In a startling move for a network that usually makes changes with the speed and flash of a glacier melting, CBS shook up its prime-time schedule Wednesday, canceling seven shows, adding five and scattering most of the rest to new time slots.
The changes, announced to reporters in New York where the broadcast TV networks are unveiling their fall schedules this week, not only seemed a marked departure from CBS' usual conservative style, but also surprisingly radical for a network that's about to finish at the top of the Nielsen ratings for the seventh time in eight years.
But CBS executives said nobody should have been surprised. “To make your schedule stronger, it means clearing the low-hanging fruit," said the network's scheduling chief Kelly Kahl. It’s part of the network circle of life.”
Another part of the network circle of life is fretting about stagnation, and CBS executives may be doing a good bit of that. Even though the network will finish No. 1 again this year, it added no new viewers and continued to lag behind Fox in the chase for the 18-to-49 age demographic favored by advertisers.
At least one of CBS' new programs is a chancy attempt to lure in those younger viewers: a sitcom called $#*! My Dad Says, the first TV show ever based on a Twitter feed. It stars William Shatner as a cranky old man whose profane and wide-ranging rants are chronicled by his admiring if somewhat fearful twentysomething son.
The network's other four new shows are conceptually unremarkable: Blue Bloods, a drama about a multigenerational family of cops headed by Tom Selleck; The Defenders, a bromance starring Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell (Crossing Jordan) as Las Vegas lawyers; a remake of the 1968-80 cop drama Hawaii Five-0; and Mike & Molly, a sitcom about romance among the fat and jolly. CBS also plans to add an as-yet-untitled spinoff of police procedural Criminal Minds, starring Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker, at mid-season.
In order to give each of its new shows strong lead-ins, CBS shuffled the remainder of its lineup. The biggest changes: CSI: Miami moves to Sunday, CSI: New York to Friday, Survivor to Wednesday and The Big Bang Theory to Thursday.
Moving so many successful shows to different nights s almost unprecedented, but the network scoffed at the suggestion viewers will be confused.
"There are two ways you can schedule," Kahl said. "You can fill holes, or you can give your new shows a fighting chance with a lead in . . . Our viewers are smart. Our viewers know how to use DVRs."
The cancellations included three veteran dramas -- Cold Case, Ghost Whisperer and Numbers -- that have been on the air a total of 18 seasons, as well as the highly promoted Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitcom The New Adventures Of Old Christine. Sitcoms Gary Unmarried and Accidentally On Purpose and drama Miami Medical were also axed.