Why CBS pulled The Mentalist from CBS.com

NOTE: This post is more than 4 years old but continues to get traffic, enjoy the read, though I shut down comments years ago because of spam, sorry. In the meantime, please check out my book, Digital Disruption, published Feb 2013 at forr.com/DDbook.

Original Post:

I’m catching up a bit here because I was traveling when this news item happened, but Download Movies 101 reported last week that CBS had mysteriously pulled full-length episodes of its surprise hit shows The Mentalist and Eleventh Hour from CBS.com, which of course means all of CBS’s syndication partners like AOL and Fancast are unable to show the episodes as well.

It’s especially confusing when it’s clear CBS is committed to full-length episode streaming. The site is full of hit shows like How I Met Your Mother which air full episodes online. Plus, CBS has recently extended certain full-length shows to YouTube.

It turns out that the fault does not fall to CBS, but to Warner Brothers Television. Not only is WBT behind the pull-down of The Mentalist and Eleventh Hour, but it’s also the source behind the removal of full episodes of Big Bang Theory, a hit comedy produced by, you guessed it, Warner Brothers Television.

Why does Warner Brothers Television hate us so much?

Maybe a better question is, why do they hate themselves so much? Remember, this is one of the entities that was behind the removal of Gossip Girl from the CW web site at the end of last season. Says one commenter on the Big Bang Theory fan forum:

If Warner Bros is really the culprit then CBS should renegotiate. This show barely made it a second season, and without people like me being able to catch up online, this show is toast. I really like the show but since I missed last episode, it kind of turns me off from watching any more of them since I missed out on what happened last episode. … It is nice that they have a recap and some clips, but not being able to see the actual show online when I miss an episode may make me turn it off for good. I did the same thing to The Office on NBC last year when they weren’t showing the episodes online. Now I don’t watch The Office at all.

Note how the good-until date is prominently displayed. Smart.

Click to see full version and note how the good-until date is prominently displayed. 

I want to riff on The Office for a moment because this is one show that does it right. Because there are no rules yet for how many episodes a network should put online or for how long they should remain online. The Office resolves this dilemma for viewers by showing you exactly which episodes are available, when they aired and for how long they will remain available. Brilliant. You give the audience the rules of engagement and they can’t complain when the shows disappear because you gave fair warning.

Fair warning, of course, is exactly what CBS (and Warner) did not give viewers of The Mentalist or Eleventh Hour. So what’s going on?

I’m convinced it’s renegotiation time. And that’s not just between CBS and Warner (who are parnters on so many things that it’s unlikely they are suffering a relationship breakdown). It’s also renegotiation season for producers and the actors. Remember the writers’ strike? One of the issues that strike focused on was what share of online streaming revenues should go to writers. At the time I briefly consulted an entertainment law firm that represents producers and actors who were wondering the same question. I have a hunch much of this is being done to push Warner and CBS to realize they would rather renegotiate quickly than let their popular shows languish.

I could be way off on this, I’m not a Burbank insider so I can’t say what’s going on, but I will say this. Future TV deals are going to come with online rights completely sewn up. There will not be room for mid-season shenanigans in the future.

33 Responses to Why CBS pulled The Mentalist from CBS.com

  1. phil dane says:

    Dear CBS,

    You guys are schizophrenic, and you’re frustrating your viewers. With the crazy “xx:01” start and end times, network problems, sports overruns, horrible cable DVRs, and other issues, many of us rely on being able to watch the full episode of a primetime show here online – at least as a last resort. That’s been possible for some shows, but not for others – then you made what seemed to be a commitment to offer all primetime shows here – now they’re all gone.

    We don’t get it. We’re watching your show. You’re showing us the commercials. Fair trade – or at least it seemed to be to us. What happened? Did you negotiate a bad deal with the advertisers? Did you find a way to make more money selling the episodes as straight-to-the-dollar-bin DVDs? Why do all of the primeime video web pages still say “Full Episodes” (or, in at least one case, “Full Episods”), when all that remains are clips?

    Please return the full episodes to the web – or at least step up and say why you won’t make them available.

    In an era of “choice overload”, we don’t understand why you’re making this difficult for us. We’d think you want to make your product consumable “on demand”, like your competition is so adeptly doing. You’re frustrating us, and it’s driving us even further away from you.


    Your viewers

  2. James McQuivey says:

    A very passionate yet reasonable response from Phil. I think Phil’s concerns are going to be shared by more and more people as time goes by.

    I was pleased that Phil noted that the CBS.com page for The Mentalist continues to say “view full episodes” at the top of the browser, even though full episodes are not available.

    This little sign is another reason why I’m willing to wager that this is about contractual negotiations going on behind the scenes. Otherwise we’d see some kind of public explanation from CBS or WBT.

  3. Rebecca says:

    I ONLY watch episodes online. When CBS (or WB or whoever) decides to stop making episodes available online, they have lost me as a viewer. I am not alone in this. For the less intelligent readers out there, let me make this very clear. No episodes online = lost viewers = lost revenue.

  4. […] is par for the course. One of my most read posts in the history of this blog is my piece on Why CBS Pulled The Mentalist From CBS.com. I also briefly covered how Sony Pictures apparently pulled certain of its films from Netflix only […]

  5. Joshua says:

    I ONLY watch episodes online also. I have to choose between cable or internet, and thats a no brainer. The net lets me choose when and what I watch, and with my eratic work schedual thats the only way I can keep up. And even in my area I know I am not the only one. I know at least 30 people that also watch ONLY online and the ability to watch online was one of the SELLING points of this show. Like Rebecca said, NO EPISODES ONLINE = LOST VIEWERS = LOST REVENUE.

  6. Valentina Miller says:

    Like all of you, I am also very frustrated that the full episodes are not posted on CBS. I have to record the shows in order to watch them after my kids go to bed and on many occasions, I have forgotten to set the DVR. When the season began, I had to watch online only until I replaced my broken DVR. I have missed the last four weeks! I just want the show back! Thanks for listening!

  7. diana says:

    I totally agree with others here! I go to bed early, and when I have time and my husband is watching his sports, I go online to catchup on vids. I watched two episodes of The Mentalist and was so pleased that CBS would allow online viewing. Most of the shows I do love are available to watch, some are not and because they are not I do not watch anything on their channels. I enjoy the moments when I can escape and watch TV online, everyone is happy. BUT when CBS STOP allowing their episodes to be viewed, I became frustrated and have not watched their programming.
    Though I know this all lays in the hands of the “powers that might be”, it is still not a good move on their part to cut out the viewers who are the reason why certain shows are a hit. I do not like to go “shopping” around to find episodes of programs that are questionably absent from the viewing lists available. To keep the viewers happy the “powers that might be” should consider the profits made from online viewing instead of finding other means of making the “ole great dollar” that shines in their pockets.

  8. DL Halse says:

    I have no other way to view CBS programming unless it is up on the internet .My satellite provider is NO LONGER able to carry CBS due to contract issues with the local CBS carrier .If CBS does not put the programs online I will no longer be able to view the programs .so PLEASE Put full episodes back online .thanks you .my shows are being held hostage !!! HELP!!!

  9. PAUL says:


  10. Janet says:

    One would think that CBS would realize what damage they’re doing to their own bottom line. Lost or frustrated viewers will go elsewhere. In this economy, it seems that you’d want to do everything possible to keep your customer (viewer) happy. Maybe it’s time for CBS to go under. The web and webisodes are such a big part of viewing nowadays, it makes no sense to not use it to its fullest. Shame on CBS and/or Warner. You’ve lost me as a viewer! Pity…

  11. Bruce says:

    Just a couple of comments:
    1) I don’t really fault CBS for the initial issue, but they’ve had a few months to sort it out with WB. What’s the holdup?
    2) Why is CBS lying to us about having full episodes? Google “the mentalist full episode” and the first hit is CBS’s Mentalist page. The title and description metadata for the page still say “watch full episodes”.

  12. Rob says:

    I love the Mentalist. However, I have a prior commitment on the night the show airs. I would love to stay on top of the show but I feel that I will not be able to. This turns me off to ever watching the show again. Another loyal viewer lost. Oh well im sure there are only a couple million like me what do you care.

  13. James McQuivey says:

    I wish CBS were reading this post. The comments keep coming in, people are making very good points (in addition to the rash threats of piracy). Bruce’s comment on how the CBS page for the Mentalist still says “watch full episodes” is valid, given how long ago this happened. Maybe it means CBS is hopeful things with WBT will work out soon. We can only hope…

  14. […] to OnmiVideo, it was actually Warner Brothers Television that was behind the takedown, with CBS committed to […]

  15. chiun99 says:

    Same with ‘Life on Mars’ – withdrawn without any explanation. Well, we f… them, when they think they f… us – I download all shows I want from Russian torrents. Well, yeah, they are in Russian, but, hey, that’s my mothertongue (Lucky!) You, guys, start learning Russian, I have a very reasonable rates.

  16. janet miller says:

    I too am quite mad they dont show full episodes of the mentalist I had to go out and forgot ot set my vcr and missed at least 2 or more episodes an would like to catch up and I enjoy watching the show but I guess they don’t need us or the ratings.Poor business practice

  17. […] into prominence inside their companies and start arguing for more restraint. We’ll see more removals of TV shows like The Mentalist, more announcements like that from SciFi about postponing Hulu streaming of […]

  18. […] of online TV shows. The fact that many networks are pulling down some of their top shows (e.g., The Mentalist and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.), and how the ads on these wildly popular shows are not […]

  19. Watch Out, Hulu: Big Media Getting Ready to Eat its Young says:

    […] episodes disappeared in January from Hulu, and shows like The Mentalist and Big Bang Theory were removed without warning from the CBS web site last fall. Finally, there’s the continuing spat between Hulu and Boxee, with […]

  20. […] episodes disappeared in January from Hulu, and shows like The Mentalist and Big Bang Theory were removed without warning from the CBS web site last fall. Finally, there’s the continuing spat between Hulu and Boxee, with rights […]

  21. John says:

    Darn… I was getting to like The Mentalist and The Eleventh Hour… and then CBS pulls Eleventh Hour first and then Mentalist second, from On-line. So I guess that’s the end of that.. no big deal though, there is so much other good stuff to watch on-line.

    BTW, the reason I say this is the ‘end’ is, I travel a lot for business during the week, so I catch-up on favorite shows by watching on-line between Friday – Sunday. While I have a DVR, my kids and wife have other viewing priorities over the weekend making that an non-option.

    And since all these pea brain execs so favor serial shows to “rope in viewers”, by design, one kind of gets lost after missing an episode or two. Once I get a bit behind with a series, I sort of loose interest…

    But, like I said, there’s so much other good stuff on-line to choose from — no sense in loosing any sleep over Network TV’s poor marketing choices.

  22. Nuclear says:

    Show the shows on the network websites and they can make money showing me their ads. Pull the shows and I’ll bittorrent them and they’ll make no money. It’s up to them.

  23. norma adams says:

    PLEASE return the Mentalist to the 8:00 P.M. time slot

  24. Ron Cook says:

    CBS has cut their own throat as far as prime time viewing is concerned. On line is the only way I was able to watch one of my favorite shows. (The Mentalist) I can’t receive the CBS digital over the air broadcast and the only anolog CBS station that I do get broadcasts different programming during this time slot.

    Because of this, I have deleted CBS from my program guide altogether … just one more lost viewer for CBS!!!!

  25. Christian S. says:

    Add my name to the list of viewers who only watch shows online. Over the years, I’ve been removing options from my cable service and today, I only have basic service with DVR. I’m sure many providers like Time Warner would have prefer this to be otherwise (wishing me to keep buying premium cable service), but that’s not reality anymore. Today, I watch most of my shows are online streams. There are still a few things for which cable is better (news, and things like the daily show), but for everything else, online streaming is much better and much more convenient.

    I love The Mentalist. I think it’s a great show. But it’s not going to win my time against other great shows out there (Lie to Me anyone?) unless CBS makes it available online.

  26. Wy says:

    I am living in hell since the great TV digital switch over as I have NO cable and have NO intention of getting it. Plus I’m a Linux person, so my choices with the major networks are very limited indeed. CBS is basically the ONLY network whose shows I can view without a bunch of insanity….and NOW I did miss the last Mentalist episode (way past by bedtime normally and I forgot to record it!) and now it can’t be found…I absolutely HATE all this nonsense! If one entity can find a way to make these shows universally viewable just given that you’ve got a working browser, why can’t they all, and what’s with some things are OK, and not others for online posting! Needless to say, I think all this SUCKS big time!

  27. Patrick says:

    very very frustrating not being able to find any of these episodes online.

  28. Jude says:

    Looks like CBS has pulled full episodes of CSI Las Vegas now.

  29. Katie says:

    I’m new to the online streaming…I found out that certain websites, like abc and cbs provide the shows to watch online. WHen I found this out, I was completely amazed and excited. I’m a single mother, FT job, and school 1 night a week. I go to church and am a homeowner. I have a lot on my plate. Many families turn to online shows because they have NO TIME in their lives to sit down and watch a show that IS scheduled at it’s specific time. I have class on Thurs so I can’t watch Grey’s Anatomy, or Private Practice. I’m in class from 6-10pm. Luckily, those two shows have not been pulled from online. To say the least, I don’t have a life and I never watched ANY TV until I found out that there are online shows to watch. It opened a whole new light in my life and I thought it was the greatest thing! I got hooked on the Mentalist right when it came out. I was able to watch MAYBE 6 episodes before it was pulled and only provided measily little clips. Why tease the viewers with these clips? I know plenty of people, especially on here that are ticked off from these changes, and favorite shows being removed and replaced with these teaser clips. Right now, the Mentalist is around 20+ episodes. It was one of my favorites…now, I don’t know anything about it and have lost interest. Same thing with Eleventh Hour. Both shows were very intersting and different.

    I feel everyone’s pain and hope all of these comments and disatisfied viewers voices are being heard. I think it might be a strategy to get the viewer to go out and buy the Seasons and start watching another show. Not me…I stick to my shows and I don’t switch. Unless something new comes out, I will add another show, but realisically, I keep it to a minimum. I don’t have time to sit around and watch TV all night and day.

  30. Jude says:

    I feel your pain Katie. I have a five year old and a 7month so to say the least anything before 9pm I don’t really get a chance to watch on tv. Especially if it involves murder, etc. So I don’t understand CBS’s strategy by pulling these shows and offering us clips like scraps from the dinner table. To me it’s insulting and condescending. What are you telling me I can only watch what you tell me to watch on CBS.com There is such a thing as web ratings. How many hits your website gets makes you more popular on a search engines radar. If anything CBS your biting the hands that feed you. Pissing us off will only make us turn you off. Hell let me get back to that book I was reading at least I can turn the page when I want to.

  31. Jude says:

    Is there a way to forward these comments to CBS.

  32. Sam Keebler says:

    I too watch shows only online. My wife and I loved the Mentalist but can’t watch it now. I avoid anything Warner Brothers related because I don’t want to get into it and then have it pulled. Shame on you WB.

  33. Paula Lindsay says:

    I just don’t worry about the Mentalist, I thought maybe I was doing something incorrectly or perhaps the show Criminal Minds wanted to protect people from those evil minds that would watch over and over so they could copy but I just will not ever purchase the Mentalist products, nor suggest others watch the show nor when I am near a TV, which I do not use that often anymore, watch it. The advertisements will not be seen by me so I will not purchase those products either. I don’t like people who practise this type of business, don’t admire them etc so I just don’t do business with them. NOW “CHUCK” is more fun the mentalist anyway! Go to NBC!

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