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Will CBS Score With Serialized Hostages?

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CBS isn’t exactly known for its edgy programming. The network is mainly comprised of crime procedurals which keep the network number one in ratings and sell well in syndication. 

As a result, viewers know what they’re going to get when they tune in to a CBS drama. Typically, some horrible crime will be committed, an investigative force will do everything to solve it, the bad guys fall and the good guys win — all in 44 minutes.

Spoofs galore exist about the CSI and/or NCIS franchises, and their repetitive (and sometimes cheesy) content, but the fact remains millions of people keep tuning in. CBS is laughing all the way to the bank. 

However,  CBS may no longer be content existing as just popular TV.  Perhaps they are looking for the critical prestige heaped on other networks and cable stations?

In 2009 CBS dipped its toe back into the character driven drama pond with The Good Wife.  Even though the series takes place largely in courtrooms, it isn't the network’s typical procedural. 

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While there might be a Case of the Week at times, it’s the show’s serial elements that fuel the drama.  Will Alicia (Julianna Margulies) stand by her cheating husband or romance law school lover Will (Josh Charles)?  Is the firm going to survive?  Can Peter (Chris Noth) win the election? 

Although it never became a ratings juggernaut, it’s been lauded for years as CBS’s best show creatively.  It’s often described as a series that belongs on AMC or HBO.  Do you think bottom line-obsessed CBS takes that as a compliment or a dig? 

This past summer, CBS brought Stephen King's novel Under the Dome to television, complete with a lucrative, game-changing pact with Amazon to stream the drama for binge viewers. The heavily-serialized supernatural sudser proved to be a smash hit for the network, garnering 11.8 million viewer.  CBS renewed Under The Dome for a second summer season. 

With this season’s Hostages, it seems CBS is trying to produce a buzzy drama that will click with audiences and reviewers alike during the regular TV season. 

A serialized thriller, Hostages tells the story of a rogue FBI Agent (Dylan McDermott) who takes the family of a prominent surgeon (Toni Collette) hostage.  Her family lives, if she lets the President of the United States die on the operating table. 


Season 1 will only consist of 15 episodes, and follow a 24-type format.  Each episode will occur in real time. It’s a pretty ambitious concept and already questions of sustainability arise. 

However, executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer insists that won’t be a problem, Deadlinereported.  Not only do writers have the first season mapped out, they have an idea for Seasons 2 and 3. 

In his review for Variety, Brian Lowry wrote, “If the ratings are good, one suspects CBS will find a way to perpetuate the franchise, even if that means locking everyone up under a large glass dome.” 

CBS has demonstrated their willingness to continually renew shows that get big ratings, regardless of any detriment to their creative reputation.  Although, TV is a business, not a medium solely there to impress bloggers.    

However, even if you can think up storylines for years to come, should you?  There have been plenty of series’ that would have benefited from “less is more.” 

Fox’s Prison Break was a hit upon its debut in 2005. The story focused on an engineer who got himself thrown in jail so he could break out his brother, who was on death row. By the end of the first season, this had been accomplished, but there were still three additional seasons. The latter portions of the show became more ludicrous and uncompelling, and Prison Break never recovered its critical success. 

There’s always the American Horror Story model.  Create limited-run series each season, with similar casts and content.  The same audience tunes it. The horror anthology garners generally favorable reviews and posts some of the best ratings FX has received. 

The premise for Hostages sounds very intriguing.  If it was a typical film or miniseries, there wouldn’t be a question about its potential for success.  Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter was impressed with the merit of the pilot concluding, “It’s a pretty great first hour and if they can keep up the suspense before changing direction, it might be a feat worth watching every week.”

Could Hostages be the show that rebrands CBS?  If the serialized storytelling and edgy premise earns the number one network a ratings and critical success, it just might. 

Photo credit: CBS