Moonves: Big Bang Theory Will Move to Accommodate NFL Games

Broadcast’s top scripted series expected to shift to Monday nights

In a bid to accommodate the hulking bruiser that is the National Football League, Leonard, Sheldon, Penny and the rest of The Big Bang Theory crew next fall will be moving out of the Nerdvana of Thursday night for a slot earlier in the week.

Speaking to investors during CBS Corp.’s fourth quarter earnings call, CEO Les Moonves confirmed that broadcast’s No. 1 scripted show would temporarily step aside to make way for the network’s new eight-game NFL package.

“What we will do with our Thursday night is, we have some big shows, such as The Big Bang Theory … and we’re not going to wait until November to launch that,” Moonves said. “That’s going to be on the air on some other night, which will grow the ratings and the rates on some other night.”

(That answers one question.)

Moonves added that the sophomore drama Elementary is also likely to shift to another night, and while he did not offer a specific target destination, the smart money’s on Monday. Such a move would be a homecoming of sorts for Big Bang, which in its first three seasons occupied various time slots during the night before moving to the Thursday anchor position in fall 2010.

CBS could also use a boost from Elementary, which if nothing else might stanch the bleeding in the network’s Monday 10 p.m. slot. In a rare stumble, two new CBS dramas have faltered in that position; the serialized thriller Hostages averaged just 5.16 million live-plus-same-day viewers and a 1.2 rating among adults 18-49, while successor Intelligence is faring only slightly better against NBC’s The Blacklist.

While no decisions have been made on its Thursday freshman comedies The Millers and The Crazy Ones, CBS is all but certain to cancel the long-in-the-tooth Two and a Half Men. Now in its eleventh season, the Chuck Lorre sitcom has plummeted 44 percent in the demo and features one of TV’s priciest casts. (Leads Ashton Kutcher commands on the order of $700,000 per episode for his work on Men, while Jon Cryer rakes in $600,000 for any given show.)

After acknowledging that the competition for the new Thursday night NFL show case was “pretty fierce,” Moonves suggested that CBS was really the only proper fit for the league’s purposes. “At the end of the day, it really wasn’t about money,” he said. “The NFL was more interested in establishing their Thursday night and being in partnership with a brand, a company, a network that would do a better job of establishing that into the future.”

Moonves went on to note that much as it does already on Sunday afternoons, football will serve as a powerful promotional vehicle for CBS’ fall schedule. He then added that the network hopes to extend the deal beyond the single year for which CBS is contracted. (The NFL has the right to add a second season of Thursday Night Football at its discretion.)

“I am extremely pleased to have this. It means so much to us,” Moonves said. “Look at what our schedule looked like at the beginning of this year without the NFL. Then you add that Thursday night to tighten up an already existing schedule, and it’s a pretty sensational thing.”

Looking ahead to the spring upfront bazaar, Moonves was characteristically enthusiastic. “With entertainment, sports and news hitting on all cylinders and the NFL on Thursdays, we are once again very encouraged heading into this year's upfront,” he said. “I feel confident saying right now that we will lead the marketplace in pricing and volume, but no, I’m not going to make any exact predictions just yet, which of course, will be a major source of relief to our sales department.”

If all of this sounded a familiar refrain, it’s hard to argue with CBS’ position going forward. “Suffice it to say, it’s going to be a great upfront for CBS, Moonves said.

Among the other topics Moonves discussed were the state of the Q1 scatter market (CBS’ pricing is up in the low-single digits when compared to the rates it set in the 2013-14 upfront) and the company’s rapidly growing retransmission consent/reverse compensation business.

Moonves moved the goal posts on an earlier projection that had CBS amassing $1 billion in carriage fees by 2017. “Today, we are announcing a new goal. Our new target is $2 billion in 2020,” he said.

Shortly after Moonves wrapped the CBS earnings call, Comcast and Time Warner Cable announced a deal that would create an MSO covering more than 30 percent of the cable TV waterfront. Should the proposed deal clear a log jam of regulatory hurdles, CBS may have to revise any further predictions having to do with retrans revenue.  

Speaking earlier today to CNBC’s David Farber, Moonves said it was rather early to offer an assessment on the ramifications of the Comcast-TWC deal. “As you may have heard, we had a little dispute with Time Warner Cable this past summer,” Moonves said. “They didn’t want to pay what we felt was their fair share for our content. As a content provider, Comcast obviously thinks about it in an entirely different way.

“At the end of the day, if you have the right content, you’re always going to have the power.”

In the long term, any question of how a unified Comcast-TWC may try to muscle CBS over future retrans payments is immaterial. Comcast and CBS hammered out a 10-year carriage deal in 2010.