Why CBS Canceled Two of the Most-Watched Series on Television
Media buyers were buzzing at the CBS upfront after-party
last week after the network canceled two drama series-freshman Vegas and
veteran CSI: NY—which were averaging 10 million and 9.5 million viewers,
No other broadcast network has a scripted drama on its
primetime schedule this season that averaged that many viewers. ABC's
most-watched drama is Castle, which averages 9.3 million. Next is Grey's
Anatomy with 8.2 million viewers. Fox's most watched drama is freshman
series The Following, which averaged eight million viewers, while NBC's
most-watched drama is freshman sci-fi series Revolution with 7.3
In fact, ABC renewed freshman drama Nashville, which
only averaged five million viewers and NBC renewed freshman drama Chicago
Fire, which averaged 5.9 million.
An argument could be made that the move was caused by low 18-49
demo ratings for Vegas and CSI: NY—1.6 and 1.4, respectively—but Nashville
and Chicago Fire were both renewed with 1.6 ratings in the demo, while
NBC veteran drama Law & Order: SVU was also brought back with a 1.6,
as was NBC sci-fi drama Grimm with a 1.4.
It turns out that CBS made the move for a simpler
reason—because it can.
"The bottom line is when it comes to primetime programming,
CBS has an embarrassment of riches," said one media buyer, who did not want to
speak for attribution.
The buyer is right. CBS this season has seven drama series
that averaged 10 million or more viewers, and two, CSI: NY and Criminal
Minds (9.7 million) that just missed. It also has two sitcoms, The Big
Bang Theory (15.5 million) and Two and a Half Men (12.1 million)
that averaged well over 10 million.
So when the time came to put together a schedule for the 2013-14 season, the CBS entertainment brass had to make hard decisions if they wanted to put some new series on the schedule.
"Audience research for CSI: NY was very positive,"
says Dave Poltrack, head of research for CBS Corp. "It is still a strong
franchise series. Vegas was also popular with viewers but it didn't live
up to our expectations in the younger demos. In other seasons, Vegas
probably would have been renewed, but it all comes down to development and how
we wanted to approach the schedule for next season. Neither of the two shows
was creatively broken."
CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler basically said the
same thing. "There's limited shelf space. They just didn't fit into the
schedule and what we were trying to do."
Kelly Kahl, senior executive VP of CBS primetime, who
oversees program scheduling, was a little harder on Vegas. Kahl says the
series was given a plum spot on the schedule, leading out of NCIS: Los Angeles, which averaged 15.2 million
viewers and a 2.7 18-49 rating, and should have done even better than it did in
both viewers and in the advertiser-desired 18-49 demo.
"We gave it a hell of a lead-in and the demo number just
wasn't good enough," Kahl said. "The series did not live up to its potential in
the demo. So we moved it to Friday nights when the 18-49 standards are lower
but where it had to do a solid 25-54 number. It just didn't cut it, sadly."
Kahl added that when a network returns 20 series like CBS is
doing for next season, it doesn't make it any easier for series to be renewed. "There
just wasn't enough room," he says.
Les Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp. said, "We would
have kept Vegas on, but we thought we could do better on Tuesday night."
Kahl believes that second-year drama Person of Interest, which is being moved from Thursday at 9 p.m. to
Vegas' old time period
of Tuesday at 10 p.m. to make way for a pair of new sitcoms on Thursday, will
do much better than Vegas. Person of Interest averaged 13.4
million viewers and a 2.7 18-49 rating on Thursdays, and Kahl thinks it will
grow both in viewers and in the demo leading out of NCIS: Los Angeles.
Kahl also says research shows that a high percentage of NCIS:
Los Angeles viewers this season also watched Person of Interest -- another factor in moving the series to
Replacing CSI: NY on Friday at 9 p.m. next season
will be Hawaii Five-0, which is moving from Monday at 10 p.m. Five-0
has averaged 8.1 million viewers and a 1.9 18-49 rating this season, which is not
that much better than the two canceled series in the demo, along with fewer
viewers. So why keep Five-0 on the schedule rather than CSI: NY?
"Part of it is the life cycle of the series. Some of that
has to do with syndication," Kahl said. "Five-0 is a little younger
[completing its third season] compared to CSI: NY [just completed its
ninth season], which is already in syndication. Keeping Five-0 on will
give it a chance to put together more episodes for syndication."
That's the same logic for keeping Blue Bloods on
Fridays at 10 p.m. and cancelling its lead-in CSI: NY. Blue Bloods,
which is averaging 10.5 million but with only a 1.4 18-49 rating, is just
completing its third season and needs a few more for syndication. CBS produces Five-0
and Blue Bloods.
Could another network pick up CSI: NY? Not likely,
since CBS produces the series and the network is not going to want it airing on
But CBS itself has a history of picking up canceled series.
Its most famous pickup was the NBC drama series JAG, which the network
canceled in 1996 after just one season. CBS grabbed it and it aired nine more
seasons on the network. The move also led to a JAG spinoff series, NCIS, which came on CBS in 2003 and is
currently the most watched primetime series on television, averaging 18.5
million viewers per episode.
CBS also picked up sci-fi drama Medium when NBC canceled
it in 2009 after five seasons. Medium aired for two more uneventful
seasons on CBS before being canceled.
CBS canceled drama Unforgettable after
one season with the series averaging 10 million viewers and a 2.0 18-49 rating
in 2011-12. A few months later, however, the network had second thoughts and
decided to bring it back. Unforgettable will have a 13-episode run this
summer beginning in July.