CBS late Monday ordered full seasons of all four new prime-time dramas ("Stalker," Scorpion," "Madam Secretary," and "NCIS: New Orleans") which naturally leads to this question: Is "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" doomed?
Of course, there's no automatic quid pro quo, but does their good fortune foretell The End for one of prime-time TV's best loved and (after "Law & Order: SVU") longest running prime-time drama?
Consider the basic issues here. If a network has four new dramas that have succeeded, does that not mean added pressure on a veteran which has experienced relentless declines for years?
Of greater concern for "CSI" and fans, the network cut its order from 22 episodes to 18 this season -- "CSI" has received a 22-episode rubber-stamp since the very beginning, or 15 years ago.
Ominous? Yes, ominous. CBS officially says "nothing to worry about," etc. But networks always say that. So let's sort through the issues here with a "yes" and "no" list, with "yes" designating cancellation by the end of this season, and "no" designating exactly that -- "no way!"
YES: A three episode cut is a show of no-confidence, basically telling the show, "get your affairs in order." Other major dramas (like "CSI: Miami") had their orders cut, and before long, the ax came down.
NO: Networks like to save money, and a 15th-season-old drama costs a fortune, far more than a freshman. The usually cited figure of $3 million per episode is almost certainly well below the cost for "CSI," with its veteran cast. This could all be a cost move.
YES: The ratings are way off, a fraction of their 2001, '02, '03 levels. Show doesn't even make the top 25 any longer.
NO: Come on, man! Viewership for every prime time network drama continues to slide, and is a "fraction" of whatever level it may have been at five or 10 years ago. "NCIS" may be the only exception. "CSI" has done what comes naturally for most TV series these days that aren't named "The Walking Dead" -- shed viewers.
YES: The more relevant issue in this little debate of ours may be the "live plus seven" rating, which is the coin of the realm in prime time right now. That figure comprises the "live" rating, which is the tally of viewers who tune into "CSI" Sundays at 10, and the "live + 7" one which is the tally of live plus viewers who watched later, on their DVRs, or at CBS.com, or the new "CBS All Access." By this standard, "CSI" actually does OK, by picking up an additional two or three million viewers per week. That pulls "CSI's" total up to over 11 million viewer. But compared to "The Blacklist" (16 million) or "Modern Family" (20 million) or even "Castle" (15 million, picking up five extra million over the course of a week), it's anemic. Suggests that people who put this on their DVRs usually let it collect the video equivalent of a mantle of dust.
NO: Most prime-time series would KILL to get the kind of playback numbers "CSI" gets. Plus with these playback figures factored in, "CSI" is in fact a top 25 show.
YES: Creatively the show is like one of those corpses Dr. Al Robbins pokes around in. Same old stories, ramped up nonsense. A wheezer of a geezer.
NO: "CSI" actually remains pretty good for a geriatric series still trying to find relevance and freshness after so many years. You want relevance? The Oct. 12 episode was about a CDC investigation of an infectious virus in Las Vegas. Of course there will be weak episodes -- even the occasional corpse -- in the overall mix, always have been. But "CSI" still knows what it's doing, and how to get that done.
Bottom line: OK, you're read this far. You are interested in the fate of this show. And what might that be. My read -- there will be one more season after this. At the very least, CBS needs "CSI" to help launch the spinoff "CSI: Cyber." The backdoor pilot, starring Patricia Arquette, aired last spring, and the newbie will launch sometime this year. When and where? Certainly midseason, and maybe even Sundays at 10. If "CSI: Cyber" takes off -- and Patricia Arquette is a brilliant actress, so I'm expecting a reasonably good series here -- then "CSI's" future dims. And if "Cyber" outperforms "CSI" Sundays at 10, then lights out.
But one more season -- one more to go out in style, one more for that finale that will, must, bring Gil Grissom back for that one last disquisition on insect morphology.