The Washington Post

CBS brings out the big guys in ratings battle with NBC

It has been “leaked” that CBS is developing another “NCIS” spinoff lickety split so as to get it “planted” in two episodes of “NCIS: The Mothership” this season. (Monty Brinton/CBS)

The same day NBC boasted that, for the first time in 10 years, it has won five of the season’s first six weeks among the 18-to-49-year-old viewers advertisers lust after, and has moved from No. 4 to No. 1 this year in the age bracket, it got “leaked” that CBS is developing another “NCIS” spinoff lickety split so as to get it “planted” in two episodes of “NCIS: The Mothership” this season.


Think again.

CBS was expected to be the story of this season, once again leading the season among viewers and recapturing the lead among 18-to-49-year-olds — who are the currency of the business — what with last season’s front-runner Fox tumbling by double digits this fall, and CBS having this year’s Super Bowl, blah, blah, blah.

Instead, NBC’s been the Horatio Alger story of the fourth quarter, having finally figured out that the best programming to follow Sunday football, on Monday nights, is “The Voice” — a hit competition franchise of another sort.

Not only has “The Voice” greatly improved NBC’s ratings fortunes on Monday and Tuesday nights, but it has spawned the highest-rated drama series of this season among 18-to-49-ers: “Revolution,” which is averaging 6.8 million viewers in the age bracket.

“NCIS,” meanwhile, is CBS’s highest-rated drama series among 18-to-49-year-olds, averaging more than 5.7 million viewers in the age bracket — only about 1 million shy of “Revolution.”

Yes, aged “NCIS,” now in its 10th season, clocks more 18-to-49-ers than ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” (5.5 million), Fox’s “Glee” (5.4 million), ABC’s “Revenge” (4.5 million) and NBC’s “Grimm” (3.5 million), to name a few dramas.

In fact, only two drama series in all of broadcast TV do better than “NCIS” this season in the age bracket — the aforementioned “Revolution” and ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” (6.2 million).

CBS plans to establish the groundwork for the spinoff during two episodes of “NCIS: Los Angeles” this season, a technique that’s called a “planted spinoff.”

If viewers like what they see, it will be a contender for next season.

A third “NCIS” series — this one will follow a small mobile team of agents who are forced to live and work together as they crisscross the country, according to a network source — would enable CBS to shore up another night. Perhaps Mondays at 10? Fridays at 8?

It’s likely the network would want to keep “NCIS: the Mothership” paired with one of its offspring, having discovered in the fall of ’09 that the best series to follow “NCIS” is another “NCIS.”

That’s the fall CBS launched “NCIS: Los Angeles” on Tuesdays at 9 and, to everyone’s surprise, “NCIS,” opening its seventh season on Tuesdays at 8, copped the biggest audience in its history at that time — 21 million viewers.

It is very unusual for a drama series to clock its biggest audience ever in its seventh season — unless it’s the series finale, maybe, and the show’s going out with a bang.

This season to date, “NCIS” is averaging 22 million viewers and is the country’s most watched television program, beating even NBC’s Sunday football. Success like this should probably not be messed with.

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