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CBS readies back half of split-drama experiment with tonight’s ‘Intelligence’

Since “Lost” went off the air, fans have been clamoring for the show’s breakout star Josh Holloway to front his own series. Tonight fans get their wish as Holloway’s “Intelligence” will debut on CBS in a special post “NCIS” timeslot. While any new show launch is important for a network, this one carries a little extra weight as many critics and fan are very much aware of!

"Intelligence" premieres tonight on CBS

Last fall CBS finally did what it had wanted to do for years and launched a full two-hour comedy block on Thursday nights. As a result the emphasis of their new fall roster was on comedy, which meant for the first time in years they would only debut one new fall drama. That drama was “Hostages” and the result was not what executives had hoped for.

However the network had an insurance policy in “Intelligence,” which was more in line with CBS’ typical programming. The series stars Holloway as Gabriel Vaughn, a U.S. intelligence operative who has been enhanced with an implanted microchip that can sync up with global communications data. Yes, as many critics pointed out in today’s round of opening reviews, in short it sounds a lot like certain other shows we’ve seen before.

“‘Intelligence’ is, in other words, ‘Chuck’ without the nerd factor — or, if you want to go really old school, ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ with fewer slo-mo shots.” - HitFix

“So far, we have strands of USA’s “Covert Affairs,” Fox’s “Almost Human” and CBS’ “Elementary” — just so you can keep track. If you remember how Poppy Montgomery’s character is able to re-create scenes in her mind on CBS’ “Unforgettable,” you can toss that show into the pile as well.” – Kansas City Star

Aiding Holloway’s souped-up super spy is Riley Neal (“Once Upon a Time’s” Meghan Ory), a top of her class agent assigned to be Vaughn’s bodyguard, but unlike Zachery Levi’s nerdish “Chuck” character, Vaughn has no problem taking care of himself. Rounding out the cast is Director Lillian Strand (“CSI’s” Marg Helgenberger) as the head of the division that employs Vaughn and Dr. Shenandoah Cassidy (“Enterprise’s” John Billingsley) as the scientist who created and implanted the microchip.

The foursome are well cast and audiences will find appealing aspects in all of them, but the similarities to “Chuck” and similar shows are not going to go away over the short term. Granted the odds are still very much in the network’s favor that “Intelligence” will click. After all, again the series will debut tonight following TV juggernaut and network pet death star “NCIS” before moving to Monday’s at 10 p.m. EST, a timeslot which until this year the network had a strong foothold on.

The problem though is going to be attempting to reestablish its presence following the debacle that was “Hostages.” Too its credit, CBS decided to try something new this year and launch two shows that would air in the same timeslot, creating a split-season schedule of sorts. “Hostages” went first and then would bow out early to set up for “Intelligence.” It just bowed out a little earlier than people expected.

Now on paper “Hostages” should have worked. It had all the elements for a successful run; a talented cast, a strong producer pedigree and a prime piece of TV real-estate. Unfortunately all of that means nothing when you have a plot that turns off middle-America and acting that drew some of these quotable gems yesterday in relation to last night’s finale.

“‘Hostages’ concludes its boring story with two more hours of it” – AV Club

“Neither the characters nor the performances gave viewers a compelling weekly reason to watch.” – USA Today

Trust us, there was more where those came from…and the above were actually some of the nicer ones. Now half the problem with “Hostages” was that it couldn’t decide what it was! Was it a limited event series? Was it a mini-series with the option for a second season? Was it a "American Horror Story" like concept that could start from scratch every season? In reality, it was a hybrid of most of the above that was ultimately very much relying on viewers to watch.

The problem is unlike network sibling “Under The Dome,” which was brilliantly marketed and promoted, “Hostages” bought into its own hype before there actually was any hype.“Dome” also never at any point hedged on whether or not it was a multi-year show. “Hostages,” was billed as a limited-event series but in the same breath producers were quick to point out it could return if the numbers were good. That declaration scared away audiences who were already uncomfortable with the concept of watching a (seemingly) ordinary family held hostage for four months.

Audiences were also scared of being a victim of Hollywood’s “trigger happy” mentality towards new series. Viewers hate nothing more than being sucked into a show (especially a hyper-serialized one) that gets cancelled before coming to any sort of a resolution. While the series was never in any danger of not completing its order, had “Hostages” come out and said this was a true limited-event run and all the loose ends would be tied up, it probably would have fared better.

So now CBS is in a position it’s not used to…going back to the drawing board. This is a network that normally commands whatever timeslot it sets its sights on. Remember, they made programming Friday nights “a thing” before it became popular to do so. Now they have to go back to the drawing board to reclaim a Monday’s at 10 p.m. timeslot that has now swelled to include NBC’s breakout smash hit “The Blacklist.”

Every network has their ebb and flows over the years so something like this was bound to happen eventually. Yet the Tiffany network should return in full force next year with a class of drama pilots that include another “NCIS” spin-off and “Breaking Bad’s” Vince Gilligan’s new project “Battle Creek.” However for now, ABC and NBC are going to take full advantage of a rare CBS misstep and hope it’s enough to help lure viewers back to their networks.

“Intelligence” premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EST and then shifts to Monday’s at 10 p.m. EST starting next week.

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