How FBI Became The #1 Franchise On CBS Over NCIS


For the second season in a row, the three-show FBI franchise out-rated the three-show NCIS franchise in the key Adults 18-49 Live + Same Day demographic. The 2022-23 season also marked the lowest-rated season relative to the average show’s rating for the NCISes since becoming a franchise. In the 2023-24 season, there will be more FBI franchise shows airing on CBS than NCIS franchise shows. How did this all happen? Let’s take a look. 

1. Time Slots

CBS never had a regularly scheduled all-NCIS night, despite many chances to do so. Upon premiering NCIS: New Orleans in 2014, CBS opted to kick NCIS: Los Angeles out of Tuesday nights. This resulted in the latter being bounced around the schedule, eventually making its way through every Sunday time slot before being canceled earlier this year. NCIS: New Orleans started out on a similar trajectory as NCIS: Los Angeles, being paired up with NCIS from the start. However, it slid to 10 pm after two seasons, and its run after being booted off Tuesdays completely was short-lived. CBS had yet another chance to do an all-NCIS night when they ordered NCIS: Hawai’i to series and announced a move of NCIS from Tuesdays at Mondays. However, the comedy block at 8 pm was likely not worth displacing in the name of an aging NCIS: Los Angeles. Possibly the last hope for any semblance of an all-NCIS night would be if CBS manages to air the Paramount+/Australia’s Network 10 original NCIS: Sydney alongside reruns of NCIS and NCIS: Hawai’i on a strike-proof schedule. 

In CBS’s defense, the CSI shows were never programmed on the same night together, and NBC’s One Chicago success story didn’t come to fruition until the 2018-19 season; five seasons into NCIS: New Orleans’ run. That also happened to be the same season CBS launched FBI, which like the Chicago franchise, hails from Dick Wolf. 

One can be inclined to believe CBS saw potential in a night dedicated to a single franchise, but didn’t want to try it with the aging NCIS franchise. CBS scheduled the first season of FBI after NCIS, bucking the long-running trend of that time slot going to an NCIS spinoff or a show led by a former NCIS lead actor. It did fine for itself, averaging a 0.97 A18-49 Live + Same Day rating out of NCIS’s 1.22. This was just barely above the league average of all non-sports shows across ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX. However,  that was enough at the time to be CBS’s #2 drama. By the end of its second season, it had launched its first spinoff in FBI: Most Wanted, which led to the dislocation of NCIS: New Orleans. Soon after came FBI: International, resulting in an all-FBI Tuesday night with NCIS moved to Mondays. 

The FBI franchise’s Live + Same Day ratings advantage over NCIS stems in the scheduling. FBI has a much better time slot than NCIS simply by getting to air at 8 pm, while NCIS: Los Angeles was stuck in the Sunday night death slot the entire season. One would be inclined to believe an FBI spinoff would not have fared any better on Sundays than NCIS: Los Angeles did. While it could be too late for the NCIS franchise to have a night for itself, CBS may very well have looked at the success of the Chicago block and set out to replicate it with the FBIs.

2. The Dick Wolf Factor

Decades into his career, Dick Wolf’s relevance as a creator and executive producer on broadcast television is currently hitting a second peak. Currently, he has three FBI series airing on CBS’s Tuesday night schedule, three Chicago series airing on NBC’s Wednesday night schedule, and three Law & Order series airing on NBC’s Thursday night schedule. He has three successful franchises going at the same time, all of which get a night for themselves on their respective networks’ schedules. Most shows that have made it to air with Dick Wolf attached in the past half decade have done well in the ratings. The Chicago and FBI franchises are now as valuable as they’ve ever been, and the Law & Order franchise is seeing a resurgence after a rocky 2010s.  

Meanwhile, whereas Dick Wolf recently invented the FBI franchise and essentially brought the Law & Order franchise back into full force, the NCIS franchise is very clearly aging. The current state of the NCIS franchise is reminiscent of Chicago Fire’s early season. Paired up with Law & Order: SVU, neither show looked as strong as they do now. The Law & Order franchise looked to be on its way out, and Chicago did not look on track to become a franchise to begin with. NCIS: New Orleans and NCIS: Los Angeles went out in the lowest priority time slot on CBS’s schedule. Additionally, NCIS: Hawai’i is on the lower side in the ratings for CBS, even with the most compatible lead-in imaginable. NCIS was undeniably a winning formula for much of the 2000s and throughout the 2010s, but the 2020s have not been kind to it. 

3. Spinoffs 

There’s another valid reason why the FBI franchise now holds more weight on CBS’s schedule than the NCIS franchise: the shows themselves. With the FBI franchise, there is a lot of synergy between FBI, FBI: International, and FBI: Most Wanted. After all, the three series all take place in New York City and all focus on some part of the FBI. This allows for fairly regular crossovers, and can entice viewers who became fans of FBI to stick around for the spinoffs. 

NCIS does not have this luxury. While NCIS and NCIS: Hawai’i air back-to-back, it’s impossible to regularly have the characters interact given one takes place in Washington, D.C. and the other in Hawai’i. Former spinoffs NCIS: New Orleans and NCIS: Los Angeles also ran into this issue. There are occasional NCIS crossovers, but every NCIS series is set in its own unique location. In fact, they really could not have picked locations farther enough away from one another. A quick look at the Google reviews for NCIS: Hawai’i, while an unscientific approach, give at least an idea that it hasn’t been welcomed into the NCIS universe as easily as, say, FBI: International and Chicago Med were welcomed into their respective universes. Ultimately, the FBI spinoffs play it safer than the NCIS spinoffs do. This allows them to thrive together, but also makes one assume they wouldn’t fare so well if broken apart. 

Can NCIS Take Its Throne Back?

Unlike what little remains of the CSI franchise, the NCIS franchise does have some strength in it and isn’t solely confined to low-priority time slots. While it’s facing a rough patch right now, and it is not trending well, there is still a chance it can overtake the FBI franchise and become CBS’s signature franchise again. 

When it comes to the number of shows on the air, the FBI franchise expanded rapidly, but has now stagnated. It’s tough to expect a fourth FBI series to make it to the air anytime soon given the emphasis on networks owning their series. It wouldn’t really be surprising to see one or more of the FBI shows canceled at some point in the somewhat near future due to this, even if the ratings stay solid. 

Meanwhile, CBS fully owns the NCIS franchise and likely makes boatloads of money off of syndication deals. It is now expanding past the United States with NCIS: Sydney, which as mentioned will be aired on the Australian network Network 10 later this year. Given the series will also be available on Paramount+, it could be a dark horse to be rerun on CBS’s schedule. As ownership becomes key, CBS could opt to order yet another NCIS spinoff; or at least, keep something like NCIS: Hawai’i around past when its ratings suggest a cancelation is in the cards.

While the NCIS franchise can see a rejuvenation much like the Law & Order franchise did, FBI is the clear-cut leader at the moment. Even in Multi-Platform 35-day viewing, the FBI franchise has the edge. While NCIS itself has slightly more viewers in that metric than FBI, FBI: Most Wanted performs better than NCIS: Hawai’i, and FBI: International performs better than NCIS: Los Angeles did. 

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