Thursday, June 05, 2008

Network Report Card '08, IV: CBS

Talk about being damned if you do and damned if you don't.

CBS scores pretty consistently in the ratings with the likes of "CSI" (times 3)/"NCIS"/"Criminal Minds"/"Without A Trace"/"Cold Case" etc. and is criticized for producing procedural dramas aimed at an older crowd.

But when they get away from the cookie-cutter form of episodic crime procedurals and try to do something different ("Viva Laughlin," anyone?), if it doesn't blow up in the network's face, it certainly fizzles out.

When the network tries to placate smaller groups of cult fans - such as "Jericho" - CBS was rewarded with lower ratings when they brought the show back. When the network axes a show based on economics, they disenfranchise even more fans ("Moonlight").

It's enough to drive a network suit bonkers.

WHAT WAS GOOD: In addition to the above procedurals, CBS established a very solid Monday night comedy lineup, with new hit "Big Bang Theory" joining "2 1/2 Men" and "How I Met Your Mother." Plus, the network decided to keep "The New Adventures of Old Christine" rather than risk losing the Emmy darling to ABC.

As for non-dramatic programming, "60 Minutes" always delivers and "Survivor" and "Amazing Race" both made it into the Top 25 in the Nielsens.

WHAT WAS BAD: CBS doesn't exactly rake in the younger demographics, although these days, ratings are ratings. CBS tried alternative programming and misfired with the likes of "Viva Laughlin" and "Kid Nation." Shows that showed some promise like "Moonlight" and "Cane" didn't survive for a second season.

The network also foisted the likes of "Welcome to the Captain" and "Secret Talents of the Stars" on an unsuspecting public.

And finally, the much-debated hiring of Katie Couric as anchor for the nightly news resulted in a big flop as the ratings continue to decline.

OVERALL: I've seen the previews of CBS' fall lineup, and it's not particularly promising, except for "Bad Week," which should fit in nicely with the Monday night sitcoms, and "Eleventh Hour," another procedural (!) based on an outstanding British series.

Honestly, I worry with too many failures like "Viva Laughlin" or disappointments like "Moonlight" that CBS is going to give up on trying to create shows that are different from its norm.

And, for all of the criticism of the procedurals, most of the shows listed above are actually pretty decent shows.

GRADE: B-. I'm awarding CBS a few extra credit points for effort.


THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: OK, here's another reason that hurt CBS' GPA. "Swingtown" (CBS, 10 p.m.) debuts tonight with the promise of a titillating look at the 1970s as a suburban couple (Molly Parker, Jack Davenport) gets introduced to the swinging lifestyle by their neighbors (Grant Show, Lana Parilla).

On a pay cable network like HBO, "Swingtown" might have worked because the producers could have shown a lot more. As it is, the sex and drugs they do show isn't particularly shocking nor unfamiliar. The characters are drawn two-dimensionally, and the subplots involving the children of the various couples are pretty confusing. And the "square" couple (Miriam Shor, Josh Hopkins) was so irritating, I could see why Parker and Davenport were driven to sex and drugs.

A better effort is NBC's "Fear Itself," (NBC, 10 p.m.) a horror anthology that stars different casts every week, a' la "The Twilight Zone." While nowhere near the "Zone's" class, "Fear" is pretty entertaining and not too gory for the queasier viewers.


zodin2008 said...

Phillip, this is why I love this Blog. Thank you for reminding me about the premier of "Fear Itself". I will set the DVR when I get home.

I was intrigued by the cast and premise of "Swingtown", but you're 100% right. On HBO or Showtime, it's far more interesting because of what they can say or show. Plus, if it was on pay cable, they'd only do 13, better drawn episodes with deeper character revelations and no commercials.

I suspect this show will flop, but it's just a guess.

NBC's idea is a bit smarter. Do an anthology series, a good hit for the summer, and hey, if it gets any traction, they can do more anthology episodes next summer.

As for CBS, I would give them a B+ for their ratings performance and a D- for their programming. Yes, they've shown an effort to put more interesting stuff on like "Moonlight" and "Jericho", two shows I liked, but their programming is still dominated by bad comedies ("Two and a Half Men") and boring dramas (any "CSI").

The one, long bright spot of course if the hysterically funny, "How I Met Your Mother").

Phillip Ramati said...

We aim to serve. Tonight's Fear Itself stars Friday Night Light star Jesse Plemons.

Swingtown wasn't done well even without showing the sex and drugs. I forgot to mention its incessant "most obvious hits of the 70s" soundtrack that runs throughout the show.