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Rating Analysis - State of CBS Dramas

Hey everyone.
I am back with some more ratings analysis. Today, it’s time for CBS dramas!

Before I start, just a quick note: I consider a Friday factor of about 25% for all shows airing on Fridays. This number is a result of a look at past renewal and cancellation decisions for the last 4 seasons – while some argue that the number is too low (I have seen many using 30%) and some say it is too high (some people say it’s more 15-20%), I found that this is the number that best explains the past decisions from networks when it comes to Friday shows. In any case, even if you believe the number is slightly inflated or deflated, I think that is unlikely to make a meaningful difference, especially because Friday shows are mostly often subject to syndication economies, whose importance will be far higher than these small difference. I may revise this again in the future if I find enough compelling evidence to do so. For the time being, please keep in mind that all numbers (including the overall average and, therefore, the % ratings for each show) will be calculated using this factor!

The 11 dramas that CBS currently airs averaging about a 1.9 in its most recent airings. The breakdown of these shows here is far less clear than it was for the ABC shows last week, but I still think it is safe to divide them into 5 tiers, taking into account its ratings, syndication and number of episodes. Here’s a look at them (note: relative order within each tier is random):

Tier 1:
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 256-258
Syndication: Yes
Production Company: CBS
Ratings Average: 3.00 (160%)
NCIS is the highest rated CBS drama and will most likely end the year the highest rated broadcast drama in general. That’s a very impressive accomplishment! When a show is in a situation like this, performing at 160% (!) of its comparable average, there is really not much to say here. Certainly the costs are higher than average now because the show is old and contracts have been renegotiated often, but I am sure it also has enough syndication deals generating revenue to offset that to, at least, some extent. It is a lock to be renewed.

- NCIS : Los Angeles
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 118-120
Syndication: Yes
Production Company: CBS
Ratings Average: 2.50 (130%)
The NCIS spinoff is another lock for a renewal from CBS drama stable. Three main reasons: it performs at 130% of its comparable average, which is almost always a renewal; it is not old enough for costs to be a serious problem; it has one of the highest syndication deals I've seen mention of, scoring an hefty $2,200,000 per episode from USA for each episode produced.
The real story about this show is whether or not CBS will ever break its pairing with the mothership. For me, I never felt that CBS had a compelling reason to do so in the various years in which they've done NCIS-NCIS LA-New Show. NCIS is not that higher-rated than LA that we should believe there would be a very meaningful difference between the lead-in effect of NCIS and NCIS-LA for the new show and LA could easily be hurt if the new show flopped, creating a negative net result for CBS. However, I think this year it is different because CBS is out of places to launch new dramas and the LA lead-in is not even available anymore since it was taken by POI. I think CBS would be better served by doing NCIS-Intelligence-POI come spring and sending LA to patch the Monday at 10pm problem. If LA could perform at Castle levels on Mondays while freeing its spot for Intelligence to pull something like mid 2s, I think that would be a big win (the Intelligence-POI pairing could also maybe help POI). Sending a new show to the 10pm Monday slot with an incompatible and low rated lead-in while competing with an established procedural and a Voice-fueled mega-hit of the season is not giving it the best chance of succeeding. I think the only way CBS actually goes for this is if Intelligence pulls exceptional numbers on its Tuesday tryout, and I am not holding my breath. Regardless, and coming back to the topic, NCIS: Los Angeles is dead certain to be renewed!

- Person of Interest
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 67-69 [1 Season Away from 88]
Syndication: No
Production Company: Not CBS
Ratings Average: 1.90(100%)
Person of Interest is another case, like Once Upon a Time, in which not only is the show one season away from syndication, but it also has ratings that, even if disappointing for some, are still at a level more than enough to guarantee its renewal. This is the perfect combination of factors for any show.
Most people feel CBS was wrong in moving the show. I don’t want to get too much into the whole comedy expansion thing today but I believe CBS was right for trying it – the fact that it doesn’t appear to be successful is another story. Regardless, POI’s ratings are not even that fall from where they would likely be on Thursday. I think most people are deluding themselves into thinking that if it was on Thursday, it would pull the ratings it was pulling last fall. There is no evidence of such thing. Most (if not all)  CBS procedurals come to fall pulling ratings that (except for the premiere) are pretty much in line with what they were pulling in May Sweeps from the previous season. POI posted three consecutive 2.4s at the end of last season. So, most likely, the Thursday numbers would look like something between 2.3-2.6. While that is a bit better than what the comedies are doing there and a bit better than what the show is doing now on Tuesdays, it is not that much better like some people make it out to be. The comedy expansion may not have been that successful but it is far from being the failure that people trot it out to be. That doesn’t mean I would have moved POI to where it is; my ideal move was one in which it was given the Wednesdays at 8 slot followed by Intelligence with CM sliding to 10pm (using Survivor and CSI on Sundays and Fridays, respectively), but I can still appreciate the rationale from the move that they did and say that I don’t see evidence of it being a failure. Regardless, and because I am way off topic right now, the show is as much of a lock for a renewal as it ever gets.

- Criminal Minds
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 209-2010
Syndication: Yes
Production Company: CBS
Ratings Average: 2.50 (130%)
Criminal Minds is another show whose ratings level, at 130% of its comparable level, leave no doubt about its future. Networks simply do not cancel shows performing at such level, especially shows that also have the advantage of generating extra revenue through syndication. I do believe that what will eventually doom this show are its costs, but  we are still at least a season away from that. This year, in particular, I am not even compelled to put the show in Tier 2 (like I did with Grey’s Anatomy last week which is basically in the same situation) because (unlike Grey's) the show renegotiated its contracts last year reportedly for two more seasons, meaning that this should be an “easy renewal” year. Beyond that, I admit that it is possible that the relative ratings changes enough for the cost considerations to take over, but we are still far from that and I am still not in business of predicting what will happen in two years. For this year, the show is an absolute certain renewal!

Tier 2:
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 339-341
Syndication: Yes
Production Company: CBS
Ratings Average: 1.80 (95%)
The old, very old CSI just keeps hanging. Its current ratings level, 95 of comparable average, is a level that normally indicates renewal for any show and this is no different. There is certainly the issue of how costly it has gotten by this point, but I have two important counter arguments for that: 1) I don’t watch the show but from what I understand, it has done a pretty good job at rotating its cast, which is normally one of the best strategies to guarantee that its costs don’t go through the roof (even if in this particular case, it seems that they’ve hired actors that don’t exactly come cheap either) and, most importantly, 2) the show has enough syndication deals to likely counter balance all that. I wouldn’t be surprised if the syndication deals that the show have are enough to cover for all the production costs and that whatever revenues CBS makes from the ads go directly to profit. I don’t, however, have the concrete information to back all of this up as much as I would like here, which is why I’ve put the show in the second tier. But that’s still an absolute certain renewal, especially because even if ratings decline, I have a very hard time imagining that CBS doesn’t use this iconic show at least for one season on its Friday/Sunday schedules.

- Elementary
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 46-48
Syndication: No
Production Company: CBS
Ratings Average: 1.70 (90%)
So far, it has all been easy predictions. Elementary is probably where the real uncertainty begins. The reason I am predicting it to be renewed is because the show is still performing at a respectable ratings level, 90%, that is likely to provide CBS with enough incentive to carry it to syndication. A lot of people are disappointed with its ratings this year, but to be honest, except for that 1.50 a few weeks ago, I am actually impressed, as I thought it would be doing worse than it is. The show has found itself in a very unfavorable position, airing at 10pm out of a low rated and incompatible lead-in, against one of the highest rated dramas of television and against a somewhat also respectable for its standards NBC option. Given this, I think it’s still holding its own. I don’t think these type of considerations usually play a major role when networks decide when renewing or canceling a show, but I still think they are worth looking at to some extent (particularly because this is a highly DVRed show, which could translate in higher than average C3 gains). Anyway, my point is that as long as Elementary’s ratings remain north of 90%, the show will be renewed, especially because CBS has bigger fish to fry elsewhere in a big way and because I don’t expect them to need to free up that many hours for next season. I am not dead certain on it being able to keep these higher than 85% ratings, but I think there is at least decent chance it does, so I am still going with a very likely renewal.

- Hawaii Five-0
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 93-95
Syndication: Yes
Production Company: CBS
Ratings Average: 1.80 (95%)
Hawaii Five-0 currently sits at 95% of CBS’s drama average, which is perfectly fine for a renewal (80% without Friday factor). I realize that most people view it has a bubble show but I believe Hawaii Five-0 has some things going for it that I think can justify the renewal prediction. For starters, the 95% ratings level is still more than good enough for a renewal in most cases, baring problems with costs, which is not the case given the show’s age. Most importantly, Hawaii Five-0 is a show approaching the 100 episodes (which is a great area to be, because it is that best of two worlds area in which the costs still haven’t escalated, mostly because contracts haven’t been renegotiated yet, but the shows are already reaping revenues from syndication) and is the show currently on air with the highest value for a syndication deal that I could find mention. The show scores $2,500,000 (!!) for each additional episode from TNT, which if I had to guess, I would say is probably enough to cover the costs of the show by itself. I think it’s unlikely that the contract with TNT includes any clause to change the value of an episode before 100 episodes have been sold (as that’s usual the threshold to do so), so I don't really care for the somehow soft ratings it's been getting in syndication. So: a perfectly acceptable ratings level, a new timeslot this season, proximity with 100 episodes, costs not through the rough and the largest syndication deal in network TV means that, for now, I feel safe declaring it likely renewal.

Tier 3
Tier 3 is made of two shows whose situation is a bit interdependent, so I will make a short introduction of each and then address their fates together.
- The Good Wife
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 112-114
Syndication: Yes
Production Company: CBS
Ratings Average: 1.60 (85%)
The Good Wife is currently airing its fifth season on Sundays, at a ratings level that is one of a bubble show (the 85% are a bit inflated here because the most recent airings have been very positive for the show, but I think that has more to do with football overruns than anything, so I would view this more as a 75-80% kind of performer). The show, which has already passed the 100 episode barrier, has however a very lucrative syndication deal, scoring an impressive $2,000,000 per episode (this is one of the highest syndication deals around, and certainly the higehst if someone looks at value of syndication/ratings). This means that  any additional episodes will get these additional revenues (assuming the same type of deal is in place for a possible Season 6, which is likely considering the deal was made only last year).

- Blue Bloods
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 89-91
Syndication: No deal yet, but sure to come
Production Company: CBS
Ratings Average: 1.60 (85%)
Blue Bloods is now performing at about 85% of CBS’s drama average (70% sans Friday factor). Like for The Good Wife, this is a level that typically indicates bubble, which is why looking at other factors is important. Blue Bloods will finish the season with 88 episodes, which means CBS is absolutely certain to score it a nice syndication deal. The question, however, is how nice that is? While CBS is known to be a deadly effective syndication deal, I am not sure if they will be able to replicate the extraordinary feat that was pulling that syndication deal for The Good Wife. While adding additional episodes for syndication is always a good thing (especially when, as explained for H50, the show isn’t seeing costs increases yet), there may not be room on schedule for both.

What to make of the situation of these two shows then? Basically, I think it comes down to two questions:
  • is there space to keep them both on schedule?  For me, the anwer to this question depends on whether or not Intelligence succeeds. If Intelligence fails, then I expect CBS to cancel the Mentalist, move a veteran to Sundays (Survivor, CSI or Elementary) and premiere two new dramas Mondays at 10 and on the slot from the moved veteran. If Intelligence works, then CBS has to cancel a second veteran and that's when it comes down to Blue Bloods or The Good Wife. Remember, CBS usually premieres 3/3.5 hours of new programming and they are certain to premiere 2/3 new comedies. That leaves them with room for two new dramas. There other situations that can change this slightly, such as: if the comedy hours are reduced, then both bubble shows are likely to be kept; if they really want to launch a 3rd new drama, I would expect them to simply hold Undercover Boss again instead of cancelling both bubble dramas and walk away from all that syndication money. So far though, I don't reason to predict either of these things, so I am sticking with the status quo and saying that it comes down to Intelligence only.
  • which show would be saved in case there is only room for one? Right now, I don’t feel confident going either way. However, if I had to make a guess, I would say The Good Wife would be kept. Provided that relative ratings remain on the same area, I think The Good Wife has the edge for two reasons: 1) I don’t think CBS can put together such a lucrative deal for Blue Bloods as they did for The Good Wife, which means additional episodes from The Good Wife would be more profitable than additional episodes from Blue Bloods and 2) I think CBS will cancel The Mentalist (more on that below), which means they will already have a hole on the Sunday schedule. I find it improbable that they would like to move two established shows to Sundays at once, it does not appear to be CBS's MO! However, these arguments assume that The Good Wife is able to hold some sort of ratings advantage to Blue Bloods in raw numbers  and that the syndication economies of both deals go as I’ve predicted, neither of which are certain. So I am really walking away from any prediction right now.
We will have time until the end of the year to revisit this, but for now I am sticking with both on the bubble, but remember that, depending on the answer to my first question, it is possible and not surprising that both will be back! More on both when Intelligence is rolling!

Tier 4
- The Mentalist

Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 138-140
Syndication: Yes
Production Company: Not CBS
Ratings Average: 1.30 (70%)
The Mentalist is a veteran show now performing at 70% of CBS’s average. Fans of the show will likely argue that the show has to air on a terrible situation. I will agree, but I will note that CBS won’t care for that most likely. 70% typically indicates low end bubble or even likely cancellation and, in the case of The Mentalist, I think it’s the later. The show faces the uphill battle of being the only non CBS owned show fighting for survival – all the other shows in close ratings vicinity (and it’s not even THAT close) are owned by CBS, which means that CBS gets all the syndication money back to compensate them for the lower ratings. I am certain that WB was able to reduce the licensee fee of the show enough to make it attractive for CBS to air the show until now; but WB was probably only interested in doing that to have the show produce 100 episodes. Once it has been fully syndicated and its costs start to escalate, I doubt WB has an incentive to do that because they would have to rely entirely on the benefit of producing additional episodes to cover their producing losses, since CBS gets all the ads money. I don’t see it happening. Could CBS keep all its veterans? It’s not totally impossible I suppose. If Intelligence does tank and if they are forced to reduce their comedy hours, that would give them two spots to premiere new dramas already. But I am not ready to predict those two things yet (the lowest rated hour of comedies is still higher rated than the lowest rated dramas, by far). There is a chance, but it is a slim one. Therefore, for now, I am predicting The Mentalist to be cancelled.

Tier 5
- Hostages

Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 15
Syndication: No
Production Company: Not CBS
Ratings Average: 1.10 (60%)
As with Betrayal in the ABC post, there’s really nothing to say here. Freshman shows performing at 60% of its comparable average have no chance at all of coming back. Hostages was a disappointment ratings wise ever since its premiere and it is actually surprising that CBS will let it air out all of its order. CBS has schedule the date for its season finale already, but they might as well have called it series finale. It’s dead certain to be cancelled!

So, to sum it up, here is how predictions stand:
Blue Bloods – To be determined
Criminal Minds– To be renewed
CSI – To be renewed
Elementary – To be renewed
Hawaii Five-0 – To be renewed
Hostages– To be cancelled
NCIS – To be renewed
NCIS: Los Angeles – To be renewed
Person of Interest– – To be renewed
The Good Wife – To be determined
The Mentalist – To be cancelled

Thanks for reading and I apologize for the big article this week, but CBS has a lot of dramas and I wanted to avoid doing very obvious points on shows like POI or NCIS LA, so it ended up a bit longer than I wanted! Sorry about that!

Tracking Table:

Previous Articles:
State of ABC Dramas
ABC Sundays
Renewals and Cancellations Decisions and TV Numbers 101 [FAQ]