CBS has had a pretty steady fall — its 2.4 rating among adults 18-49* is just a tenth of a point lower than at the same time last year.
(*Network averages are “most current” — a combination of Live +7 and same-day — through Dec. 13. Individual show ratings cited below are all same-day, through Dec. 20.)
Yet beneath that business-as-usual statistic lies this paradox: Almost none of the network’s returning shows are performing as well as they did last season, and the new series haven’t really picked up the slack.
“The Big Bang Theory,” while still the No. 2 series on broadcast TV in adults 18-49, is down about 13 percent (3.97 vs. 4.56) compared to this time a year ago. “NCIS” is off by a similar amount (2.21 vs. 2.55). “Madam Secretary” (1.28) and “The Good Wife” (1.06) have each dropped by more than 20 percent.
The network’s new shows have been a mixed bag. “Supergirl” (1.86) has improved its Monday timeslot over last season, but that slot (dating from the move of “The Big Bang Theory” to Thursdays) was also a mess, featuring the quickly canceled “The Millers” and a few weeks of repeats. “Limitless” has performed decently, averaging a 1.52 in adults 18-49. But that’s just a little behind what “Person of Interest” did last fall (1.6).
So how is it possible that with all those declines, CBS is still down just a tenth of a point? In a word, football: The network’s “Thursday Night Football” package improved in its second year. Sunday games are also up, which has helped keep “60 Minutes” about even with its numbers last fall. There have been other upgrades here and there as well, like the aforementioned “Supergirl” and “2 Broke Girls” improving on the easily forgotten “The McCarthys” on Thursdays.
The likes of “Big Bang,” “NCIS” and “Survivor” (down 9 percent vs. last fall) aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But although it’s worked out better for CBS in the recent past than most others, coasting on the success of older series isn’t always a great long-term plan.
Like ABC, the network hasn’t developed anything that could really be called a breakout hit in the past couple of seasons. Doing that, obviously, is no easy feat, and CBS is doing just fine at the moment. Whether we can say that in a couple of years is very much an open question.