Upfront Analysis: CBS

It doesn't matter what CBS does next season -- buzz or not. It's still going to crush the competition. Like a machine that can't be stopped.
Lance Staedler/CBS
People are still watching 'The Mentalist.' It's true.

You have to admire if not love the machine-like efficiency of CBS. The intricacies of Swiss watches and the metallic beauty of German engineering have nothing on CBS, the best-run network on television.

CBS is completely focused and self-aware. It knows what it does best: make broad-based hits. It schedules shows not based on hope or prayers but number-crunched sensibilities. It doesn’t care to be loved by critics (though when it gets the formula as right as The Good Wife, it doesn’t mind basking a bit in that glow). And for the most part, when CBS develops shows, it doesn’t move far from its comfort zone, knowing that ambitious, creative risk-taking is not something its audience really goes in for.

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Ah, the audience. If you want to know why CBS has been so damned successful for so long, look no further than its viewers. Sure, they might not be able to topple Fox in the 18-49 demo just yet -- though the joke about CBS skewing super old is, in fact, getting pretty lazy -- but CBS viewers trust the brand explicitly. Meaning they will watch pretty much anything CBS gives them. You can’t buy that kind of loyalty, though you might want to question it.

Nevertheless, that mostly all-in mentality is precisely why CBS talked at the upfronts about scheduling almost more than the shows themselves. It only has four new series for the fall (all of them will, in all likelihood, work out just fine), so the emphasis was on counterprogramming for domination. Only CBS would never call it counterprogramming because that would infer they are reacting to the moves of others rather than the modus operandi of barely acknowledging the existence of competition (CBS has a stake in The CW, so it has to pretend that interesting things are happening there).

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The big upfront news was CBS moving Two and a Half Men to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, after The Big Bang Theory, creating what the network modestly called a “super comedy block.” CBS also shifted The Mentalist to Sundays. Not sexy. Not buzzworthy. But smart and likely effective. Even if you can't imagine why anyone would watch either Men or Mentalist.

Will the three new dramas and one new fall comedy work? If you have to ask that, you haven’t been reading very closely. What are they about? Oh, come on, you know that doesn’t really matter.

Not that everything CBS does is a slam-dunk. And yet, it discards series that other networks would keep on the air for years. And because of the fanatic loyalty of its audience, it’s hard to talk smack about CBS series like Survivor, Criminal Minds or the CSI and NCIS franchises getting long in the tooth and thus susceptible to audience erosion.

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Not. Happening.

And while other networks have ordered as many as 10 new series and some are opting into the 13-episode cable model to create space for even more new offerings, CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler said the network has no need for gimmicks.

"People keep asking me, 'Why don't you want to make room on your schedule?' It's because our shows are hits," said Tassler. "We have one goal, and that is just to continue making hit TV shows. We don't get confused, we don't get sidetracked. That's our goal every single year."


Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine