USA TODAY’s 17th Save Our Shows surveys the TV ‘bubble’ – USA TODAY
The voting booth has reopened.
USA TODAY’s 17th annual Save Our Shows survey lets you cast your ballot for your favorites among 15 series hovering somewhere between expected renewal and near-certain cancellation.
USING A TABLET?: Right this way to the voting booth
DESKTOP VOTERS: Take part in this year’s Save Our Shows poll
This year’s crop includes perennial “on the bubble” shows such as NBC’s Community and Parenthood, more recent wobbly survivors like ABC’s Suburgatory and plenty of freshmen series that have neither earned their way to an easy pickup nor proved dismal enough to fade away fast.
STATUS UPDATE: See if your favorite show’s fate has already been decided
Other shows are nearly toast, including CBS’ The Mentalist, NBC’s Hannibal and Revolution, Fox comedy Enlisted and CW’s The Tomorrow People.
The culling of the herd is a rite of spring as networks evaluate pilots for replacement series and set their fall lineups in mid-May. Most network shows fail, so that cancellation heap is stocked with the usual assortment of newcomers that couldn’t find an audience. In the returning column are a handful of ratings winners (The Blacklist, Sleepy Hollow, Resurrection), joined by other first-year series deemed at least good enough to last.
The reasons for those still fighting are varied, and grow more complex each year as the TV business fragments. Simple ratings math once was the only yardstick in determining whether a show survived, and it’s still crucial.
“It’s like you’re opening a movie every week,” says Adam Goldberg, whose autobiographical sitcom The Goldbergs is expected to return. “You just feel this intense pressure that’s always gnawing at you. You want to get great ratings, but you really want to just do the best show you can.” (Now he’d love a Wednesday time slot near ABC’s other family comedies).
Yet as DVRs, video on demand and streaming have grown more popular, delayed viewing is a bigger factor, because advertisers pay for any viewership within three days. If a network owns the show and stands to profit from syndication, or if there’s revenue from streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu or Amazon, it’s apt to be more patient. And sustained interest overseas, where remakes and spinoffs often are popular, can extend a show’s life by lowering its cost.
A bigger factor is how pilot episodes for replacement series look. “There is a direct correlation,” says Carolyn Finger of Variety Insights, which tracks new-series development. She says programmers are always “comparing them to shows on the bubble” to determine whether keeping a lower-risk but low-reward show is better than a stab at an increasingly rare breakout hit.
“If they’re not as confident in their development, you may see something return that (ordinarily) wouldn’t from a ratings standpoint,” says Sam Armando, analyst at Chicago ad firm SMGx.
Networks also can peddle only so many new shows at once: “You can’t prioritize in marketing every hour of your schedule,” says NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke, a fact that argues for incumbents or lower-cost series that don’t require extensive promo campaigns.
Still, that won’t spare others. CBS renewed nearly all of its other shows, so after six seasons it’s expected to say goodbye to The Mentalist to create room for a few new series. (Producer Warner Bros. already is shopping the show elsewhere). Though it costs NBC little to air, extreme violence in Hannibal makes it a tough sell to advertisers.
NBC’s Law & Order: SVU is on the bubble only because of an impasse in contract negotiations between the network and producer Dick Wolf, whose newer Chicago Fire costs far less to produce but has a bigger audience. Talks will go down to the wire, echoing the brinksmanship that ended the original Law & Order in 2010. Fox’s Dads is in contention only for its potential value to Fox’s sibling studio. Still other shows, such as Community and CBS’ Unforgettable, have cheated death by agreeing to cost cuts that make them more economically viable despite lower ratings.
Yet even as some shows nearly double their young-adult audience with DVR playback, the TV ecosystem also depends on local stations funneling viewers into their late newscasts. That puts pressure on shows at 10 p.m. ET/PT to drive live viewership, executives say, which puts Parenthood, along with ABC’s Nashville and Revenge, into question-mark status.
And for midseason replacements such as Fox’s just-launched Surviving Jack, CBS’ Friends With Better Lives and upcoming Bad Teacher, it’s too soon to tell.