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‘The Good Fight’: CBS Is Blowing It by Not Airing Its Best Streaming Series on Broadcast TV

Given a pandemic that has left millions jobless, at home and hungry for content, it just makes sense... and cents.

"The Good Fight"

“The Good Fight”

CBS

The first season of “The Good Fight,” CBS All Access’ sequel to CBS’s “The Good Wife,” aired on the broadcast network last summer. The move raised the possibility that other seasons of the streaming legal drama could also get reruns on “big” CBS, as the Eye looked to ramp up consumer awareness of its subscription service, as well as the critically-acclaimed drama that’s been a key driver for it.

Puzzlingly, that hasn’t happened. But, given a pandemic that has kept audiences at home and hungry for content, the present couldn’t be more opportune for CBS brass to consider airing every prior season on the broadcast network, capitalizing on its investment in its strongest streaming series.

According to Nielsen, from March 23-April 19, 2020, streaming video viewing on TVs in the U.S. more than doubled in the same four-week period in 2019. Netflix, of course, captured the largest share of that viewing time with its 70 million subscribers in the U.S., followed by YouTube, Hulu and Amazon. With just about 4 million subscribers, CBS All Access was a straggler.

With the current stay-at-home lifestyle, more Americans are expected to keep watching more TV and streaming services even after the crisis is over, leading to a major inflection point that could change consumer behavior for years.

“The Good Fight,” which bowed in 2017 and is currently in its fourth season, was the first original drama to launch on CBS All Access. The series has been widely praised by critics, but, from the very beginning, some observers questioned whether CBS was making the most of what is arguably its best series by keeping it as an exclusively All Access show. The streaming service is a standalone product, with more youthful, diverse, edgier fare than the broadcast network.

But in the present, with millions of Americans now jobless, a secondary service like CBS All Access simply can’t expect that consumers will be willing to fork over additional money for yet another platform, in what is already a highly competitive environment for content that will become more so with the launch of HBO Max this month.

CBS is the only broadcast network with its own dedicated streaming subscription service, and while programming like “The Good Fight” is genuinely must-see television, All Access is ultimately a service that no one really asked for.

Looking ahead, this very moment could actually be an opportunity for CBS to reinforce its streaming service by airing every previous season of “The Good Fight” on the broadcast network, which could have the eventual effect of driving new subscribers to All Access down the road.

Yes, it would mean the largely uncensored series will have to be edited to meet broadcast standards, but bleeping a sporadic expletive, or editing out fleeting nudity wouldn’t ruin the experience. In fact, CBS did just that when it aired the series on the broadcast network last summer, which averaged 3.57 million viewers per episode — a decent-sized audience in an environment where the overall traditional TV audience is shrinking rapidly. So clearly there was interest.

Its predecessor, “The Good Wife,” was consistently one of the most popular, highest-rated series on not just CBS, but on all of television throughout the 2010s, averaging 13 million live viewers per episode. It was nominated for 43 Primetime Emmy Awards (winning five), 14 Golden Globe Awards (winning one), nine SAG Awards (winning two), and 22 Critics’ Choice Television Awards (winning two), among others, over its seven season run. Rolling Stone called it network television’s “last great drama.”

So it stands to reason that its spinoff — arguably an even stronger series — were to air on the broadcast network, it would likely be successful — certainly more so than it currently is as an All Access exclusive, where it’s been all-but ignored by the major television awards despite widespread critical acclaim for its writing and acting.

And as traditional TV networks navigate a serious advertising disruption, with ratings in decline, especially among young viewers, it all adds up to a precarious time for broadcast TV. In CBS’ case, some of its decline could be mitigated by airing its most popular All Access series, or even through new business with more popular streaming platforms like Hulu, which already streams current TV shows from many popular network broadcasters typically 24 hours after they air.

It will provide CBS broadcast audiences the opportunity to catch up with a few of the characters they first fell in love in “The Good Wife,” and become acquainted with new ones, as well as introduce new viewers to this outstanding drama. With a cast that is filled with a mighty group of astute, confident, and complex women, portrayed by Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald and Cush Jumbo, it’s a series that would likely strongly appeal to women audiences.

And while the ongoing season doesn’t tackle the pandemic, “The Good Fight” is still consistently one the most relevant shows on television, with characters that live in as much of the real time as possible. Audiences would be compelled to follow the journeys of these characters, because they are living their journeys in the moment, specifically in an extraordinary time in history — for women, for so-called minorities and other underrepresented groups, as well as politically, socially and technologically, all of which makes for great, enthralling televised drama.

Creators Robert and Michelle King continue to deploy the same sharp, thoroughly-researched writing and wide-ranging topicality that they brought to “The Good Wife.” There’s also a similar perceptive eye for nuanced human drama, steeped in the real-life political and racial dynamics that are constantly in blazing discord in Trump’s America.

It’s smart, addictive television that CBS should currently be exploiting.

Season 4 will conclude with Episode 7 on Thursday, May 28, as production was halted in early March due to the pandemic. The series was recently renewed for a fifth season.

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