embrace of diversity in a comedy lineup where actors of color don’t have any lead roles. An idea that’s familiar but tweaked just enough to make it feel fresh, a la “Mom’s” often dark take on family comedy or “Big Bang” making nerds the center of the show rather than just the butt of the joke. Something.