Sunday, May 15, 2011

Recapping last week's cancellation bloodbath

Mid-May is an important time for television executives, producers, and viewers alike. Upfronts are coming up and some shows just have to go. With natural expectations that a show should continue until a proper, definitive ending, most television fanatics end up disappointed. This year in particular was very bloody and almost assuredly left many irate fans. But among the shows left on the side of the road, there were glimmers of hope.


The network in the deepest hole the past few years has been NBC. There was the Leno debacle and many failed shows or shows that declined greatly over time. Most notable, NBC did not have a new scripted show that was a hit. Even its comedy lineup, while critically acclaimed, did not have a legitimate hit other than The Office, which is in its seventh season. NBC again tried to make its scripted lineup, ordering several shows which could have succeeded. But alas things did not work out again. Chase was initially given extra episodes but was shuffled off to Saturday, The Cape flopped quickly, Outsourced started strong but faltered, and Perfect Couples was DOA. NBC’s big thrust, though, was The Event.

The Event was this year’s FlashForward. It was supposed to be the next Lost, NBC pouring in advertising money and giving it a big budget; instead, it flopped. People attributed the demise to a number of things—the wonky flashbacks, among others. In my opinion, it was simply because the writers couldn’t sustain the energy of the better episodes and didn’t develop the characters enough to make us care when the plot was not going full-speed ahead. But that’s just conjecture. One factor that assuredly did not cause the demise of The Event, however, was the long hiatus. It’s easy for fans to blame networks for a show not working (“Fox only cancels good shows!” “You moved it to Monday!”), but the facts are facts—The Event was doing badly before the hiatus. The last episode before the hiatus, airing on November 11, was already down to 1.9 in the demo, a far-cry from the 3.6 which began the series. Sometimes shows just don’t work.

Law & Order: LA was one of those shows that had disaster written all over it. It was picked up for a 13-episode season even before the pilot was done. All the series had was the Law & Order tag and Los Angeles name. Unlike other L&O iterations—Special Victims Unit, Criminal Intent, and Trial by Jury—this one was pretty vague. The show was retooled, returning on April 11, but the ratings was even lower than where they were. Despite Dick Wolf’s best efforts, another Law & Order was unable to flourish, and with the original cancelled, Criminal Intent in its final season, and SVU on its last legs, the franchise may well be becoming to an end soon.

The notable renewal was Chuck, which renewed for a fifth and final 13-episode season to my delight. It’s not that I particularly like Chuck or was too surprised by the renewal, but its run has been nothing short of amazing. Chuck was renewed for a third season after a vigorous fan campaign—which may or may not have been a big contribution to the renewal, though NBC executives claimed it was. The ratings for the season started decently, but begun to drop. But NBC, as a whole, was doing terribly. What would be low ratings on another network was the norm on NBC, and Chuck was doing fine.

Now in its third season, Chuck’s ratings are again down—to the low 1s, quite a bit lower than the previous season—but lo and behold, NBC’s primetime ratings are even lower. Suddenly, Chuck looks pretty good compared to the likes of The Event and LOLA. In each renewal, Chuck was only given a 13-episode season—accounting for the numerous potential series finale episodes. However, NBC, in its misery, actually gave Chuck additional episodes in both instances. We don’t know the specifics of this new deal—how low WB offered to get Chuck to syndication, whether there are budget cuts—but the saga of Chuck continues for at least one more season.

Looking ahead, NBC remains in trouble, but we shouldn’t count it out just yet. Its Thursday comedy lineup remains fairly robust, especially for NBC standards, the cancellation of Outsourced and 30 Rock returning at midseason allows for the new blood of Whitney to be injected in there. Parenthood, which hung in there against such competition as The Good Wife and Body of Proof, was renewed and should remain stable given its adverse situation this season. Harry’s Law proved to be a surprise, hanging in against Castle and Hawaii Five-0, and was given a renewal even though it skews quite old. NBC’s biggest new show, The Voice, was not only a hit compared to the network’s other paltry shows, but also a hit in general. Debuting with an astounding 5.1 (my reaction: “People choosing to watch NBC?!?), it represents the perfect opportunity for NBC to launch new shows next season.


Fox has been having troubles lately as well. Outside of perennial stalwarts American Idol, the Sunday animated comedy lineup, Bones, and newcomer Glee, the network hasn’t had much success. Comedies failed and new scripted content during the summer just didn’t work. However, the network renewed several dramas last year—Fringe, Human Target, Lie to Me—beyond their first season (in the case of Human Target) and even into their third (Fringe and Lie to Me). After a retooling of Human Target and Shawn Ryan’s departure from Lie to Me, the two did not meet ratings expectations and were canceled earlier this week. And of the new comedies—Raising Hope, Traffic Light, Breaking In, and Running Wilde—only Raising Hope survived.

The Chicago Code was one of those shows, like Lone Star, which critics liked but television viewers didn’t necessarily gravitate to. The ratings started decently and appeared to stabilize in the low 2 range, before dropping off into the 1s. The reason for the failure of The Chicago Code is hard to pinpoint. Its creator, Shawn Ryan, is undeniably a master when it comes to popularity and quality, as he helmed The Shield to unprecedented heights. But that was on cable, where the standards of behavior were more lax. The Chicago Code was not about tough, head-bashing cop/vigilante work but the police department tackling city corruption. I guess viewers didn’t see the appeal.

Out of the canceled dramas came one survivor, Fringe, which was renewed several weeks ago. Moved to Friday nights, Fringe was in a tough spot and many people predicted it would not survive. Along those same lines, lots of people blamed Fox for putting it in the time slot, going back to the same complaints we’ve heard through the decade about Firefly, Wonderfalls, Dollhouse, and Dark Angel. It’s hard to have too much animosity against Fox, though. Fringe was given great chances at the beginning—plum post-Idol slots and post-House slots, but the ratings kept falling. As the show became more serialized, viewers dropped off. Still, Fox renewed the show for a fourth season and everyone should be grateful for that.

Fox may not have as many problems as NBC, with several strong shows and only two hours of primetime to fill per night, but its inability to get a comedy block and launch new dramas is certainly troubling. Fox has not released its 2011-2012 schedule yet, so I won’t be able to comment too much on future prospects yet.


In the current television climate, ABC is doing reasonably well compared to the other networks. It launched the hit Modern Family last season, which led to great stability in ABC’s Wednesday comedy block with The Middle and Cougar Town reaping the benefits, not to mention the usual rocks—Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Dancing With the Stars, Castle, and Desperate Housewives. Despite this, ABC has its own share of growing pains, My Generations and The Whole Truth getting cancelled almost instantly. In terms of total cancellations, the numbers alone look ugly. Off The Map, Better With You, No Ordinary Family, V, Mr. Sunshine, Detroit 1-8-7, and Brothers & Sisters (without a proper conclusion)—all gone.

Of these, No Ordinary Family stands out. I remember watching the pilot at Comic-Con and the loud reception it got. I wasn’t entirely sure why people liked it (I think it was the jokes I found clichéd), but clearly people liked it. The ratings started quite strong and waned over time. For those who watched the show, it seemed like the writing was the biggest problem, with the plot going in every which direction and the sheer weight of teenage clichés that weighed everything down. By the end of the season, the show was all but forgotten.

Between these cancellations, only two shows have survived—Body of Proof and Happy Endings, the latter of which was somewhat of a surprise. ABC has not released next season’s schedule, but I have a couple things on my mind. (1) Could Castle be moved off Monday so a new show can reap DWTS’s lead-in? Castle has been steady 3.0s in the past few months while other shows in the same timeslot have declined. Surely ABC wants Castle to succeed, but maybe the show can survive on its own while a new show is bolstered by DWTS into ratings success. (2) Could the The Middle get the slot after Modern Family? Anyone who’s looked at Wednesday ratings would notice how small Cougar Town’s ratings look compared to Modern Family while The Middle does just fine by itself. I don’t want to be a stringent retentionista (as TVBTN coins it), but that’s something to consider.


CBS is currently the most stable network, and for good reason. It has the CSI franchise, the JAG/NCIS franchise, the burgeoning Criminal Minds franchise, a solid comedy lineup on Monday, and The Big Bang Theory to anchor Thursday. But like the other networks, it has had its share of problems this year. Although CBS has not released too much information about cancellations or renewals, here’s what we definitely know: Mad Love, $#*! My Dad Says, and The Defenders are cancelled. Those should not be a surprise to anyone and the writing has been on the wall for a while. The definite renewals that have not been announced yet are The Mentalist, CSI, Criminal Minds, Mike & Molly, NCIS: Los Angeles, Rules of Engagement, CSI: Miami, Hawaii Five-0, and Two and a Half Men.

The fate of a number of shows remain up in the air, however, and it is hard to say what CBS will do. In the forefront of my mind is The Good Wife. It has been doing poorly, garnering ratings in the low 2s, far from the 3s of its lead-in, NCIS: LA. Still, The Good Wife is the only drama on the network that gets any attention from the award shows and the critics love the show. Does this publicity make up for a lack of ratings? A pair of spin-offs, CSI: New York and Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, are also in trouble. They each have a saving grace, with CSI: NY not performing horribly and CBS’s desire to turn Criminal Minds into another big franchise. While almost every major TV site says that Blue Bloods is a lock for renewal, I have to question that. The ratings are decent for Fridays, but an absolute lock?

At the end of the day, CBS will remain in good shape even if it cancels all the aforementioned shows (which it probably won’t). The network remains as strong as ever and NCIS, in its eight season, was actually growing at the beginning of the season. There are warning signs on the horizon, however, as CSI dropped perilously low in recent weeks while the Monday comedy block as a whole has been hitting lows.

To wrap up, this season of television has been horrible for new shows. We can literally count the number of new shows that survived the season on our hands while our hands and feet wouldn’t even cover all the canceled shows. With the networks gearing up a new development slate, we’ll be seeing a lot of new shows in the next week, and yes, most will be canceled by this time next year.
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