Monday, December 27, 2010

On The First Day Of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas my true love – Television – gave to massive line-up change.

For those of you who don't know – which may be a lot of you since I haven't done one of these in a couple of years – this little exercise is by way of an 'end of the year review/look forward at the coming year with increasing trepidation' series of articles. Now I'm going to be up front with you; I don't know if I've got twelve of these in me, and as it stands I'm really starting late. That's what stopped me last year; I had some ideas of what I wanted to write about but I kept putting thing of and putting them off until putting anything out there wouldn't have worked. The year before I just got sick. Well I'm feeling okay this year (knock wood or a computer generated facsimile) but I'm still procrastinating so as I say, we'll see how far this gets. Already I'm a day behind, so that's not a particularly hopeful sign.

One other thing; I'm using the idea of the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, as the basis for this. You may think that it's late to do that, but it's only slightly late. The tradition of the Twelve Days of Christmas, as reflected in the song, refers to "Christmastide," the period between Christmas day and the Epiphany on January 6th. The Christmas celebrations are meant to end on January 5th, the eve of The Epiphany. Among the many traditions surrounding this period is that Christmas decorations are meant to be taken down on January 6th. Of course like many of traditions surrounding the season, this traditions surrounding the Twelve Days Of Christmas have eroded or changed. My brother for one tosses out the Christmas tree just as soon as is practical (though what his new wife will think of that policy is going to be interesting). As for me, I start my personal Twelve Days of Christmas on Boxing Day (aka December 26th aka the Feast of Stephen that they sing about in Good King Wenceslas) because like most of you I am too full of "fine provender" on Christmas to do just about anything let alone be creative, and because I am not one of those fools who leaves his home on Christmas night to stand outside a store to take a chance at buying something I really don't need at a bargain price. Okay there was the time that I bought my first DVD player but that's all. So now, on with the show.

As I said at the beginning, my first topic in what will hopefully be a twelve day series is a massive line-up change. Current received "wisdom" is that you don't move an established show from its established time slot...ever. This is presumably on the assumption that the TV viewer is stupid and will never find his or her show again if it moves to an unfamiliar time slot. This notion would probably have come as a shock to someone like Bill Paley and his assorted TV presidents over the years as well as other network CEOs and president, who moved shows around like chess pieces to fill holes and tried to exploit weakness with strength. Gilligan's Island had three different time slots during its three seasons: Saturday 8:30-9 (Season 1), Thursday 8-8:30 (Season 2) and Monday 7:30-8 (Season 3). The fourth season that didn't happen would have been the first time that the show stayed in its time slot. M*A*S*H had six different time slots in its eleven year run. In twelve seasons the original Hawaii Five-0 was seen in eight different time slots and moved during the season four times. But today the belief is that moving an established show to a new time slot is the kiss of death for that series, particularly if the show is older and particularly if the move is to a night or a time slot where the show is doing poorly.

Which is what makes the changes that Les Moonves and his team at CBS so surprising. After cancelling Cold Case, New Adventures of Old Christine, Accidentally On Purpose, Numb3rs, Miami Medical, Gary Unmarried and Ghost Whisperer, CBS unveiled the shows that they would be moving. These included CSI: Miami, moving from Monday to Sunday, CSI New York, moving from Wednesday to Friday, The Big Bang Theory, moving from Monday to Thursday and Survivor, moving from Thursday to Wednesday. This was a huge series of moves. Each of these shows were among the top twenty-five most watched network shows in the 2009-10 season. With the exception of The Big Bang Theory (which was usually up against Dancing With The Stars) each show won its time slot.

So how has it worked out? Well, it's a bit of a mixed bag. In this chart I compare the Yearly Ratings for the moved shows with the Ratings for the week of November 15-20, the last week before the US Thanksgiving holiday. (It might be more accurate to compare the ratings for the comparable week in 2009, but the Yearly rating is easier to get.)

ShowOriginal Time Slot2009-10 Yearly RatingsPositionCurrent Time SlotRating Week of November 15-20Position
CSI: MiamiMonday 10-1112.653 million24Sunday 10-1110.44 million25
Big Bang TheoryMonday 9:30-1014.14 million12Thursday 8-8:3013.09 million12
CSI: New YorkWednesday 10-1112.662 million23Friday 9-1010.24 million27
SurvivorThursday 8-912.469 million25Wednesday 8-912.01 million17

As you can see viewership for each of the shows that moved was down. On the other hand each of the shows is winning its time slot. Three of the four shows are in the top 25, while the fourth show is in the top 30. Another way of looking at this is by comparing the performance of the various shows in their time periods from last year and on night during the specified time this year. Again, I am using the week of November 15-20 for the 2010-11 data.

Time Slot
2009-10 Show
2009-10 Audience
2010-11 Show
2010-11 Audience
Monday 10-11
CSI: Miami
12.653 million
Hawaii Five-0
10.34 million
Monday 9:30-10
Big Bang Theory
14.14 million
Mike & Molly
12.15 million
Wednesday 10-11
CSI: New York
12.662 million
The Defenders
9.43 million
Thursday 8-9
12.469 Million
Big Bang Theory
$#*! My Dad Says
13.09 million
10.13 million
Sunday 10-11
Cold Case
9.86 million
CSI: Miami
10.44 million
Friday 9-10
7.79 million
CSI: New York
10.24 million
Wednesday 8-9
N. A. of Old Christine
Gary Unmarried
Accidentally On Purpose
6.7 million
6.65 million
5.5 million
12.01 Million

 As we can see it's something of a mixed bag. In all cases the relocated shows are outperforming the shows that were in their new time slots last year. Even Big Bang Theory is doing better than Survivor did in the previous year, although the overall rating is down from last year because the second half of the hour isn't performing as well as the first half hour. On the other hand all of the relocated series are down from their last season number: CSI: Miami down 2.2 million; Big Bang Theory down 1.05 million, CSI: New York down 2.4 million, Survivor down 450,000. On the other hand, when you look at the time slots – excluding the Thursday 8-9 period of course – you can see that the new shows aren't performing as well as the shows that they replaced: Hawaii Five-0 down 2.31 million from last year with CSI: Miami; Mike & Molly down 1.99 million from Big Bang Theory last year; The Defenders down 3.23 million from CSI: New York. Nevertheless, the swap has to be regarded as a qualified success, when you consider that Hawaii Five-0 is the most popular new drama on the air. Maybe expectations need to be tempered somewhat.

One thing that may be worth looking at is whether this sort of thing would work for any network besides CBS? It's a question worth considering. CBS has a distinct advantage over the other four broadcast networks in that they have – in Baseball terms – a deeper bench than any of the others networks. Last season CBS cancelled show which, had they been on any other network, would have had ratings that guaranteed renewal. Even the weakest of the new CBS shows in this chart – The Defenders – won its time slot most weeks. And the changes haven't stopped. The Defenders will be moved permanently to Friday night replacing Medium and will in turn be replaced with new series Chaos at the beginning of April. Blue Bloods will be given four weeks in The Defenders' Wednesday slot before being replaced in that time slot with the Criminal Minds spin-off Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior. Established series Rules of Engagement will be replacing $#*! My Dad Says on Thursday night with new series Mad Love replacing it on Monday night.

I think that it may be that CBS is able to pull off something like the massive shift of established shows that they made this season because of the depth they have in good shows. Sure, we're seeing other networks switching shows around now, at mid-season, but the whole thing smacks of desperation. NBC will have a full night of comedies on Thursday nights starting in February. Has any network every tried that when the third hour was not some sort of hour-long dramedy? ABC will be following suit in April with the added element of desperation being that one of the half-hours is going to be repeats of Modern Family, new episodes of which will be shown about an hour and a half earlier. FOX will be moving Fringe to Friday night, but that's part of their only real tactical move this year, which is putting American Idol on Wednesday night to confront Survivor, beyond which Fringe hasn't been doing well on Thursday night despite being paired with Bones. I've been told that we are likely to see about four hours of CBS shows cancelled at the end of this season despite the fact that the network is in a dominant position in terms of winning time slots and nights with both new and established shows. The reason is, logically, that this is the way that the network refreshes itself, the way that it stays on top. A network is, I suppose a beast like a shark which has to keep moving to stay alive. It is perhaps something that one of the people featured in my "Second Day of Christmas" post should have paid attention to when he was in charge of a network.

1 comment:

Todd Mason said...

In answer to your question, yes--NBC infrequently has briefly scheduled three hours of sitcoms in primetime in the past, and FBC has done so for at least the better part of several seasons (on Sundays, of course).