This week, the five major networks will be holding their upfronts. This is where they announce their fall lineups, summer programming and what shows won’t be coming back — ever.
Once upon a time, the upfronts meant something to TV viewers. But that was before “We’re not television. We’re HBO.” Today, the networks’ announcements are of mild interest, mostly to fans waiting to hear the fates of their favorite shows.
About a month ago, I got an email from a fan of one of those shows — CBS’ “Stalker.” He didn’t agree with my initial review of the show that premiered in October.
He concluded with: “I can only hope the suits at CBS don’t agree with your opinions,” and urged me to watch the show again because it may change my mind about it.
First off, I’m appreciative whenever anyone writes me. Mostly, it’s to disagree with me, but that’s the world we’re in. Second, I doubt the suits at CBS care what any critic says. Network executives will use their own metrics — whatever they are — to determine what gets axed.
There has been an uptick lately in “Stalker’s” ratings, but I wouldn’t count on it to save the freshman show.
Meanwhile, most of the older shows will return, though a few of them may be reaching the end. After 10 seasons, dem “Bones” have gotten creaky. The Fox mystery was charming for a while and still earns OK ratings, but not with the younger demographic. Its stars, David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel, are costly, which may factor into any decision, but network inertia — meaning they don’t really have anything to replace it with — may keep the series going.
On the other hand, don’t keep a fire burning for ABC’s “Revenge.” The series was frothy fun for the first season, but by year two, it quickly descended into absurdity. Ratings have been poor, and on Wednesday the network killed it.
The week before, the network had killed off leading man Patrick Dempsey on “Grey’s Anatomy,” reportedly saving $9.6 million for a 24-episode season of the drama, which is expected to be renewed for a 12th season. Rumor is the series is adding a new and, obviously, less expensive character for next year.
“Nashville,” also on ABC, has a decent-size audience, but is it worth the price? The series starring Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere had a chance to create a legitimate if not authentic portrait of the country-music scene and its more rootsy alt version. Instead, the series ended up essentially being a middling soaper. It does bring in some extra bucks with downloads of songs, and the “Nashville” concert tour hits Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on May??9. So I doubt the show is going anywhere, but it may become a limited series.
A sad “State of Affairs” may sum up NBC’s dilemma. The network seems to want to do adventurous series but doesn’t have the grit to see them through. Despite an iffy premise, the Katherine Heigl vehicle was interesting, but it never found a solid audience. The network’s midseason shows — “The Slap,” “Allegiance” and “American Odyssey” — were also entertaining and provocative but suffer the same problem. “Allegiance” was pulled so fast it was shocking.
Networks apparently don’t have the luxury or time anymore to cultivate a program. Nor do they have the power they had with so many other entertainment options. Nowadays, they are betting on live events like sports or even a mismanaged musical like “Peter Pan Live!” And if a scripted series fails even a bit, there’s always some reality competition waiting in the wings like “Woking With the Stars,” a cooking show starring minor celebs that have eaten at Chinese restaurants.
And here’s the rub. The networks seem content to work on a law of diminishing returns. While shows like “Bones” or CBS’ “NCIS” lumber on in their formulaic ways, they are never going to attract new viewers. No one is suddenly going to say, “Hey, I was just waiting for Season 12 of ‘NCIS’?” — or since it has been renewed, Season 13.
Over on FX, the much admired “Justified” smartly wrapped up after six seasons of 13 episodes each, as opposed to the 22 yearly for “NCIS.” “Justified’s” showrunners recognized that no matter how much fans loved the show creatively, no one was interested in watching its two protagonists — coolly played by Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins — facing off in an old-age home.
There are quite a number of long-running network shows that should take this advice and hobble off into the sunset, but the networks continue clinging to them like baby blankets. As long as they can squeeze a buck out of them, it’s less risky than investing in the unknown.
Even when a network has something that fits its mold, like ABC has with “Forever,” that’s no guarantee the series will survive. That show boasts a quirky attractive male crime-solver paired with a sexy policewoman. Oh, wait, that’s “Castle,” which has been on the network for seven seasons, and, I dare say, has run its course. “Forever” is fresher with an interesting immortal twist. Though it clearly isn’t meant to last forever — aging would be a factor — I wouldn’t mind seeing it a couple more seasons. Odds are, though, “Castle” will be back and “Forever” into the ozone.
The network will also likely renew “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which too often bogs down in Marvel’s inane mythology, and dump “Agent Carter,” which was much more fun with its campy late-1940s setting. Other ABC shows likely to go are “American Crime” and “Cristela” — both deserving better fates.
Over at NBC, shows probably without futures include the comic-book-based “Constantine,” the recently premiered comedy “One Big Happy” and most of the network’s other sitcoms. The dramedy “The Mysteries of Laura” could be back.
At CBS, they may actually cancel “CSI” after 15 seasons, although the network is looking for more letters of the alphabet to use as titles for its shows. How about “STSB: Seen This Show Before”? “CSI: Cyber,” with Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette, however, is likely coming back. “Hawaii Five-0” appears to be out, but that other staple of the 1970s, “The Odd Couple,” won’t leave.
At Fox, I’d say “The Mindy Project” likely will be looking for a new home on basic cable. “Weird Loners” and “Backstrom” probably are gone, and if the network wants to stop torturing us, “The Following” will follow them out the door. Yeah, “The Last Man on Earth” will be back, as well as “Gotham,” which exudes more sophistication and intelligence than most network shows, even with its comic-book pedigree. The hip-hop drama “Empire” has already been renewed, too.
That only leaves The CW — not major, but a network. No big makeover there. It leaves most of its schedule in place. “The Messengers” likely will depart, but “iZombies” will remain, because zombies never go anywhere.
After the networks make their announcements, we will see if they have anything interesting coming next fall. And if “Stalker” isn’t canceled, I promise to give it another chance.
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