2016-17 Broadcast Television Upfronts

They call it Bloody Monday. This is the first Monday after the conclusion of the NFL season when the teams who had bad seasons fire their coaching staff. The broadcast television version of this is the middle of May, at what’s called the network upfronts. Essentially, each network pitches its fall schedule to various companies who will decide how much they want to pay to run ads on the shows.

But to make room for the new stuff, networks have to first shuffle out the old ones.

Some shows sign off of their own accord. This year saw the end of the critically acclaimed The Good Wife, which ended with a controversial slap. But out of the dozens of shows that were shuffled off this mortal coil, The Good Wife was by far the exception, not the rule.

The bloodiest of networks was ABC, which sent a dozen shows packing by itself, over 1/3 of its total programming slate. The highest profile of these were Castle and Nashville.

Castle – wrapping its eighth season – had been on the bubble for renewal for a ninth season. But its two stars, Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic, reportedly did not get along behind the scenes, and the show was poised to write her off for the following season. Given that the interplay between the two was the core of the show, fans actually demanded the show be cancelled, rather than continue without Katic. The network listened. Since the show’s ratings had been diminishing, the writers filmed two endings – one to set the show up for Season 9, one to cap the series.

The Nashville cancellation came as perhaps the biggest shock of the season. Though the show’s ratings were never great and the music licensing made the episodes expensive, ABC had been poised to bring it back. Nashville provided alternate sources of revenue for the alphabet network – music on iTunes, concerts with the show’s performers, etc.

Its fans have been among the most vocal in protesting Nashville’s demise, and Lionsgate, which owns the program, is shopping it to other networks. Given the show has 88 episodes under its belt, that this year’s season finale is purportedly a cliff-hanger and Hulu owns Nashville’s streaming rights, it seems natural for a deal to be made. I’d be surprised if Nashville didn’t get a 12 episode final season on Hulu to end the show. That’d give it a full 100 episodes – the magic number for future syndication of its reruns, plus it’d be much harder for Hulu to attract new fans to the show without a reasonable conclusion.

It’s goofy with networks cancel a long-running series like Nashville at the last minute. If a show gets cancelled after the first or second season, I don’t really see an issue. But cancelling a series in May, after the show has already filmed its final episodes for the season, is kind of ridiculous, both from a fan and a business perspective. From the fan side, it’s easy – after asking you to spend 88 hours with a television show, it seems like the least the network can do is allow the writers, actors and producers another couple of episodes to bring it all to an end.

But beyond that, from the business side, there’s so many ways to watch a television show now. Netflix, Hulu, On Demand, BluRay discs, and so many more. Many people don’t even watch series until they’re long gone – then one night they get hooked and binge-watch until they’re through. How much more likely are they to watch a program that has a proper ending, than one that literally fades out on a cliff-hanger?

To put odds on it though, Nashville is most likely to see the light of day out of the 104 television shows now without a home (to see if your favorites survived the purge, have a look here). More notables include Agent Carter, The Grinder, Grandfathered, Person of Interest, House of Lies, Telenovela and the Mysteries of Laura. Supergirl moved over to The CW to join the rest of the DC Comic book shows (and many are it should have been there all along). But what are all of these program cancellations making way for?

It seems like more of the same – pretty much literally on Fox. Fox’s biggest two new shows are – wait for it – 24 and Prison Break (I say this sarcastically, yet these are the two shows I’m most excited for). 24 is rebooting with a new lead (Kiefer Sutherland is launching a new television series on ABC), while Prison Break is resurrecting one.

CBS has followed suit in rebooting MacGyver (which of course it has paired with fellow reboot Hawaii Five-O), and launched a new medical procedural. They’ve also brought back their Monday Night comedy block, which is anchored by television veterans Big Bang Theory and 2 Broke Girls – at least during football season.

ABC saw CBS’ comedy block and doubled down, claiming Tuesday and Wednesday for its laughers. For the first time since 2009, The Middle will not hold a spot on Wednesday night as The Mouse uses the seven season vet to kick off its Tuesday television block.

NBC, which used to be the home of the most dominating comedy on the airwaves, will have just two laughers in its lineup. But if you’re a fan of Chicago, good news! The Chicago television universe has expanded once again. It started with Chicago Fire a few years back, then there was Chicago PD and Chicago Med. At some point next season, Chicago Justice will join the other three, giving 4 of NBC’s 18 prime-time hours to the Dick Wolfe universe. To see each network’s fall schedule, click here.

Reboots and converted films are the name of the game though this coming season. As Jimmy Kimmel said at the ABC presentation, “All your favorite VHS tapes are becoming TV shows”. In addition to the aforementioned MacGyver, 24: Legacy and Prison Break, Fox is launching Lethal Weapon and The Exorcist, Training Day is coming to CBS, Taken and Emerald City (as in the Wizard of Oz) on NBC and Frequency and a series based on the Archie comics to The CW.

This, after series based on Limitless, Rush Hour and Minority Report all did so well this season – as in, all three freshmen series didn’t make the cut for their sophomore seasons.

Which of these will make the grade, and which will be discarded to make room for the new in May 2017? Only time will tell.

Programming note: The blog will be off for the next couple of weeks. See you on June 13!