The Business of Show: A Closer Look at How CBS Promoted Their Network to a Super Bowl-Sized Audience

By: BigTVFan

It’s always interesting to me how networks use those few major live events each year to highlight their shows. I’m talking about The Oscars, The Olympics, and the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is the highest rated program on Television by a landslide. In this era of diminishing ratings, live sporting events are the only thing to still attract big crowds as they are completely DVR proof. The Super Bowl is the Big Kahuna of, well everything, and while everything else on TV has trended down, The Super Bowl has continued to grow with almost 90 million more viewers than the highest rated current TV shows. With an event like this, it’s a huge opportunity to run heightened or special or even cleverer than normal promos for your shows as it’s a chance to showcase them to people who have never seen (or even heard of) them. It’s a reach like no other.

So I have to say I was kind of surprised at many of CBS’s Super Bowl promos. Now make no mistake – it’s not gonna hurt CBS at all. They are the biggest, strongest network as they reminded viewers a number of times yesterday. I’m sure they they’ll even have some kind of super bowl halo and get even bigger numbers this week, because that’s just how they do.

Still, I can’t help but feel it’s somewhat of a missed opportunity. They seemed to favor volume over quality. They ran promos for all but 3 of their current shows, including promos for new seasons of SURVIVOR, THE AMAZING RACE, new drama GOLDEN BOY, new reality show THE JOB and a tease for summer’s big gamble, UNDER THE DOME. They ran promos for their news division as well. So while they attacked pretty much everything, the promos themselves were short much of the time. It felt like they were maybe :10 or :15 for many of them. The ones that did get more time seemed to not take advantage properly of showcasing their show to unfamiliar viewers. For example, they had a big promo for the Monday night anchor 2 BROKE GIRLS. It’s an important show and it has come down a little from its first season. It’s still a big hit, but it can afford to grow. The promo was directed by famed video director Dave LaChapelle, and it felt like a glorified Def Leppard music video. It used the band’s 1988 anthem “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and featured its two stars gyrating with the rest of the cast looking on. I get it – it’s the super bowl, let’s entice the guys. It felt a bit sophomoric, like how the show’s dialogue tends to especially for a show with so much potential. But it didn’t really tell you anything about the show or why it’s funny. I don’t think it’s the kind of promo that makes someone who has never seen it, say, “Yeah I need to watch that”.

I’ll contrast it with the MODERN FAMILY Oscar promo from 3 years ago (they made a sequel 2 years ago). The writers wrote an Oscar themed original bit that could have been lifted from an episode. It featured all the characters exhibiting their most memorable traits, and most importantly it was funny. For fans of the show it was a gift and many thought it was the highlight of the Oscar show itself. For someone who has never seen the show, it sold the show perfectly and was a mini capsule of a weekly episode. With 40 million people watching that’s the way to attract some new viewers.

Another example is last year’s REVENGE promo that was created for last years Oscars. They spent lots of money on it, with great graphics and it was a treat for existing fans of the show, especially the line spoken by Emily VanCamp at the end. But for anyone who had never seen the show, it laid out the conceit of the show perfectly.

As far as all the CBS promos boasting of their #1 status, well they have earned it. But at a certain point it starts to sound like “We’re CBS and we have the largest penis known to man”. I also wonder how that plays to an average viewer who has come to CBS solely because of the Super Bowl but is mostly unfamiliar with many of its shows, Does it make them say, “Well they’re #1 everywhere, I better start watching”. I’m not sure. But I will greatly credit CBS on the image spot with all their stars that mentions all their #1 accomplishments but has the CBS stars giving thanks to the audience and saying “we did this together”. It’s wonderful to be on top. It’s even better when you remain humble and thank the people who got you there. Plus telling your viewers that you are both partners together goes along way to making them feel like they are part of the winning team and will instil their pride and continued viewership. It’s warm and sweet, and personal to the CBS viewer from the stars they love all while still acknowledging their #1 status. I give the CBS promo dept major props for that one and if I were CBS, I’d add that promo to some kind of regular rotation.

BigTVfan has been analyzing the business of show since September 2010. Visit his blog at or follow him on Twitter @bigtvfan.

For all the latest TV news and reviews

  • Devin McMusters

    Thank goodness I took the dog for a walk at halftime and missed that Girls promo, and the Bouncy concert. I didn’t see a promo for the Good Wife…..maybe they’re ashamed of how the quality has dropped.