'The Good Wife,' 'CSI' get new nights: The thinking behind CBS' moves

julianna-margulies-the-good-wife.jpgIn talking up "The Good Wife's" move to Sunday nights next season, CBS executives used some form of the word "prestige" four times within the space of a couple minutes.

"We're saying our most prestigious show is on our most prestigious night," is how CBS Primetime senior exec VP Kelly Kahl described the move, noting that "The Good Wife" will be preceded by the venerable "60 Minutes" and multiple Emmy winner "The Amazing Race." "'The Good Wife' has a big core following -- and I don't mean 6 million people who watch and are very dedicated; there are about 12 million people watching. We know they'll follow the show to Sunday night. ...

"This is a quality night. It's where people put their quality shows, and at the top of our quality list is 'The Good Wife.'"

The show's move is one of three noteworthy schedule changes CBS made with veteran series for 2011-12 ( the full schedule is here). In each case -- the others are "CSI" moving to 10 p.m. Wednesdays and "Rules of Engagement" to 8 p.m. Saturdays -- the older show is making room for a newcomer, and in each case CBS is hoping for ratings benefits.

Kahl did acknowledge that "The Good Wife" was not drawing quite the audience the network hoped for on Tuesdays. It's averaging 12.8 million viewers and a 2.6 rating in adults 18-49 for the season -- hardly weak numbers, but a little under what the network wants to see coming out of "NCIS: Los Angeles," which averages 16.7 million viewers and a 3.7 in the demo.

A new drama called "Unforgettable," starring Poppy Montgomery as a former cop who can remember pretty much every single detail of her life, will take over the 10 p.m. Tuesday spot in the fall. "The Good Wife," meanwhile, is moving to a more competitive time period where it will face off against "Sunday Night Football" on NBC, "Desperate Housewives" on ABC and "Family Guy" on FOX. CBS is banking on that "core following" to show up on Sundays and perhaps a little spillover from "The Amazing Race" audience to keep "The Good Wife" solid, but it won't be easy to match the time-period ratings for "Undercover Boss" (12.2 million viewers, 3.4 in 18-49). "Boss," incidentally, is being held for midseason.

The move of "CSI" to Wednesdays was done in hopes of "giv[ing] ourselves some stability at 10 o'clock," Kahl says. "We hoped to get some last year, and we didn't get what we wanted." The network tried three shows -- "The Defenders," "Blue Bloods" and "Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior" -- in the hour this season, and none of them did all that well at retaining the audience from "Criminal Minds."

CBS is also really high on its new drama "Person of Interest," which is inheriting the old "CSI" slot at 9 p.m. Thursday. Kahl and CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler say the show's high scores with test audiences and the consensus good feelings about it within the network make them think the Thursday gamble is worth it.

The most surprising move CBS made may have been to put "Rules of Engagement" on Saturday, which hasn't seen an original scripted series in primetime since 2004. The two spots where the show aired this season will be taken by newcomers "2 Broke Girls" and "How to Be a Gentleman," and repeats of those two will be paired with "Rules" on Saturdays to help give them a little bit more exposure.

Ratings for "Rules" will almost certainly fall by a good amount, but there's not a whole lot of risk involved here. If it gives CBS' Saturday a significant bump, great, and if not, this season will get the show closer to a syndication package on which CBS (which co-produces the series with Sony) will make money. 
Photo/Video credit: CBS