Monday, May 7, 2012

That Time of Year, Again -- Pre-Upfronts

It's time to dip back into that blog I never write on. (Seriously, the last thing I wrote on this was that creative piece objecting to the infamous anti-piracy bills, all the way back in January.)

But yeah, on the upside this is a special occasion, one that has enraptured my interest since I was in high school. Perhaps the one event that represents May best for me. It's the end of the main television season, more specifically the last week before the Broadcast Network Upfronts. Sure, they don't hold as much water in this age of online streaming like Netflix and fantastic dramas made for cable. In fact, broadcast viewership overall seriously plummeted this season, adding more stress to a business that was already declining for a while now. Still, this upfront business is all pretty exciting and makes for a big annual event that can't help but stand out.

And of course, this means a turning point for many a viewer's choice of programs. Some will continue, and others will cut off (and some already have).

Let's look back at each network, consider the season that has passed, and where everything stands. Which shows have already been renewed, which won't be coming back, and how each is doing overall.

NBC -- To start off, we have one of the weaker performing networks, one that has been floundering for years now. And with the afore-mentioned declines, things have only gotten worse this season. Some shows couldn't even average a 1.0 rating in the key demographic of Adults 18-49, with only the smaller CW network doing worse. The only real bright spot they have is The Voice, the American Idol-esque that premiered big last season and has done about as well this year.

Overall the Peacock network, once at the top of the world is in a crisis mode. And in such a state, they have had to get creative, and have done so in past seasons in response to continuous declines. In fact, at the time of this writing NBC has already picked up several new shows for the fall. Literally as soon as I started writing, the comedic pilot The New Normal and the J.J. Abrams-produced drama Revolution both got full-series pickups, and other pickups were announced since then. It gives me the impression that I should have done this last week. Anyway, NBC at least has the Summer Olympics to help them this year. Reports point to a late August launch for some shows, both new and returning in the immediate ratings heat following the Olympics. Examples that have been thrown out for this practice include Go On, a new comedy with Matthew Perry.

With the network already picking up new shows well before the competition, it's already the moment of truth for a lot of existing NBC shows. Of them, so far only two dramas have been renewed. One is Smash, the DreamWorks-produced musical drama that has been a modest success and stood out against the rest of the lineup. The other is Grimm, which has also been rumored for a premiere in the post-Olympics heat. Furthermore, the way it's been holding on Friday nights (especially considering the big premiere out of the minuscule Chuck premiere back in October), and especially with the even worse numbers on higher-traffic nights makes it a regular ratings dynamo.

Of the rest of the lineup, we have a mixed bag. Long-standing reality shows are likely to return, like The Biggest Loser and Celebrity Apprentice, as will Betty White: Off Their Rockers, a stand-out performer. Sole franchise survivor Law & Order: SVU is also inclined to stick amongst dramas. Parenthood has not been seen since February, but it has performed consistently and stands out well compared to the network's declines since the finale. It is likely to return, but one may still be surprised here. Otherwise, The Firm and Awake are both considered failures, whilst Harry's Law is likewise too weak a performer in the sweet spot demo to get renewed.

And now we get to comedies, and only now do I realize the risks of writing at this point in time when the important stories develop on the spot. (Really, the entire rest of the post has already been finished and I'm rewriting this one section to update it!)

Anyway, I was about to point out here about how the sitcoms seemed to have performed equally as well but the older shows all stood a better chance at renewal. In particular, Community wouldn't get the axe with as much well-deserved support has it has received. Well since I started writing, NBC has announced the increasing likelihood that all their biggest comedies would be renewed. Specifically, 30 Rock will get a renewal for a final season. On top of that, it will be an abbreviated one, running only 13-14 episodes. With this decision very well in the bag, NBC may do the same for Parks and Recreation and Community. And I thought the whole "Post-Olympics Premiere Week" was a creative alternative here. This also gives Up All Night a better chance for survival than I previously anticipated. But Whitney has a much bleaker outlook, as do Are You There, Chelsea and Best Friends Forever. And Bent only ran quickly for three weeks, and I consider this giving it the shaft.

And it will be interesting to see how The Office pans out, especially with the mixed critical reception this whole past season and plans for a spinoff about Dwight. I can say anything goes at this point, especially considering rumors of a reboot.

CBS -- On the plus side, I can say there's less to say about this network. Not only have they been hanging tough overall with some popular new shows, CBS has already renewed the majority of their lineup. The most obvious cases for renewal are already on tap for next season, from my father's choices of NCIS, Hawaii Five-0, Criminal Minds, and Friday favorite Blue Bloods, to my mother's choices of new drama Person of Interest and critical darling The Good Wife. The same could be said for Mike and Molly and new hit comedy 2 Broke Girls, while The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother are in the midst of multi-season renewals. Same goes for NCIS: LA and The Mentalist.

That leaves Two and a Half Men, Rules of Engagement and Rob among comedies. The latter two have some question to them, but Men is a shoe-in as long as Ashton Kutcher (who replaced Charlie Sheen) is game. As far as dramas go, the flagship CSI series is the only one in the franchise renewed for next year. Only one other of the two, Miami and NY, will continue, with the more expensive Miami lacking much of an edge despite higher ratings. No other drama is likely to proceed. On the reality front, all three of the big ones have been renewed, Survivor, The Amazing Race, and Undercover Boss.

The CW -- It's funny, because I've been looking up UPN and The WB on Wikipedia, TV Tropes and YouTube this past week. I've been on a nostalgic trip for these long-lost networks of the late 90's and can easily write about how radically different they were, but I still don't really care about their successor. And I don't think it cares about me.

I'm not even sure if it matters anyway, since there's a long way to go between their ratings and even the horrible ratings of NBC. But relative to their low standards, they really only have hits in the already-renewed Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries, the former a beloved cult drama and the latter the best performer on the CW. Modernized continuation 90210 was also renewed last week. Heart of Dixie (in the first season) and Nikita (second season) were the weaker performers earlier, but only now is freshman drama The Secret Circle starting to bomb. And since Circle comes on after Vampire Diaries, that seems to doom the show outright. Gossip Girl, which has been on for five years is curiously missing from the recent renewals, which sort of helps to level the playing field. And how ironic is it that I only bothered to write about the Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle Ringer back in September as far as CW shows were concerned (what with its anticipation at the time), and that's the show least likely to get renewed.

Oh, and I am aware of The LA Complex, a Canadian import that did worse in the rut of the main season than the similarly imported comedy 18 to Life did in the Summer.

FOX -- The home of American Idol and Animation Domination appears to be all set for the Upfronts, with the obvious choices for renewal already determined. Glee will return next season, as will the solid veteran Bones. Raising Hope is also a go for next season, as is smash hit freshman, New Girl with Zooey Deschanel. FOX has already made up its mind on Terra Nova, dropping the ambitious prehistoric action drama after one 13-episode season. They've also decided to close House after eight years. Touch is the remaining freshman drama still on the schedule and left undetermined, although the way the ratings have changed over the season don't inspire confidence. Things are considerably bleaker for Alcatraz and The Finder, the latter in particular a massive flop left to finish on Friday nights.

And on the same night is Fringe, which got a vote of confidence last season with a full 22-episode renewal. Now, FOX is willing to let the show down easy, allotting a 13-episode season to wrap things up. I can say the show has been lucky this whole time to keep going and last long enough to sustain potential in syndication and tell a full-circle story. Not many sci-fi shows on FOX are lucky, and this J.J. Abrams production earned its support from such a successful, and otherwise highly competitive network.

Much of Animation Domination is a go for next season, and this includes the two fellow Seth MacFarlane comedies to Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show. No decision seems to have been made on Bob's Burgers, even though it has a 22-episode season season that could lead it into next year. Still, it is only one of two shows going beyond the standard repertoire of The Simpsons and MacFarlane shows on this popular lineup with an equal chance to proceed. The other is Napoleon Dynamite, a loose adaptation of the 2004 cult favorite with the same creative team and cast, plus Simpsons veteran Mike Scully backing it up. This lineup also saw Allen Gregory from comedy star Jonah Hill, which seemed like a failure right out of the gate. Of course, that one has already been cancelled.

ABC -- And now let's finish this off. ABC isn't necessarily doing any better as a whole now than previously. Previous reality titan Dancing With the Stars has softened considerably in recent years, and now comedy Modern Family really stands out as the network's biggest hit. But at the same time, they have shown plenty of improvement and increased degrees of success. Leading into the final season of Desperate Housewives, we have another big fairy tale hit like Grimm in a different form, Once Upon a Time. And that's not the only solid smash hit ABC's seen this season, as audiences can't stop talking about Revenge.

As of this writing, ABC has not renewed any of it's shows yet. No, none at all. Still, it seems pretty obvious which ones will be, and I just mentioned the two new standout shows. **Wink-Wink** Also looking good for a renewal is Castle, holding up well as the dramatic tension on the series progresses. Grey's Anatomy is also cruising for a renewal, standing out well against the rest of the network's shows, and spinoff Private Practice is no slouch either. That will likely see at least one more season, and it's been solid in a move to Tuesday nights in what's otherwise something of a death slot. By the way, Body of Proof says hello, and likely is going to say goodbye. Among other dramas, the ambitious horror series The River hasn't really held any water, and Missing is similarly bound for cancellation. On the upside though, the other midseason debuts have been quite solid. GCB has held up well during its run, only slipping the weekend of the Titanic miniseries (and that's a debacle in and of itself). It could get vote of confidence. And Scandal has been an even stronger performer, standing an even better chance for renewal.

And on the comedy side, we have nothing but strong, well-supported hits. The Middle and Suburgatory are certainly a go for next season, while Happy Endings also looks great and Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 is also standing firm on its own two feet. The only real failures here, Work It and Man Up got the axe long ago. There is a lot of positive speculation regarding Tim Allen's show Last Man Standing, which opened very well especially considering the fact that it's a multi-camera sitcom in a single-camera world. But I'm not too sure about that one, since it has declined considerably and certainly in the most recent airing. Most people expect it to return and I can understand if the network has faith in it overall. But I'm not gonna lie, to see it renewed would honestly surprise me. And that leaves Cougar Town, which has been performing weakly despite some much-deserved critical success. Over the weekend, TBS has offered to pick up the show in ABC's stead for not one, but two seasons. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but that's something important to consider.

So there you have it. And really, all I can say at this point is thank you. Thank you for reading through that entire, long-winded post of my rambles.

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