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CBS Continues its Crushing, Boring Dominance, Does Some Mild Risk Taking

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Dennis Quaid on a horse a vintage airplane CBS got the juice mangLooking at the actual Nielsen top ten rated shows for any given week can be a surreal experience for fans of the type of television that people like to talk about on the internet: quality serialized drams like Mad Men and Breaking Bad and quirky cult comedies like Community. If you live in the bubble where these and similar shows are the most talked about on TV, look at this. The most striking thing – other than the complete lack of any shows with critical or cult cachet – is the dominance of the CBS procedural machine.

Not only is the number one show overall NCIS (which, amazingly, is a spinoff of JAG. Seriously, look it up!) but the NCIS brand is strong enough that NCIS: Los Angeles sits at number five. Add to that Person of Interest and The Mentalist, essentially slightly different takes on the CBS procedural, plus The Big Bang Theory – a representative of CBS’s other hit genre of broad, Chuck Lorre-produced multi-camera sitcoms – and CBS has fully half of the top ten most popular shows in the country.

These trends continue outside of the Nielsen top ten to the point that CBS is the most watched network in the country, though Fox beats it “in the demo” i.e. viewers age 18-49. However, there are some signs that CBS is even making progress in getting the average age of its viewers to be a bit younger.

CBS’s position is so strong that it can make a move like canceling CSI: Miami, a show which would count as a hit on any other network. (I guess the show  . . .must not go on. YEEEEAH!!) That was probably the boldest move that CBS made in its fall schedule announcements. For the rest of their schedule CBS continued its usual pattern of continuing to milk its established hits while shuffling them around a bit and introducing some new shows that are slight tweaks on their existing ones.

The biggest news on the former front is that they’re moving Two and a Half Men to Thursdays, where it will come on after The Big Bang Theory. This will create an all Chuck Lorre produced multi-cam comedy hour programmed against NBC’s critically respected but lowly rated Thursday comedies that will most likely lead to a lot of internet comments bemoaning the state of a country where people would rather watch The Big Bang Theory than 30 Rock, probably including some from me.

On the new show front the most intriguing pilot that CBS has picked up is Vegas. This is not to be confused with the NBC show Las Vegas from a few years back but is a much more ambitious and expensive-sounding series set in the Las Vegas of the 1960s.

The series will be based on the real life story of Ralph Lamb, a cattle rancher who was called upon to become the Sheriff of Las Vegas due to his background as a Military Police officer. Lamb clashed with Vincent Savino, a real life Chicago gangster of the period who sought to run the emerging gambling and entertainment mecca as one of his rackets.

Though this sounds like it could become yet another typical CBS cops and robbers show the elements that distinguish it are the period setting and the fact that Lamb and Savino are played by Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis, respectively. In addition the show will feature some other high caliber actors who don’t typically do network television work such as Carrie-Anne Moss, while Nicholas Pileggi (Goodfellas, Casino, American Gangster etc.) is involved as an executive producer.

Another somewhat interesting sounding pilot that CBS has picked up is Elementary, yet another version of the Sherlock Homes and Watson story with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu in the Holmes and Watson roles respectively. This version is set in contemporary Manhattan, despite the fact that there is already an ongoing, critically respected version of the story set in contemporary London. 

Most ridiculously, CBS has also picked up a new comedy pilot called Friend Me. This appears to be another desperate attempt by CBS to appeal to a younger demographic by doing something that involves the internet/social media in some way, much like their recent decision to base a terrible sitcom on an overrated twitter feed. Besides having annoying social media jargon in the title the show attempts to pander to younger viewers by having its twentysomething, tech savvy characters work at Groupon. (It’s called Synergy Lemon! #jackdonaghy) So, CBS better hope that Groupon still exists when this show makes it to air.

And, most dispiritingly the latest from the Mark Burnett hit reality show factory is The Job where every week talented candidates from around the country will compete for the rarest of commodities in Great Recession America, an actual full-time job. This will prove Andy Warhol’s oft-quoted adage that the only way to get a job in the future will be to compete in a reality show.

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