Sunday, January 28, 2007
CRIMINAL MINDS ARTICLE FROM "VARIETY"
VARIETY:Sun., Jan. 28, 2007
'Criminal' following Super Bowl
CBS' FBI show already a hit
By MICHAEL SCHNEIDERAfter the Bears maul the Colts (or vice versa) on Feb. 4, CBS hopes viewers will be up to see a little more blood spilt.
Eye execs unexpectedly chose rising drama "Criminal Minds" -- starring Mandy Patinkin and Thomas Gibson as FBI agents tracking twisted murderers -- to lead out of this year's Super Bowl XLI telecast.
The decision startled some, as "Minds" is already a hit, and midlevel ratings performers like the young-adult laffer "How I Met Your Mother" could have used the Nielsen boost.
Also making it an unlikely Super Bowl lead-out: "Minds" doesn't attract as broad a crowd as the last show that CBS ran behind the big game, "Survivor" three years ago.
Are half-drunk football fans stuffed with onion dip and cocktail weenies prepared to stick around to see Patinkin hunting down a serial killer?
"I was a little surprised," says one rival network scheduling exec of CBS' move.
But the minds at the Eye have big things in mind for "Minds." By placing the show behind the Super Bowl, CBS hopes to propel it from strong ratings player to megahitdom. It's also a pretty safe bet, and one that will reap the net significant coin.
"The momentum behind 'Criminal Minds' is inescapable," says Kelly Kahl, CBS senior exec VP for programming operations. "It's a show we could propel to new heights by doing this."
The broadcast webs have become more strategic than ever when it comes to the post-Super Bowl spot.
"As shares have declined in TV but the Super Bowl has held up, that's a spot that has become more precious," Kahl says. "A 45 rating the Super Bowl was doing wasn't as a big a deal when the networks were doing that rating all of the time. But it's gained in importance as a vehicle as time has gone on."
Before 1983, the nets didn't pay much attention to the post-Super Bowl slot, running episodes of "60 Minutes," movies and even golf tournaments. (Earlier kickoffs also meant the game sometimes ended before primetime even began.)
Then came "The A-Team." Mr. T and company bowed after Super Bowl XVII to solid ratings, turning that show into an instant phenom.
Pity the fools who tried to repeat that success. For most of the 1980s and early '90s, the nets tried to launch more new shows behind the game, but that strategy flopped ("Extreme," "Davis Rules," "Grand Slam") more often than it succeeded ("The Wonder Years").
In the late '90s and early 2000s, the webs switched gears and went for the big ratings with special episodes of "Friends," "The X-Files," "Third Rock From the Sun" and "Survivor."
But those shows were already big enough hits that the Super Bowl shot was more of a gimmick than a programming decision with lasting impact.
That all changed again last year. With "Grey's Anatomy" emerging as a sophomore sensation for ABC, the Alphabet web scheduled part one of a special two-part episode behind the pigskin classic.
The result was the stuff of McDreams. The showcase timeslot (which, conveniently, was the skein's normal Sunday night home) propelled "Grey's Anatomy" into the rarefied world of TV's supernovas. The push eventually allowed ABC to move the show to Thursday last fall.
"That's what changed it from being the show that followed 'Desperate Housewives' to being a hit in its own right," says Jeff Bader, ABC exec veep of programming and scheduling.
The gambit worked so well that Bader says ABC flirted with airing another post-Super Bowl episode of "Grey's Anatomy" this year, even though the game isn't even on the net.
Across town, CBS took notes. Like last year's "Grey's Anatomy" strategy, the post-Super Bowl episode of "Criminal Minds" is actually part one of a two-hour mini-event; part two airs three days later in the show's normal slot.
"We'd be crazy not to see what it did for 'Grey's' last year," Kahl says. "It took a hot show and made it even hotter."
The "Minds" move wasn't made without heated internal debate. CBS execs were divided into camps pushing for "Minds" vs. "How I Met Your Mother." (Other possibilities, including "Survivor" and even newcomer "Rules of Engagement," were briefly considered as well.)
In the end, CBS supremo Leslie Moonves lent his support to "Minds."
Eye also has a reason to give "Minds" an extra bit of oomph: The show is preparing to do battle in a ratings war zone opposite the Wednesday results-show edition of Fox's "American Idol."
"I think it's the smart thing to do," Bader says. "'Criminal Minds' is doing well, but their goal is to turn it into a top-10 hit."
Also, there's security in putting "Criminal Minds" there. Already a hit, "Minds" is sure to deliver a boffo number -- pleasing the net and advertisers in the process. A lesser-known commodity could send post-Super Bowl viewers flipping.
As for "Mother," the laffer will likely still get a residual bump, as it airs in its regular Monday spot the following night.
Meanwhile, Bader notes another change this year: Rather than counterprogram the Super Bowl with femme-centric fare (think Julia Roberts movies), ABC and Fox are going after stray young men.
ABC has slated the Will Ferrell feature "Old School" at 9 p.m., while Fox is showcasing "X2: X-Men United." Bader says the Ferrell movie is broad enough and could perhaps grab a portion of the suddenly available Super Bowl aud if the game runs short.
"We decided to go broad and funny," he says.
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