After less than a year slinging hash (and insults) in a not-so-swanky diner, two down-on-their-luck waitresses have been given the shot of a lifetime: carrying much of CBS's Monday-night lineup, starting with the second-season premiere tonight.
It's no small task. "2 Broke Girls," the sitcom in which characters Max Black and Caroline Channing hold down menial jobs at a decrepit Brooklyn diner while hoarding cash to start a cupcake business, is -- after just a single season -- moving half an hour later on Monday into the key 9 p.m. slot, replacing the popular and lucrative "Two and a Half Men."
"Most good shows have essentially one good move in them, and this is obviously a pretty significant move, almost a promotion," said Kelly Kahl, senior executive vice president of CBS's prime-time programming.
The move is critical for CBS. Shows that debut on the hour rather than the half hour are considered anchors, intended to drive viewership for the 60 minutes that follow and presumably the programs on even later. What is more, "Two and a Half Men" long commanded the highest ad prices of any CBS show from its 9 p.m. Monday perch. Last season, advertisers paid an average of $252,418 for a 30-second commercial in that show, even without Charlie Sheen, according to Ad Age 's annual survey of prime-time ad prices. They paid just $166,678, though, for a 30-second spot appearing in "2 Broke Girls.
Even so, "Girls" has won the support of a big-spending type of sponsor. Consumer-electronics players AT&T, Verizon and Apple were among the top ad backers of the sitcom last season, according to Kantar, along with Toyota, Time Warner and Target . The series fetched about $89.2 million in ad revenue in that time period, Kantar said.
The network clearly has high hopes for the comedy. At its upfront presentation last spring, CBS's ad-sales chief, Jo Ann Ross, came to the stage dressed in one of the waitress uniforms from the show, and servers at the reception wore the same getup. CBS might be better known for "NCIS" and "CSI," but at least for that night, "2 Broke Girls" seemed like its flagship.
The show's elevation to the 9 p.m. slot perhaps also speaks to a cultural shift taking place among comedy viewers. "Two and a Half Men" portrays two well-to-do beach-house dwellers who never seem to work too hard or want for much (even if one is raked over the coals by a divorce settlement). Indeed, it's been tough to find a plucky sitcom protagonist who is clearly a member of the so-called 99% on shows ranging from "Seinfeld" to "Suburgatory." Exceptions, such as the blue-collar family at the heart of ABC's "The Middle" or Roseanne Barr's "Roseanne," are memorable as a result.
"This cynicism about the American Dream, enlivened by the push-pull dynamic between the girls, coupled with their raunchy, sassy and sexy postfeminist humor, strikes a perfect chord for this age," said Susan Mackey-Kallis, a communication professor at Villanova University.
In these postrecession-slash-prerecovery days, the humor of "2 Broke Girls" ought to resonate more strongly. Mr. Kahl noted the CBS audience has grown younger on Mondays, and some programs, such as "Mike & Molly," are bringing more women to the network. All CBS has to do is convince marketers to pay more for the privilege of appearing alongside its new 9 p.m. anchor.
Already one adviser to marketers sees fortune beckoning at 9 p.m. -- even though CBS's comedies will compete against the new fall iteration of NBC's "The Voice," whose winter version took a bite out of CBS last season. "We expect the comedies to win the hour for CBS" among viewers 18 to 48, said Sam Armando, senior VP-director of strategic intelligence at SMGx, a unit of Publicis Groupe devoted to media research, in a recent research note.
"The Voice will premiere well and quickly decline this fall as well," he added.
Mr. Kahl said his network could not ignore the performance of "2 Broke Girls" in its first season. "It went up from 'How I Met Your Mother ,' which was a terrific sign, and then in overall performance, it was the No. 4 comedy in 18 to 49 -- and for a rookie 8:30 show." CBS executives also noticed the show improved its viewership among those 18 to 49 and for people 25 to 54 in the 8:30 p.m. Monday time slot.
CBS successfully featured "Rules of Engagement" at 8:30 p.m. at the start of the 2010 season, but the network's track record in the time slot has been mixed, Sure, "How I Met Your Mother " did well there, as did "Major Dad," "Kate & Allie" and "King of Queens." But the half hour has also hosted a number of oddball efforts, which have largely faded from view -- shows like "Dave's World," "The Class," "Hearts Afire" and "My Sister Sam."
His network even briefly considered moving "2 Broke Girls" to Thursdays, after "Big Bang Theory" at 8 p.m., said Mr. Kahl. On this night, CBS is attempting to establish a comedy beachhead early in the evening -- with some success: "Big Bang" gave "American Idol" a run for its money on some evenings last season. Instead CBS decided to move the powerful but mature "Men" to 8:30 on Thursdays.
The 9 p.m. time slot is a venerable spot at the network, having housed both "Everyone Loves Raymond" and "Murphy Brown," Mr. Kahl said. CBS hopes "2 Broke Girls" can hang around for at least six or seven years, he suggested. "We don't expect that it's necessarily going to do the Ashton Kutcher or Charlie Sheen thing," he said, referring to the actors who have led "Two and a Half Men." But "we feel good that it could hold up the night" and "grow over time."