Adweek’s weeklong look at each broadcast network’s new fall shows continues with CBS, which once again finished last season No. 1 in total viewers but fell from first to third place in the coveted 18-49 demo.
However, the network, which infrequently targets younger audiences—it tried with Supergirl two years ago but ended up giving that show to its more demographically-appropriate sibling The CW—isn’t changing its approach this season. That’s because, more than any other broadcaster, CBS knows exactly what its audiences want (a heavy dose of crime procedurals and broad comedies) and programs series that are most likely to connect with them but likely wouldn’t thrive on any other network.
That trend continues with a freshman lineup of safe, on-brand procedurals, two of which feel as if they could enjoy long, lucrative runs on CBS. On the comedy side, the network has two shows that stray a little outside its comfort zone, particularly with Big Bang Theory prequel Young Sheldon, but the newbies still have the potential to tap into its core audience.
Remember, as always, that while a pilot isn’t always the best way to judge a show’s ultimate potential, it’s often the only episode audiences watch before deciding whether to stick around or throw in the towel, especially given all the other new and returning shows fighting for attention. Also, CBS hasn’t made a final version of S.W.A.T. available yet, given that it doesn’t premiere until Nov. 2, after Thursday Night Football ends. So that episode could have tweaks to the original pilot that was provided to buyers after upfront presentations in May.
Here are CBS’ new fall shows, ranked from least promising to most promising.
6. Wisdom of the Crowd (Sundays 8 p.m., premieres Oct. 1)
The plot: One year after his daughter’s murder, a Silicon Valley magnate (Jeremy Piven) sells his company and devotes his attention to a new crowdsourcing app called Sophie, which he believes will “revolutionize crime solving” and finally locate his daughter’s killer. But he soon discovers that Sophie’s users can help solve other crimes as well.
The verdict: This is the third drama in a year featuring an unlikable tech guru who uses his vast bank account and state-of-the-art technology to “fix” an essential public service, after CBS’s Pure Genius (medicine) and Fox’s APB (police). But Wisdom of the Crowd has learned nothing from their mistakes—or their quick cancellations. This show contains many of the same stumbling blocks, starting with a premise that is littered with red flags, some of which are clumsily addressed in the pilot (for starters, what happens when the supposedly wise crowd misidentifies a perpetrator or tries to take matters into their own hands?). And Piven doesn’t elevate the mediocre material in the way that other procedural stars have been more successful at doing.
Is it good for your brand? Almost any other show on the network would be a better fit. But if you’re desperate for an integration, the show’s Sophie app could probably use a sponsor, and wireless companies could capitalize on the numerous scenes featuring people looking at their phones.
5. 9JKL (Mondays 8:30 p.m., premieres Oct. 2)
The plot: A newly divorced actor (Mark Feuerstein) moves back home to New York and into an apartment located between his parents (Linda Lavin and Elliott Gould) and brother and sister-in-law (David Walton and Liza Lapira).
The verdict: CBS is obviously hoping to recreate the living-next-door-to-my-parents formula that made Everybody Loves Raymond a huge hit. But 9JKL isn’t anywhere close to that level yet, though CBS audiences will be more receptive to the show in its current form. Albert Tsai (Bert from ABC’s gone-too-soon comedy Trophy Wife), who was the best thing in the pilot, has been promoted from guest star to regular cast member, which is a good start.
Is it good for your brand? If your media plan includes a healthy dose of CBS sitcoms, then you should be fine here. Costco is name-checked frequently in the pilot—the family keeps a “Costco closet” stocked with products—so there’s also some integration opportunities.
4. SEAL Team (Wednesdays 9 p.m., premieres Sept. 27)
The plot: The show follows the Navy SEALS’ most elite team, which is led by David Boreanaz, as they struggle to balance their dangerous missions with their personal lives.
The verdict: A great procedural fit for CBS—though not as snugly as S.W.A.T. (below)—Boreanaz, who knows his way around a procedural after 12 seasons on Bones, is a solid anchor, but the pilot is more interested in action sequences than the show’s characters, which could pose a problem as production shifts to a tighter weekly budget.
Is it good for your brand? If you’re buying inventory on the other CBS procedurals, then yes.
3. Me, Myself & I (Mondays 9:30 p.m., premieres Sept. 25)
The plot: It focuses on three parallel periods of the same man’s life: as a 14-year-old in 1991, a 40-year-old in the present day (Bobby Moynihan) and a 65-year-old in 2042 (John Larroquette).
The verdict: The concept is intriguing and somewhat ambitious for CBS, yet it also feels as if it could run out of gas quickly. That said, CBS has managed to keep Life in Pieces, which features four separate stories each episode, fresh for three seasons so perhaps they’ll pull off the same feat here. Moynihan makes a smooth transition from Saturday Night Live to comedy, and Larroquette is always solid. But the decision to cast Sharon Lawrence, who is 13 years younger than Larroquette, as a character that was his age when they first met in 1991, indicates that the producers aren’t going to be prioritizing continuity when it comes to navigating the three time periods.
Is it good for your brand? Yes, if you place ads on other CBS comedies. And the show’s structure could lend itself to an innovative integration that follows the same brand over three time periods.
2. S.W.A.T. (Thursdays 10 p.m., premieres Nov. 2)
The plot: Based on the ’70s series (which led to a 2003 film), the show follows the Los Angeles’ S.W.A.T. unit, newly led by Shemar Moore, who is trying to bridge the divide between the neighborhood he grew up in and his fellow officers. (“What color are you supposed to be, brother, black or blue? You’re going to have to pick,” one local tells him.)
The verdict: S.W.A.T. checks many of the same boxes as SEAL Team, down to the new addition to the team of a hothead who plays by his own rules and a scene in which each team member enjoys downtime before a mobile alert summons them to work. But with more fleshed-out characters across the board, S.W.A.T. is the stronger of the two. It’s a terrific role for Moore, whom CBS audiences already love after his decade on Criminal Minds. Unless something goes horribly wrong in the early going, this one should be on CBS for years to come.
Is it good for your brand? Absolutely. CBS has struggled to keep viewers on Thursdays at 10 p.m. for several years, and S.W.A.T. could break that streak (so take heed, movie studios).
1. Young Sheldon (Thursdays 8:30 p.m., has an early premiere Sept. 25 and then returns on Nov. 2)
The plot: Long before The Big Bang Theory, Jim Parsons’ character, Sheldon, was a 9-year-old kid growing up as a child genius—he’s already starting high school just like his older brother—with a normal family in East Texas in 1989. The show is narrated by Parsons, who is also an executive producer.
The verdict: The biggest surprise is that Young Sheldon is completely different tonally than Big Bang. Between the single-camera aesthetic and Parsons’ narration, the approach is more Wonder Years than Big Bang Babies. That might be jarring for some Big Bang viewers, but Young Sheldon could also attract viewers who don’t watch older Sheldon. In the title role, Iain Armitage—audiences know him as Shailene Woodley’s son in Big Little Lies—is a revelation and the perfect embodiment of a younger Parsons. Like many of each season’s best pilots, this could all end up unraveling by the second episode, which CBS isn’t airing until Nov. 2 after its Thursday Night Football package, but off the bat, Young Sheldon is one of the fall’s strongest, most assured pilots. Packed with laughs and emotion, it could be the best family comedy not on ABC.
Is it good for your brand? As fall’s highest-profile new show and with the benefit of the cushy post-Big Bang time slot, you’ll want to make it part of your media mix.