When CBS' Elementary bows after the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, it will be the first drama to occupy the coveted slot in five years—since Fox’s House in 2008. And though unscripted fare has generally drawn the highest ratings after the big game, in choosing Elementary, CBS is sticking with the trend of spotlighting an existing series still in its ascendency.
The last time CBS had the Super Bowl, in 2010, it used the game to launch Undercover Boss, which premiered to 38.6 million viewers, making it the Super Bowl’s most-watched lead-out program since 2001, when an episode of Survivor drew 45 million viewers. Last year on NBC, The Voice approached Boss’ high number with 37.6 million viewers, underscoring the fact that reality shows tend to pair well with football.
Scripted fare has generally rated lower in recent years. ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy was the highest-rated post-game program in the last 10 years, drawing a whopping 16.5 rating in 2006, but dramas also claim the two lowest spots in the last decade (Alias in 2003 and Criminal Minds in 2007). Comedies have rated just slightly higher.
While CBS could have chosen to launch a brand new series, with midseason reality entry The Job or new drama Golden Boy, conventional wisdom has leaned toward picking an ascendant series rather than saddling a rookie with the most enormous of expectations.
Other seemingly prudent picks for CBS would have been sophomore sitcom 2 Broke Girls or drama Person of Interest. (The Big Bang Theory is still hitting series highs six seasons in, but it already benefits from rampant exposure in syndication.) Also likely at least a small factor —both 2 Broke and Person are from Warner Bros. Television, while CBS owns Elementary, allowing it to benefit more from the back-end success of the series.
CBS also owns its other rookie drama, Vegas, though the network ultimately felt that Elementary, which averages a 3.1 rating with adults 18-49 compared with Vegas’ 2.2, had broader appeal.
“Vegas and Elementary were competing for the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, alternating during the beginning of the season; it was a choice we made,” said CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler at the Television Critics Association press tour earlier this month on Elementary getting the nod. “It’s a character procedural. We think it’s got a lot of great appeal; the relationship between Holmes and Watson is palpable. And we just felt it was a better fit for right after the Super Bowl in terms of appealing to all the viewers.”
And while dramas can be harder to jump into midseason than an unscripted show or comedy, Elementary has the benefit of being a procedural based around a known character, Sherlock Holmes.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to expose the show to people who may not have checked it out yet,” said Elementary creator/executive producer Rob Doherty. “So we tried to take all that into consideration as we developed the story that, we felt, not only was a good example of what the show can do, but something that our regular audience would really have fun with as well.”
The hope is that casual Super Bowl viewers will follow Elementary to its regular time slot on Thursdays, the most lucrative night for advertising. Elementary commands $141,690 per 30-second spot, according to Ad Age’s 2012 commercial price survey, below ABC’s Nashville and Fox’s The Following but more than Vegas. By driving interest in Elementary, CBS is bringing more attention to its Thursday night lineup in general, already benefi tting this year from the relocation of Two and a Half Men and growing Big Bang and Person of Interest.
And with CBS’ Super Bowl strategy already bringing CBS News, daytime show The Talk, The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson and CBS Sports Network to New Orleans, among other corporate assets, CBS stations also stand to benefit from Elementary’s big-time exposure as their lead-in to late local news.
“I think [affiliates] would applaud the fact that a 10 o’clock show is getting the showcase because, if Elementary is more successful, then they’ll be more successful,” said Bill Carroll, VP/director of programming at Katz Television Group.
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