More Changes! Code Black is Adding Rob Lowe as a Series Regular

Code Black is adding Rob Lowe

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The Fox network’s loss is a gain for CBS!  Code Black is adding Rob Lowe as a series regular! If not for the cancellation of Fox’s critically acclaimed comedy The Grinder, he wouldn’t have been available.  Lowe is an great actor.  Among his extensive resume are two popular and critically acclaimed dramas: The West Wing and Brothers and Sisters.  He is a perfect fit for CBS’s intense and often emotional medical drama.  Variety has noted that Code Black is “a favorite of CBS execs.”  As such, Code Black is adding Rob Lowe as part of the CBS strategy to, “find a larger audience” for the show.

Rob Lowe is One of Many Changes

For the show’s current viewers, what’s going on may seem like a strange way for CBS to treat a show that they like.  When something is a favorite you usually don’t rip it apart and start over –  which is essentially what’s been going on with Code Black.   The show got a season two on CBS, but with the level of make-over going on this fall it might as well be a season one.

The letting go of cast members Bonnie Somerville and Raza Jaffrey came with the announcement of two recurring characters being bumped up to series regulars. (Code Black Season 2 is Revamped With No More Christa & Neal).  On Friday Deadline revealed more recurring characters were being added:

CBS’ Code Black has added three new major recurring players to the cast – Nafessa Williams (Twin Peaks), Noah Gray-Cabey (Heroes: Reborn) and Emily Tyra (Flesh and Bone) – with an eye toward becoming regulars. They will play new residents at the ER of Angels Memorial Hospital.

Code Black Season Two – Why So Many Changes?

Here’s the thing.  As much as the current viewers of Code Black it, a look at CBS’s 2015-16 ratings show that Code Black was on the low side of in terms of both ratings and viewership.  It’s the third lowest viewed show kept.  In terms of the demo, the shows kept with lower demo numbers have higher viewership.  The only show that doesn’t is Elementary.  That’s likely because in 2013 Elementary locked deals for syndication and with Hulu,  That makes its first-run ratings basically irrelevant.

The other issue is NBC’s “Chicago” franchise.   The direct competition for Code Black is NBC’s Chicago PD.  It is ahead in the demo: a 1.55 average compared to a 1.24 for Code Black.  Now, if Code Black had higher viewer numbers CBS might be less concerned.  However, it’s  only slightly ahead in viewership: 7.114 million vs. 6.881 million for Chicago PD.   Then there’s the indirect competition.  Chicago Med – which airs on Tuesdays – has a 1.72 demo and 7.955 million viewers.   Which do you think would be seen as the better medical show for syndication?  Exactly.

It’s not that CBS doesn’t care about the 18-49 demo and advertisers, but CBS has been upfront about its business model  for a while now.  It is one that puts its emphasis on popular content that will do well in the second-run markets of syndication, overseas and SVOD.  As of 2015, nearly half its revenue comes from those things (www.cbscorporation.com).   On top of this, the network’s target demo is 25-54 and that’s what they sell ads on.

The vast number of CBS’s dramatic syndicated shows are crime procedurals.  It makes sense that CBS wants to diversify its offerings for syndication and streaming with a medical one.  The market for crime procedurals is saturated.   However, while CBS is at the top for crime procedurals the recent revival of the medical show game is a more level playing field.  Making Code Black competitive for syndication means having a higher viewership than similar shows and relative demos.  Code Black is adding Rob Lowe and some younger actors in the hope of attaining that.  Also, in theory, Lowe’s name recognition will help sell the show in overseas markets.

Now, for those who loved season one and all that Somerville and Jaffrey’s characters brought to the show, this practical reasoning is small consolation.  Once upon a time television shows were given time to find and grow an audience.  It’s not that way anymore.   Instead, shows that don’t make the cut immediately are either cancelled or retooled.

The fact that Code Black came back at all shows CBS thinks there’s something there.   The question is, will that something still be there after all of the changes? Are they risking their current audience in the hopes of gaining larger viewership?  Probably, but being it’s only finished the first season it’s an understandable gamble.

What Can Viewers  Expect for Code Black Season Two?

Code Black is Adding Rob Lowe in Season 2

The Code Black Season One Cast

Code Black season two will be a very different show.   It’s not just because of the new characters.  The dynamics between Neal, Christa, and the central character of Dr. Leanne Rorish ( Marcia Gay Harden), were a large part of the show.  This is the photo for the Code Black Season 1 soundtrack on Tunefind:

Code Black is Adding Rob Lowe - Christa and Neal are out.

During season one viewers learned that Leanne and Christa had a lot in common and it was good to see that female friendship developing.  Christa developing in an excellent E.R. doctor despite being “older” was both an enjoyable and empowering storyline. Meanwhile, Neal’s character had many different things going on with him.  There was the conflicts with his father,  the head of surgery, Leanne, and his ex-girlfriend.   As for romantic storylines, Christa and Neal’s was the only one that had depth and was interesting.  The idea of these two characters being abruptly pulled leaves a huge hole in things.

Does this mean revamping Code Black is a bad thing?  Honestly, viewers won’t know the answer to that until season 2 begins.  It will probably be helpful to approach it as a new series you’ve not seen before.  As creator and executive producer Michael Seitzman describes the new format to Deadline I’d say it’s best not to get too attached to any of the characters!

One point Seitzman makes about the show’s restructuring is that there will be new residents coming in every season (if they get picked up).  The idea is to be just like at a regular teaching hospital, which does just that.  Aside from the vast amount of extras many principal characters will be coming and going.  Some may end up going permanently, like the surprising murder of the E.R. administrator Gina (Christina Vidal).  All of this is to help the show maintain the feeling of a huge and busy hospital.  It makes sense, but it doesn’t really cover the departure of Christa and Neal.  How Code Black handles that will likely affect how the new format and characters are received by last season’s viewers.

If Somerville and Jaffrey’s characters were still going to be on the show most would be over the moon that Code Black is adding Rob Lowe!  Certainly the description Deadline has of Lowe’s character sounds intriguing!

Lowe will play Col. Ethan Willis, a doctor in the U.S. military’s prestigious Combat Casualty Care research program who has been pulled out of a combat hospital in Afghanistan and embedded at Angels Memorial to teach what the military has learned about combat medicine. His aggressive, rule-breaking style is greeted enthusiastically by Dr. Leanne Rorish (Marcia Gay Harden) but not by all the other doctors.

Remember when Code Black did a lot of tweaking during the first half of season one?  By midseason the show had made some changes and additions that really upped the quality of the drama.  It’s possible that these new season 2 changes will do the same.   If they do, and they increase the show’s audience, the show will stay on the air.  At the end of the day, that’s what everyone wants: a quality show with enough audience to keep it from getting cancelled.

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