Can CBS Clean Up TV's Saturday Night Dumping Ground?

Procedural drama 'Ransom,' airing in January, is the network's first original series on the night in 15 years, as an experiment could lead to new life for a time slot left for dead.
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Glenn Geller, Frank Spotnitz

With a crowded midseason lineup, CBS is taking a page from an old playbook and has scheduled an original scripted program for the TV wasteland known as Saturday. Ransom, a procedural from producer Frank Spotnitz (The Man in the High Castle), will air at 8 p.m. Saturdays starting Jan. 7, marking the first time since Walker, Texas Ranger aired in 2001 that CBS has broadcast a scripted original series on the night now known as TV's dumping ground.

Of course, Saturday once was a hot programming night, with such hits as The Honeymooners, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi. Broadcasters pulled out of Saturdays as viewers turned to premium cable networks for movies and, eventually, original programming. Ad dollars shifted to Thursdays and Sundays as viewers under 50 became harder to reach (and those with disposable income are perceived to be out spending it on Fridays and Saturdays). Recently, NBC aired its low-rated crime thriller Aquarius on Saturdays, but that was perceived as a burn-off of a dud.

CBS has higher hopes for Ransom. Helping clear the way for the move: The 13-episode show, starring Luke Roberts (Black Sails) as a crisis negotiator, is a co-production from Entertainment One, France's TF1 and Canada's Corus Global. The financial model means CBS assumes little risk if the show fails to match its newsmagazine block (which recently drew 3.8 million viewers and a paltry 0.5 among adults 18-to-49). "There are 22 hours on the schedule, and every hour counts the same," says CBS Entertainment president Glenn Geller. "If we have an opportunity to improve our rating in one of the hours, we want to try it." Should Ransom break out, Geller could move it elsewhere.

Saturdays still are a well-viewed night in the U.K., and U.S. cable networks have found success on the night with BBC America's Orphan Black and Starz's Survivor's Remorse and Power. This year, Starz moved the shows to Sunday, where both built their audience. Notes a rival scheduler, "If CBS finds success, people will follow."

This story first appeared in the Dec. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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