Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Report Card II: Eye of the Beholder

CBS reminds me of one of the football programs that sticks to the wishbone offense years after everyone else has switched to something like the run-and-shoot.

CBS will continue with their old, reliable, grind-it-out formula and ultimately win that way.

The Eye has been able to claim victory so far, winning the overall ratings war for the first half of the TV season with its old standby: procedurals.

Between "CSI," "CSI: Miami," "CSI: NY," "NCIS," "Without a Trace," "Numb3rs," "Criminal Minds," "Cold Case," "Shark" et. al., CBS has bucked the recent trend of developing story arcs over a season in favor of telling stories that can conclude within an hour.

There's nothing wrong with that. If something is working for you, why not repeat the formula six or seven more times?

Of course, it doesn't leave a lot of room for variety. Shows like "Lost" or "Heroes" never would have found a home on CBS, denying the Eye a shot at putting greatness on the air.

THE GOOD: Well, whatever it is CBS is doing, it seems to be the right moves. True, the Eye isn't really battling for any of the 18-49 age group demographic that advertisers love, but CBS is dominating the ratings otherwise.

Among the new shows, "Jericho" - one of the few CBS shows to have a multi-arc storyline - and "Shark" have broken out as solid hits. Ratings for the existing CBS shows like the CSIs remain consistent.

CBS has also developed a solid block of comedy on Monday nights, though freshman show "The Class" has struggled.

Probably the biggest story of the year has been how "Criminal Minds" has beaten ABC's "Lost" head-to-head during the latter's final two episodes. "Criminal Minds" earned the coveted post-Super Bowl timeslot in February.

THE BAD: "Smith," one of the most anticipated new shows of the fall, died a quick death after three episodes despite a great cast including Ray Liotta and Virginia Madsen. "Smith" probably killed any chance that CBS would try to go outside its game plan and develop shows with season-long arcs.

The show that replaced "Smith," the "House"-ripoff called "3 LBs," also had the plug pulled after three episodes.

On its news side, CBS' strategy and heavy promotion of Katie Couric as anchor for the nightly news has seemingly flopped, with ratings continuing to fall.

THE OUTDATED?: CBS used to rule the roost in reality TV with shows like "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race," but both shows have suffered lately both in ratings and in quality. CBS doesn't have a music-based reality show like "American Idol' or "Dancing with the Stars" that seems to be all the rage these days.

OUTLOOK: Something tells me that CBS won't be getting away from the procedurals any time soon. No reason why it should necessarily if the ratings stay strong. Viewers may not get a ton of variety, but that's why they build TVs with remote controls. Grade: B

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: Wow, I can't remember a year where you had fresh programming as late as Dec. 12, but welcome to the world of post-modern TV, where quality on cable has changed all of the rules.

Viewers get their choice of new episodes at 8 p.m. among CBS' "NCIS," NBC's "Friday Night Lights," and Fox's "Standoff." At 9 p.m., you have "House" (Fox, 9 p.m.) and "The Unit" (CBS, 9 p.m.)

For those who like classics, you can celebrate the 40th Anniversary Special of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (ABC, 8 p.m.) And it wouldn't be a December without a Barbara Walters Special (ABC, 10 p.m.)

Also, Part 2 of "The Lost Room" (Sci-Fi, 9 p.m.) airs tonight. If you missed Part I, you can catch it again at 7 p.m.


Phillip Ramati said...

TV Guy posting here, if you want insight into how one of the best sitcoms ever, "Frasier," was created, click on this link to writer Ken Levine's blog:

Thanks to my brother for passing this along.

Zodin2008 said...

Thanks for the Blog posting...great find by your brother. "Frasier" is possibly my favorite sitcom of all time.

With regards to CBS, you just throw your hands in the air. I hate 98% of their shows and only watch "How I Met Your Mother" and "Jericho". Their slate of procedurals bore me to tears but they get ratings.

Still, it must be said again the fact that a mediocre, preachy gore fest like "Criminal Minds" has now passed "Lost" shows a brand loyalty the CBS audience has while it also shows that ABC schedulers are retarded.