The cast of the new CBS comedy The Class (photo from cbs.com)
We're a youth obsessed culture. From beauty products to clothing to that coveted 18-49 year old age group that advertisers salivate over and networks fight to win, our society holds the concept of youthfulness up on a proverbial pedestal, and the networks are no exception. CBS finished the year as the most watched network, bringing in an average 12.6 million viewers a night and finishing almost 2 million viewers ahead of second place ABC's average of 10.8 million a night. The network is adding only three new shows this fall because its current crop is so successful, and it even managed to make major strides against ABC's mega-hit Lost with its freshman crime drama Criminal Minds. The midseason replacement, The Unit, was an instant success, leading many to believe that whatever CBS touches turns to gold. Of course there were the failures like the sci-fi drama Threshold and the heavily promoted Jenna Elfman comedy Courting Alex, but both might have made the cut at one of the other networks where being a hit doesn't require the same ratings. Despite all of the network's success this season and in recent seasons, it hasn't been able to make a splash in the 18-49 year old demographics. The coveted group is said to have the most buying power, and thus, advertisers try to reach them more than any other group. Fox finished the year on top with the group, and ABC landed in second. CBS came in third and was down from a 4.0 rating last season to a 3.8 this season. A recent article in Nashville's The City Paper talks about CBS' finale plans. In it, the quest for youth is listed as one of the main objectives of the network's more buzz worthy finale season. The article states, "All these plot turns and potential blockbuster events are designed to help CBS inch out Fox in the 18-49 demographic." I found the statement puzzling since I know that a buzzed about finale isn't going to get me to devote more of my dwindling primetime hours to another show that I didn't watch previously.
At 26, I'm on the lower end of this coveted 18-49 year old age group and I consider myself to be a fairly well-rounded television viewer. I watch 4 crime dramas, 5 character/serialized dramas, 3 reality shows and 3 comedies spread out over all 6 current networks. If you work it out, that amounts to 1 on Fox, 1 on The WB, 2 on ABC, 3 on UPN, 4 on NBC and 4 on CBS, so I guess I am unusual for my age group in that I watch most of my shows on CBS and NBC and not Fox or ABC, the two networks that scored the best ratings in my age group this season. I choose the shows I watch based on what interests me and what fits into my schedule. I stated above that I didn't think that CBS' finale push was the best marketing ploy to attract a younger audience, so that begs the question, what is? Well, at the end of this most recent season, the network ran a slick marketing campaign for its most watched show, CSI. For weeks leading up to the big finale, the promos told us that we could log onto cbs.com to view a picture that held the clues for the finale. That picture was talked about in blogs, TV web sites and many other television stomping grounds on the net. It tied CBS' programming into its online site, a place where "younger" viewers are more likely to visit. There are other marketing strategies that the network could employ to attract a younger audience. CBS is the only network of the "Big Four" that doesn't make their programming available on iTunes -- a young people breeding ground that now offers more than 90 shows for download in its extensive catalog. In fact, the network is far behind the curve in the downloading revolution. Besides iTunes, ABC makes episodes available for download for free (albeit with commercials) on its web site and Fox recently announced that it will put some of its library on the youth-friendly myspace.com. I know that making episodes available for download is a bit more problematic for CBS because many of its shows are produced by outside studios (for example, Cold Case and Without a Trace are both produced by Warner Bros.), so sorting out who gets which slice of the downloading revenue pie is a mess, but NBC was able to bring Scrubs to iTunes despite the fact that it comes from Disney's Touchstone Television production house.
Downloading episodes isn't the only trick that CBS could try. The network airs one of television's most music- intensive shows -- Cold Case. Each episode relies on about 5 songs to help tell its stories that, so far, spanned from 1929 to 2005. Why not cut a deal with iTunes and allow each outlet to promote the other? Of course, this is the same network that just this year began posting the songs and their artists in a list on its site, despite the fact that the show has been on the air for three seasons. The network's site could link viewers to iTunes where they could download the songs, and the music service could feature promos for the show and its episodes in its store. The network missed a rare cross-promotion opportunity recently with Cold Case. In the April 9th episode, the team dealt with a case from 1929, but instead of ending the hour with a song from the period per usual, the show composed its own 1929-esque song. It was an original piece called "300 Flowers" composed by Michael A. Levine with lyrics by the episode's writer Liz Garcia. After the episode aired, many viewers were wondering about the haunting song and where they could get a copy. It would have made for a nice tie-in for the network to have had the song available on iTunes the next day. There was also a missed iTunes tie-in opportunity with the May 11th episode of Without a Trace. The poignant episode ended with the song "Cry" by the very popular James Blunt. Other than downloading episodes and songs from the network's hit shows, CBS could also (as self-serving as it may sound) embrace blogging. Younger people are more likely to read blogs as any Veronica Mars staffer can tell you, so it would make sense for the network to reach out more to the blogging community with press releases, photos and exclusives. I know CBS doesn't need the extra audience, but from what we've seen in articles and ratings, it sure could use the extra 18-49 year olds. I guess the network is placing all of its eggs in the young cast of its new comedy The Class' basket for now.
*Actor Dennis Farina is leaving NBC's Law & Order after two seasons. The actor, who played Detective Joe Fontana on the long-running series, wants to pursue other projects being developed by his production company according to his spokeswoman. Law & Order executive producer Dick Wolfe said in a statement that he respects Farina's decision. Farina is the second cast member to leave the crime show this season. In the season finale, A.D.A. Alexandra Borgia, played by Annie Parisse, was killed while investigating a murder case.
*Scrubs reruns are heading to Comedy Central this fall. The cable outlet will air previous seasons of the NBC hospital comedy 5 nights a week beginning September 19th at 7 p.m. on Comedy Central. The run marks the first time the series has aired outside of NBC. Scrubs will return with all new episodes for its sixth season as a part of NBC's midseason schedule.
*And finally, look for the return of several banished-from-the-regular-schedule shows tonight. Commander In Chief returns (ABC 10 p.m.) along with Freddie (ABC 8:30 p.m.) and Blue Collar TV (The WB 8 p.m.). Also, look for the season/series premieres of Gameshow Marathon (CBS 8 p.m.), The Hills (MTV 10 p.m.), Celebrity Poker Showdown (Bravo 9 p.m.) and Inked (A&E 9 p.m.). You can see more listings at PassTheRemote.net.
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