CBS Shortens Episode Counts for Most of Its Scripted Originals

NCIS - Sturgeon Season -Joe Spano -Mark Harmon
Sonja Flemming/CBS

As CBS plots the launch of its scripted dramas and comedies next week, the network has solidified the episode counts for most of its in-house originals.

Most of CBS' original scripted series will run between 16 and 18 episodes as the novel coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on network schedules. Dramas Blue Bloods, Bull, Magnum P.I., NCIS, NCIS: New Orleans and SEAL Team will each run for 16 episodes. NCIS: Los Angeles and comedy The Neighborhood will both stretch 18 installments. Sophomore comedy The Unicorn will stick with its planned 13-episode order. (Most second-year series receive an order for 13 episodes.) The orders are down from the traditional 24-episode runs for most of the originals.

The orders for the nine shows — all produced in-house at CBS Studios — will take them through the end of the 2020-21 broadcast season in May. The network then will segue to its summer schedule, which typically includes unscripted shows that are cheaper and faster to produce and can be completed in a bubble.

Most broadcast series resumed production in the past couple of months as the guilds and studios formalized an extensive set of safety protocols that allowed scripted series to get back to work. Those protocols include frequent testing for COVID-19, limits on the number of people on set and extensive zoning that provided further protections for actors filming without masks. Those standards increase both the costs of production as well as the length of time it takes to film a traditional episode.

While CBS held off on launching its returning scripted comedies and dramas until November — once the network had enough episodes that would be ready to air on time — the network is opting to not have its most high-profile shows air into the summer, when TV viewership declines.

Sources say the remainder of CBS' scripted originals that hail from other studios — like the FBI franchise and Chuck Lorre comedies — will also likely wind up running in the 16- to 18-episode range.

As for the other broadcasters, several networks are rumored to also be shortening their episode counts as they continue the difficult task of planning and delivering a schedule during a pandemic.

CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl told THR in May that he had hoped for a full season of each series. "[W]e may find that they simply run out of time and for some shows, it might mean 20 versus 22, depending on when they start," he said in an interview pegged to the network's "fall" schedule. "Our hope is for full seasons of all of these shows. We've spoken to them and all understand there may be limitations to what can be accomplished this season."