Probably no network would’ve benefited by a football boost on Thursday more than NBC, which has been struggling mightily on the night. Instead, the NFL’s Thursday primetime games went to the network that regularly wins the night, CBS, with the biggest scripted show on television, comedy The Big Bang Theory. By snatching half of the NFL Thursday package, CBS ensures that its Thursday lineup won’t have to face football on another broadcast network. The limited scope of the commitment — eight weeks, half of the length of Sunday Night Football on NBC — and its timing early into the TV season (NFL Network got the late-season games) are expected to have lesser impact on CBS’ Thursday schedule than SNF has on NBC. That means that Big Bang Theory, which has been anchoring CBS’ Thursday lineup since fall 2010, most likely will stay put.
Two of the eight games will air before the beginning of the TV season, so CBS will launch its regular Thursday lineup at the beginning of November this fall. With networks more and more staggering their fall rollouts, that is not that late. (The CW has been employing an October fall rollout for the past couple of seasons.) CBS can use its fall-launch marketing dollars for the rest of the nights and then rely on football to hype its Thursday shows. I hear the promotional opportunity for the Thursday primetime football games was a big draw for CBS brass as they can get more eyeballs for the trailers of their new shows in the two weeks leading to the beginning of the season. Additionally, NFL football gives extra ratings muscle to a night where CBS already has been dominant and where advertisers traditionally love to spend premium dollars heading into the weekend.
It is early to predict what CBS’ fall 2014 Thursday lineup will look like, aside from most certainly having Big Bang Theory back as an anchor, but it is safe to predict that CBS likely will use a couple of originals of some Thursday returning series — including Big Bang (and Elementary if it stays on Thursday) — on other nights during the weeks CBS’ Thursday lineup is pre-empted for football. That would give the network’s schedulers flexibility to use strong pieces, like Big Bang originals, to possibly help launch new shows outside of Thursday. By airing selected few episodes of Thursday shows elsewhere, CBS also would minimize the impact of the eight-week hiatus on its returning Thursday series. There won’t be any effect on the new shows, which will simply launch later that normal. That has been a big issue for Fox, whose baseball coverage starts later in the fall and interrupts the run of new series just as they’re taking hold several weeks into the season.
Another benefit to adding football on Thursday would be that the late-fall rollout would cut down significantly the number of repeats on the night through the rest of the season, including in January, when HUT levels are high but networks are forced to put reruns on because there is simply not enough originals to go around.