CBS Takes Measured Gamble By Changing 'Rules'

CBS hasn't been shy about rolling the prime-time dice in recent years. The gambles, for the most part, have been more with scheduling changes and less with programming innovation -- procedural dramas remain a staple -- but have been bold nonetheless.

There was the shift of "Survivor" to Thursdays, and then last year, the reshuffling that brought a comedy block to the critical night. To be sure, none of CBS's dice rolls have been on the level of dropping Jay Leno into prime time, but the network has put considerable chips on the felt with some repetition.

This fall, it's at it again with an effort, albeit a modest one, to revivify original scripted programming on Saturdays. The network is offering new episodes of relationship comedy "Rules of Engagement" at 8 p.m.

Not to make too much out of it -- it's only one show -- but with production costs rising and audiences decreasing, networks have treated Saturdays as little more than an afterthought.

A few years ago, ABC made the inspired choice of launching a college football game, but with that basically ceded the night to sibling ESPN. NBC this fall again has all repeats coming. Fox is sticking with "Cops" and then going with some repeats in the hour after.

For multiple years now, CBS has offered two hours of drama repeats, followed by "48 Hours Mystery."

After "Rules of Engagement," CBS will now have a comedy repeat to fill the back-half of the 8 p.m. hour, while continuing with a drama encore and "48 Hours."

So at least for now, it's not ripping up the playbook and looking to return Saturdays to the 1980s, when new original programming was expected and by some standards exceptional.

When CBS announced the Saturday gambit, its scheduling chief Kelly Kahl reportedly said expectations for "Rules" were modest, though it could be a test case with potential to further alter Saturdays down the road.

In the interim, it allows CBS a chance to use a new "Rules" episode to build an audience for the repeat comedy at 8:30 and maybe more exposure for it. The network has two new comedies and a recast "Two and a Half Men" to display.

More importantly, though, changing the Saturday "Rules" a bit also plays into the CBS strategy of treating its broadcast network less as a singular entity and more of an engine for the company at large. CBS has a stake in "Rules" as a co-producer, giving it revenue opportunities elsewhere.

Just over 70 episodes have been shot in the show's five seasons, so taking that amount up to around 90 next season opens up lucrative opportunities for domestic syndication sales and distribution overseas -- and sales to Netflix and other online distributors, and who knows where else.

Those avenues are key because as much as CBS is taking a leap with an original comedy on Saturday, from a revenue standpoint, there are plenty of safety nets.

Those might not have been there as recently as last year.

Tags: television, tv
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