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‘Big Bang’ Sale: Perfect Timing

IT TURNS OUT the timing was perfect for Warner Bros.’ sale of CBS’ hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory. The show was sold this month to the Fox TV stations and TBS while on a ratings high, airing in its protected time slot, Monday at 9:30, behind TV’s most-watched comedy, Two and a Half Men.

Now, CBS is ready to test Big Bang’s pull. The network announced last week that the show will move to the much tougher Thursday lead-out spot at 8 p.m., followed by promising new comedy $#*! My Dad Says, starring William Shatner, at 8:30 p.m., and then The Mentalist and CSI at 9 and 10 p.m., respectively.

While the move shows how much confidence CBS has in the sitcom, it’s also risky. Fewer people watch TV at 8 p.m., and it’s harder to gather viewers when a show has to bring its own audience.

\Either way, it makes the sale look like a bigger win. “I think it’s a very good thing Warner Bros. sold Big Bang this spring,” says Chuck Larsen, president of October Moon Television. “I don’t think the show will do as well in its new slot as it did on Monday night. If a show’s hot and it’s doing well, you want to sell it before there’s any chance that it could start cooling down.”

Not everyone thinks Big Bang will struggle, however. “Moving Big Bang to Thursday came out of the blue, but all of CBS’ research must say they not only have a hit show but also one that is not lead-in dependent,” says Bill Carroll, VP of programming at Katz Television Group Programming. “And Thursday at 8 p.m. isn’t as competitive this fall as it has been in the past.”

To Carroll’s point, ABC has slated a new docu-style hour, My Generation, at 8 p.m.; Fox has Bones; and NBC will stick with the critically approved but low-rated Community and 30 Rock come fall.

History is a guide
For its part, CBS has a solid recent history of moving shows to best advantage. CSI started on Friday night in 2000 before moving to Thursday at 9 p.m. in 2001. That bold move allowed CBS to take Thursday night away from longtime must-see champ NBC.

Everybody Loves Raymond
also began on Friday in fall 1996, before giving CBS a beachhead on Monday night when it was moved in February 1997. CBS’ Monday-night comedy block remains strong, with Two and a Half Men firmly ensconced at 9 p.m. and set to continue for two more years now that star Charlie Sheen has agreed to a new deal worth nearly $2 million an episode.

The ability to show clients strong ratings was vital for Warner Bros. as it took the show out for sale—Big Bang is averaging a 5.3 rating/12 share among adults 18-49 this season, making it the top-rated scripted show on CBS in the demo.

Now that the deals are done, however, it won’t matter as much if the numbers dip as the show establishes itself on Thursday. And when Big Bang premieres in broadcast and cable syndication in 2011, its network ratings could actually improve. That’s what happened with both Everybody Loves Raymond and Two and a Half Men.

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