How CBS' scheduling gambles are paying off

Network notches wins in key demo, viewers for two weeks

Two weeks into the season, CBS' scheduling gambles are paying off.

After making headlines and raising industry eyebrows in May by plotting a series of aggressive fall maneuvers, like moving top comedy "The Big Bang Theory" to Thursday nights, the network appears poised to have the last laugh.

CBS is projected to win the second week of the season in the ratings, marking the first time since at least 1987 that it has claimed the top spot for the first two weeks of the fall among total viewers and the adults 18-49 demographic.

To recap, CBS moved "Survivor" from Thursdays to Wednesdays, then shifted "Big Bang" from its cozy Monday comedy block to take the former "Survivor" slot and pair it with the new comedy "$#*! My Dad Says." It also moved eight-year Monday stalwart "CSI: Miami" to Sunday to make room for "Hawaii Five-0" and shifted Wednesday's "CSI: NY" to Fridays to make way for "The Defenders."

Some slots are up, some are down. Overall, CBS is up 7% compared with a year ago, the most of any major broadcaster, and the time periods that were shifted account for several major increases.

"Given the number of moves of our existing shows, successful launches of all of our new series, and gains we're seeing over last season, I'd say our early-season strategy has been a resounding success," CBS scheduling chief Kelly Kahl said.

Moving "Survivor" to Wednesdays has been the most obvious home run: The show has boosted its time period by 73% and climbed in the ratings compared with last year -- not bad for show launched a decade ago.

Putting "Big Bang" and "$#*!" together also resulted in a time-period climb Thursdays -- up 11% -- which is no easy task as "Survivor" had won the slot for years. "Big Bang" has taken a slight 8% knock, which is excellent for a series that previously had "Two and a Half Men" as a lead-in and now is opening an ultracompetitive night.

Although the media have focused on CBS' comedies invading Thursdays, the network made similarly important moves with veteran franchise players "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: NY." In both cases, the shows were moved to tougher time periods, and the network knew each likely would take a bigger annual ratings hit than had they stayed put. The point was to successfully launch new shows that could own those time periods for years while using the aging hits to prop up underperforming slots.

Sunday's debut of "Miami" saw the show down 26%, though it improved its time period by 52% compared with "Cold Case." On Fridays, "NY" was down a steep 49% and didn't improve its slot, down a modest 5%.

"Hawaii" and "Defenders" aren't pulling the same ratings as the "CSI" pair in the slots; the time periods are down 12% and 27%, respectively. But that's a small price to pay to launch freshman shows, particularly when both "CSI" incarnations easily could have returned down 10%-20%.

So far, CBS has the fall's three highest-rated new shows.

"We've launched new shows successfully, and that doesn't mean they have to be the high-water mark in the ratings," Kahl said. "We've certainly seen with CBS shows the ability to grow viewers as time goes on, like ‘NCIS.' "

The boats successfully launched, CBS now must keep its new shows afloat. Ratings for all its freshmen series have dipped for their second episodes, which is common. But even if some don't make it to the finish line, the network's scheduling shake-up won't be to blame.