Tuning In: CBS Plays Pickup; Google TV Gets Static

Brian Steinberg on the Fall TV Season and Changes in the Industry

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An Eye for pickups: Most broadcast-network executives will tell you again and again about a sad but simple truth in the business: Between 75% and 80% of new shows fail.

'Mike & Molly'
'Mike & Molly' Credit: CBS
That's why it's somewhat remarkable to hear that CBS has picked up all five new shows it launched this fall for full-season orders. Yes, that's right, out of the five new programs the network launched -- two sitcoms, "Mike & Molly" and "$#*! My Dad Says," and three dramas, "Blue Bloods, "The Defenders" and "Hawaii Five-0" -- all five will stick around. With NBC, Fox and ABC all canceling programs in this new season's first few weeks -- so long, "Lone Star," "Outlaw" and "My Generation," we hardly knew you -- CBS's feat goes against the grain of how the TV season normally proceeds.

Is there a recipe for success? CBS has built momentum by launching guy-friendly sitcoms or easy-to-follow crime procedurals, but over the last two years, the network has quietly started throwing something different on the screen. Below, our take on CBS's new rules of programming:

  • Disguise your real premise.
    Just because viewers enjoy simplistic crime-solvers doesn't mean the dramas that house these concepts have to be so single-note. Sure, at its heart, "Blue Bloods" is really just about Donnie Wahlberg trying to solve New York City's major crime of the week (can one detective really get so many high-profile cases?), but that basic plot gets scrambled with loads of family drama -- will Tom Selleck's patriarch character ever find love? Are we ever going to find out the real story of the Blue Templar? -- and ongoing story arcs. The same is true of CBS's "The Good Wife," which was pitched to audiences last season as a drama about a woman spurned romantically by her politician husband but has become so much more -- yet manages to solve a legal case in every episode.
  • Sitcoms needn't be aimed solely at singles.
    CBS sitcoms tend to rely on broad humor and focus on unmarried guys flailing about through life's problems. And many of them still do. "Mike & Molly" broadens the formula by attaching one guy to one woman from the get-go, and in the process introducing audiences to the idea of attaching themselves to characters who happen to be overweight. Meanwhile, the premise of "$#*! My Dad Says," about a guy forced to move in with his grumpy father, might appeal to empty-nesters as well as economically battered singletons.
  • Don't depend on just the lead name.
    Tom Selleck doesn't get all the screen time in "Blue Bloods," but his presence sure lends the show the credibility of a bankable TV star. Meanwhile, the program can focus on the ups and downs of the younger members of the cast. Juliana Margulies is without question the central focus of "The Good Wife," but no one can deny the on-screen power of Christine Baranski, Alan Cumming, Christopher Noth (and lesser-known actors are also coming into their own, as demonstrated by the recent Emmy win for actress Archie Panjabi). And Alex O' Loughlin is the ostensible lead in "Hawaii Five-0," but plenty of TV critics are blown away by the rapid-fire patter of Scott Caan as his partner "Dan-O."


Google TV vs. Big TV: The Wall Street Journal details an emerging fight between Google, the maker of the new web-enabled Google TV television set, and NBC, ABC and CBS, who apparently are going to block shows streamed on their websites from being made available to this flashy new gizmo. It's the latest flashpoint in the ongoing struggle to monetize TV shows that are increasingly being watched on nontraditional screens. With many networks pressuring cable, satellite and telecommunications distributors to pay up for access to their shows in the form of retransmission fees -- yes, we know that Fox-Cablevision drag-out continues -- it's no surprise that Google in this case is being treated as just another distributor of programming -- and one that may not have as rich a history in dealing with the media conglomerates on this issue (though we're certainly aware of the brush fires that have been sparked by TV content playing over Google's YouTube). This is one to watch -- too bad it's not a show you can search on Google TV. At least, not yet.

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