If you have had the privilege of watching the first 12 episodes of CBS’ “Intelligence,” it’s a poignant and tense feeling you have as you face the airing of tonight's season finale, “Being Human,” at 10 p.m. EST. What’s it about? On the preview posted on their “Intelligence” Facebook page on March 31, 2014, Gabriel goes back to his past to survive the present, as his (evil) chipped twin Mei Chen tells him, “You’re on the wrong side. The people you work for are not who they seem.” There’s an attack on the White House to stop, and it will be revealed that there are sleeper agents in Cyber Comm. Who do you trust? Who do you suspect?
What a night to have a season cliffhanger pitted up against ESPN’s March Madness programming with the NCAA Division 1 Women’s Basketball Elite Eight finals, not to mention the “usual suspects” among the competition, NBC’s “Blacklist” and ABC’s “Castle.” It’s not the right night to end this season, but CBS is tossing all of its chips into the community pot for viewers to see the hands they are dealt. Jackpot or bust?
By this point in the season, when so many other shows are either officially renewed or cancelled, no news is good news for fans of “Intelligence.” The network delay in the announcement of the renewal of the series for a second season is, possibly, awaiting tonight’s overnight ratings, as well as the other industry standards, the Live+3 DVR and Live+7 DVR ratings, which would play into a possible weighting among the faithfulness of adults 18-49. Millions of people have tuned in to “Intelligence” all season, from the time it premiered immediately following CBS’ number one drama, “NCIS,” but programming executives tried it out in the same killshot space that was doom and gloom for their program “Hostages.”
Frankly, it’s hard to find anything positive to say about "Hostages." Matters of personal taste nothwithstanding, when the show revolves around shooting a country’s president, especially this country’s for any reason, no one would ever say, “I can’t wait to tune in.” Bad form there, but “Intelligence” was CBS’ attempt at a far better show with a far superior cast that was founded on “good beats evil” over and over again each week. Ironically, tonight's "Intelligence" carries with it a subtheme of preventing an attack on the White House. But it's good over evil; big difference, sort of.
As recently as January 15, television news scooper, Matt Webb Mitovich, wrote that CBS president Nina Tassler hinted at a second possible season for “Hostages,”which had “mustered disappointing ratings throughout its 15-episode run.” It’s hard to imagine what network programming executives envision as successes and failures in their minds, because frankly their jobs are ever as much on the line for success and failure on a weekly and monthly basis. If their shows win, they keep their jobs. If too many shows flop, they’re looking for new career opportunities.
It doesn’t matter if 4,000,000 people watch a truly brilliant and entertaining show as well acted and well written as “Intelligence” is one week, and it dips down to 3,000,000 the next week. It’s what “the other guys” are doing and how your show stacks up to win time slots as their net basis for pricing national advertisements for their profitability. You’re either a “Coca-Cola” and “McDonald’s I’m lovin’ it” price point for sale, or you’re an “877-Cash-now” and “Sun Setter Awnings” price point. Both make money, but one is more prestigious.
Bottom line is that there are likely so many algorithms in place to evaluate programming that you can ride along for a whole season before getting an answer on renewal or cancellation. The human factors begin to weigh in as the programming executives have the skill to look beyond the numbers and evaluate a show based on intrinsic value over the long haul, i.e., longevity of the show towards syndication dollars.
Network executives also look at the stars they’ve cast in a program and figure out how to treat them, with respect or with the “rush it and flush it, we don’t care” attitude. There’s also the very real prospect that they’ve already made up their minds and are simply waiting to tell the people who want to know—the faithful viewers of the show—until they’re ready. It’s their prerogative and decision to make. Sometimes they throw numbers out the window and go with their gut feelings.
For the longest time, CBS has been a ratings leader in so many genres of entertainment. Every network has its anchor shows, and undoubtedly, the “NCIS” Tuesday night combo is what pays for other experimental programming, as in the Monday night grouping that faces football in the fall and boredom in the spring. Their Monday night decisions had come down to the “let’s throw this against the wall and see what sticks.”
In the old days, you had the gurus of network programming, Fred Silverman, Brandon Tartikoff, among others. If they liked a show pitch, the network bought it. They shopped it around time slots, if they believed in it, until they found the perfect fit. Once it became a hit, ala “The Carol Burnett Show” or “Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” or “Cannon,” or “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” etc., they might move it to a night where they were starting at ground zero to be the new programming anchor. But that was the 1970s and today they measure by followers on Twitter, Instagram and even Facebook is becoming a bit too “been there” for them.
Today Nina Tassler and Les Moonves hold the keys at the network where “The Eye’s Got It.” Someone took a big chance when they said “yes” to “Intelligence” because it was a show based on an excellent book that had not even seen print yet, “Phoenix Island” by John Dixon, but the show premise retained only two elements of the book: a young man with a chip in his brain and a fierceness to protect who and what was important to him. They believed in Michael Seitzman and Tripp Vinson, and bought the show.
In case the network is looking for input, well, CBS, what is important to viewers is this group of actors, who have taken a great premise and made it greater. Sometimes you don’t even know who to thank (or blame) for your favorite (or least favorite) shows. What’s relatively unknown to 50% of viewers is the tremendous effort and expense it takes to create entertainment programming that doesn’t insult viewer intelligence. Producers behind the scenes, named and unnamed, have put everything they have into this show. Good decision on a quality product. Took me four weeks to engage, but the scripts got better with each week.
For “Intelligence,” each role is cast with a sincere eye on making the characters on paper jump to life, to the extent that fans/viewers will start referring to or Marg Helgenberger as “Lillian,” P.J. Byrne as “Nelson,” Meghan Ory as “Riley” and Michael Rady as “Jameson.” Josh Holloway has dual identities, both as “Gabriel” and as James “Sawyer” Ford, and true enough that Helgenberger still has the strength of her "CSI" role as Catherine Willows in viewers’ minds. Byrne has had an equally memorable identity as “Rugrat” in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and John Billingsley’s acting skills are strong as he has been on “NCIS” and more episodic television to not get typecast. These actors will work, with or without the show, but it should not have to come to that.
What’s special about this ensemble of actors, together, is that they successfully create a vision on camera of a real working team, albeit in a world where truth is in the eye of the transmitter and can last for a nanosecond at a time. The humor, pathos, and real emotions the actors are capable of sharing, and have shared, in the kinds of scripts that allow their talents to shine is where the viewers learn and understand the backstories of their characters, to engage with the show and invest in it for more than three episodes.
The season finale to be shown tonight is entitled “Being Human.” Let’s hope that those in charge of programming at CBS make the right decision (in our view) and renew “Intelligence” for a second season. Remember how you hung in there with “NCIS” when it was new and competing with “American Idol.” “NCIS” is your number one most watched drama in the country. Have faith in “Intelligence” as your intelligent viewers have faith in you, CBS, to do the right thing. Besides, you owe us—bigtime—for leading in with “Mike and Molly” and “Two Broke Girls,” and for giving Thursday nights “Two and a Half Men” for another season. Seriously, you owe us some real “Intelligence.”
Get ready for a different night for the show if it is renewed, because (call it a hunch) they’ll probably put the new “NCIS: New Orleans” in the Monday night 10 p.m. EST slot to try and compete with “Castle” and “The Blacklist” and take both of them under. The “NCIS” franchise spinoff, with Mark Harmon and Gary Glasberg behind it, is going to get one of the very few open slots, no matter how many official statements lead you to think “it’s not a done deal; it’s still just a possibility.”
If viewers want to bring “Intelligence” back next season, tonight is the night to tune in. Encourage everyone to set their DVRs, chime in on their Facebook page, tweet about the season finale tonight @intelligenceCBS, thank the writers for the scripts @intelligenceHQ and fill out a CBS feedback form here.