Bubble Watch 2011: What shows will be renewed?

Senior Television Writer
05.10.11 51 Comments

Upfront Week, when the five broadcast networks gather advertisers together for a big dog-and-pony show about their fall schedules for next season, is – like a lot of parts of the TV business (see also Nielsen ratings, sweeps, etc.) – a relic of an earlier era, when networks didn’t program year-round, when there wasn’t so much competition from cable, when DVRs and the Internet didn’t allow people to make their own schedules, etc.

But Upfront Week (which begins on Monday with an NBC/FOX double-header) still exists, and even though many shows that in normal years would be on the bubble to return (“Cougar Town,” “Community,” “Raising Hope”) were renewed weeks or months ago, there are still a number of notable shows whose fates are up in the air.

After the jump, I have a breakdown of the Big Four networks (I left the CW to Fienberg, who actually watches a bunch of their shows, to cover in his exhaustive, show-by-show Bubble Watch gallery) in terms of what shows are already renewed, what shows are near-locks to return, and then which of the bubble shows I think have a realistic shot to come back.

ABC (presents Tuesday):
Renewed: “The Bachelor,” “Castle,” “Cougar Town,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Middle,” “Modern Family,” “Private Practice”

Almost certainly coming back:
“20/20,” “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” “Body of Proof,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”

As for the rest, there have been reports that ABC is trying to hash out a deal for one final season of “Brothers & Sisters” done on the cheap. I could see one of “Better With You,” “Happy Endings” or “Mr. Sunshine” being brought back as schedule filler, but not more than one unless ABC decides to expand to a second comedy night. “No Ordinary Family” and “Off the Map” are likely done, and “Detroit 1-8-7” comes back only if ABC boss Paul Lee really wants to suck up to the TV critics, while “V” comes back only if ABC’s new series development is just godawful.

CBS (presents Wednesday):
Renewed: “The Amazing Race,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “NCIS,” “Survivor,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Undercover Boss”

Almost certainly coming back: “48 Hours Mystery,” “60 Minutes,” “Blue Bloods,” “Criminal Minds,” “CSI,” “CSI: Miami,” “The Good Wife,” “Hawaii Five-0,” “The Mentalist,” “Mike & Molly,” “NCIS: Los Angeles”

Though “Two and a Half Men” was renewed, there’s still the question of who, if anyone, CBS and Warner Bros. feels can replace Charlie Sheen. It was the highest-rated comedy on TV when he had to be fired due to reasons of insanity, so they’ll bring it back unless absolutely everyone who’s available is terrible – and probably even then, just to see how much of the audience was there solely for Sheen.

In terms of everything else, the future of “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior” and, especially, “CSI: NY” will depend largely on how CBS execs feel about the development of their new shows, while “Mad Love,” “Rules of Engagement” and “$#*! My Dad Says” depend on both development and whether CBS fears a “Two and a Half Men”-sized hole on the schedule in the long term.

FOX (presents Monday):
Renewed: “American Dad,” “Bob’s Burgers,” “Bones,” “The Cleveland Show,” “Family Guy,” “Fringe,” “Glee,” “Raising Hope,” “The Simpsons”

Almost certainly coming back: “America’s Most Wanted,” “American Idol,” “Cops,” “Kitchen Nightmares”

Ordinarily, “House” would be in one of the two categories above, but it’s an aging, increasingly expensive show with decreasing ratings, only two current castmembers (Hugh Laurie and Olivia Wilde) are signed for next year, and the contract between FOX and the studio (owned by NBC) is up for renewal, with FOX reportedly determined to only bring back the show if it’s significantly cheaper. If not, the studio can shop it around to other networks (but not NBC itself, as part of the original deal the studio and network cut), and CBS and (especially) ABC would likely have interest in continuing the good doctor’s adventures. So “House” will probably be on TV somewhere next season – it just may not be FOX.

(UPDATE: Since I finished writing this post last night, Deadline is reporting that Omar Epps and Robert Sean Leonard are close to re-upping, and that the renewal won’t be too far in the future. So no worries. SECOND UPDATE: FOX has renewed it.)

The future of “House” will play a role in how many bubble dramas get picked up, especially since FOX already has “Terra Nova” and “The X Factor” ordered for the fall and a bunch of high-profile dramas in development. I would guess that “Human Target,” “The Chicago Code” and “Lie to Me” are competing for one spot at best – but, again, no “House” changes many rules. (Of those, I’d be happiest to see “Chicago Code” return.) “Traffic Light” seems to be playing out the string, and while “Breaking In” hasn’t been super-impressive post-“Idol,” I could see a scenario where it gets paired with “Raising Hope” (which has struggled post-“Glee” for quite a while) for half a season in some out-of-the-way corner of the schedule.

NBC (presents Monday):
Renewed: “30 Rock,” “The Biggest Loser,” “Community,” “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” “The Sing-Off,” “Who Do You Think You Are?”

Almost certainly coming back: “Celebrity Apprentice,” “Dateline NBC,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Parenthood,” “The Voice”

The instant success of “The Voice” (which could well be renewed after the ratings for the next original episode come in) has changed the game quite a bit at NBC. Depending on how it’s scheduled next season – it could come back in the fall or be held until after NBC’s Super Bowl telecast, say – it would give new programming boss Robert Greenblatt a big platform to promote new series, and to schedule in front of at least one rookie. And that’s not promising news for the shows on the bubble (as opposed to already kaput shows like “The Cape,” “Chase” and “Perfect Couples,” or close-to-kaput like “The Event”).

The future of “Outsourced” (the only NBC sitcom that hasn’t already been renewed or effectively canceled) is going to depend on whether Greenblatt wants to keep the six-comedy Thursday schedule, and/or if he’s pondering another night of comedies. On the drama side, each of “Chuck,” “Harry’s Law” and “Law & Order: LA” has a modest argument in its favor for coming back, even if it’s just as cannon fodder in the fall so NBC doesn’t have to launch too many new shows at once. (“The Voice” being held for February would help in that regard.) “Chuck” has passionate support in the media and fan communities (though neither group has been as vocal as in seasons past). “Harry’s Law” was the most-watched of the three, albeit with an audience so heavily comprised of viewers over 50 (who aren’t desirable to advertisers) that its final 18-49 demographic ratings weren’t that much better than what “Chuck” is getting. And NBC’s long working relationship with Dick Wolf might give “LOLA” a slim chance of returning for old time’s sake. (Though keep in mind that Greenblatt wasn’t there for most of that relationship, and NBC already gave Wolf a mulligan by letting him revamp the cast, which didn’t help the numbers at all.)

My heart wants to say “Chuck” comes back for an abbreviated victory lap season; my head fears that either “Harry’s Law” gets the only renewal slot or Greenblatt really cleans house and puts on as much new product as he can find room for given previous renewals for low-rated shows like “Community” and “30 Rock.”

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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