Bubble Watch: A Look At CBS’s & Fox’s Pilot Seasons + Is Fox, Like NBC, Just Trying To Divert Attention From Bad Ratings?
The broadcast networks have finished casting the overwhelming majority of their pilots for the year. Can we derive any clues on their scheduling from the number and types of pilots they’re shooting for next season? For example, everyone should have seen the number of (and talent involved in the) comedy pilots for CBS last season and known that they were seriously considering expanding their comedy hours.
(One quick disclaimer – don’t take any of the specific past numbers as gospel, as the history of failed shows gets cloudy fast. The following numbers only include regular season entries; the Fox numbers do not include any animated shows, as they are their own beast.)
2014 Pilots: 8 Dramas +1 to Series, 9 Comedies
2013 Pickups: 2/9 Drama Pilots (22%), 6/12 Comedy Pilots (50%), 3 New Fall Hours (1 Drama, 4 Comedies)
2012 Pickups: 4/7 Drama Pilots (57%), 2/8 Comedy Pilots (25%), 3.5 New Fall Hours (3 Dramas, 1 Comedy)
2011 Pickups: 4/6 Drama Pilots (67%), 3/9 Comedy Pilots (33%), 4 New Fall Hours (3 Dramas, 2 Comedies)
2010 Pickups: 5/9 Drama Pilots (56%), 3/9 Comedy Pilots (33%), 4 New Fall Hours (3 Dramas, 2 Comedies)
2009 Pickups: 4/10 Drama Pilots (40%), 1/7 Comedy Pilots (14%), 3.5 New Fall Hours (3 Dramas, 1 Comedy)
Needs: M@8, M@10
Wants: Th@9:30, F@8 in Spring, Su@10
Here’s why I wrote “seriously considering” rather than “definitely” expanding their comedies last season – CBS actually had more drama pilots last season than the two before it, despite all the extra comedy pilots! Yet that large number of drama pilots merely resulted in the failures of Hostages and Intelligence last season – combine with the number of comedies and dramas now regularly dropping below a 2.0 rating, and it should be clear to the CBS executives that they’re firmly on the same downward slope as everyone else.
CBS has enough stockpiled past success though that they still only have two gaping holes – and one of those was caused by one of their most successful shows ending! So while The Crazy Ones actually tied or beat every other comedy on the competition this week, and The Mentalist competitive in the hour and actually having a slightly higher average than its lead-in for the season, their chances of survival are low. The Crazy Ones would likely need both of this season’s midseason comedies to fail and Mike & Molly and/or Two and a Half Men ordered for short seasons and kept off the Fall schedule (despite the latter being the second best comedy anchor CBS has left). The Mentalist would need WB to offer a price tag so low that it could timeshare with Undercover Boss for a final run in Spring, and beat whatever Sony is offering for Unforgettable.
(Speaking of which, yes, these are “leftover” second season episodes of Unforgettable. That’s also irrelevant. This is a different Nielsen season; the much larger point is that the performance of these episodes helps factor into any Season 4 renewal, not the Season 3 renewal that long since happened.)
2014 Pilots: 3 Dramas +2 to Series +2 Mini-Series, 5 Comedies +3 to Series
2013 Pickups: 4/7 Drama Pilots (57%), 4/7 Comedy Pilots (57%), 4 New Fall Hours (2 Dramas, 2 Comedies, 1 Reality)
2012 Pickups: 2/5 Drama Pilots (40%), 3/11 Comedy Pilots (27%), 2 New Fall Hours (1 Drama, 2 Comedies)
2011 Pickups: 4/7 Drama Pilots (57%), 2/8 Comedy Pilots (25%), 5.5 New Fall Hours (1 Drama, 1 Comedy, 4 Reality hours in The X-Factor)
2010 Pickups: 2/3 Drama Pilots (67%), 4/12 Comedy Pilots (33%), 2 New Fall Hours (1 Drama, 2 Comedies)
2009 Pickups: 3/6 Drama Pilots (50%), 2/5 Comedy Pilots (40%), 3.5 New Fall Hours (1 Drama, 1 Comedy)
Fall Needs: W@8, W@9, Th@8, Th@9, F@9
Fall Wants: Th@9:30
And then there’s Fox. The demise of The X-Factor, questioning if American Idol can cut costs enough to be viable at its current ratings and sponsorships, and changes in its development pipeline have all led to one of the murkiest situations in recent memory.
In most years, the no- and short backorders for Almost Human and Dads would be a virtual death sentence; this year, the ratings competitive-with-already-renewed shows and general chaos of the schedule mean that a reprieve for one of those two would not shock me. The far more likely candidate is Almost Human; with three comedies renewed and three more already ordered to series, Fox would need to schedule at least three comedy hours before they would have any need for the likes of Dads or Surviving Jack. When even Friday reality shows do better than their comedies, there is little reason to expect Fox to schedule comedies in bulk.
Kevin Reilly recently made a rare development-season appearance over at Grantland. Frankly, I would have been a bit more pointed in my questioning:
Audience vs. Revenue. Reilly (and the rest of the network heads) continue to point out that the overall audience is basically flat – the audience is still there, they are just watching on Netflix or on their DVRs or on Hulu. That statement is also irrelevant. If that audience isn’t being monetized (as much in the case of Hulu, or at all in the case of DVR viewing weeks later), then they effectively do not exist. Just because people still enjoy the programming doesn’t mean the network model will survive if networks are only bringing in a fraction of the ad revenue they used to.
New Pilot Model vs. New PR Stunt. Greenwald points out that at their nadir, NBC too claimed they were abandoning the old pilot system. In retrospect, it seems like NBC’s intent was a transparent ploy to divert attention away from their ratings struggles. Is the Fox situation any different?
Even if it is legitimate, has anything really changed at Fox? While they’ve picked up a couple failed pilots (e.g. Backstrom, Mulaney), for the most part it seems like Fox’s new model really just means that (some) scripts get picked up a year early, so Fox has the first crack at unemployed talent before the standard pilot casting window. What’s to stop everyone else from escalating the arms race and picking up their scripts early as well? (Note: NBC already has a series order (Shades of Blue) in for the 15/16 season.)
Pilot Process vs. Upfront Process. As domestic ad revenue continues to shrink, international and online rights sales continue to grow in importance. While the traditional upfronts aid in those sales (by being able to show the finished pilots), how exactly will that work with something that effectively doesn’t exist beyond a script? How does Fox sell, say, The Middle Man? “We don’t have a cast or even know which season (if any) it will air, but buy it today, because it’ll be great!”
Tom Shaw is a computer programmer from Milwaukee, WI. Bereft of Lost theories to argue about, he’s spent too much time attempting to figure out the TV industry.
Save yourself from hibernating bears! Direct your criticisms to @tvtomshaw instead!
Note: only scripted shows that have aired at least one episode this season are in the table below.
|Back In The Game||ABC||Canceled|
|Once Upon a Time in Wonderland||ABC||Canceled|
|How I Met Your Mother||CBS||Final Season Finished|
|We Are Men||CBS||Canceled|
|Nikita||CW||Final Season Finished|
|American Dad||Fox||Moving to TBS|
|The Michael J. Fox Show||NBC||Canceled|
|Sean Saves The World||NBC||Canceled|
|Welcome To The Family||NBC||Canceled|
|The Neighbors||ABC||Cancellation Predicted|
|Super Fun Night||ABC||Cancellation Predicted|
|Trophy Wife||ABC||Cancellation Predicted|
|The Crazy Ones||CBS||Cancellation Predicted|
|The Mentalist||CBS||Cancellation Predicted|
|Beauty & The Beast||CW||Cancellation Predicted|
|The Carrie Diaries||CW||Cancellation Predicted|
|The Tomorrow People||CW||Cancellation Predicted|
|Almost Human||Fox||Cancellation Predicted|
|Surviving Jack||Fox||Cancellation Predicted|
|Growing Up Fisher||NBC||Cancellation Predicted|
|Friends with Better Lives||CBS||On The Bubble|
|Unforgettable||CBS||On The Bubble|
|The 100||CW||On The Bubble|
|Parenthood||NBC||On The Bubble|
|Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.||ABC||Renewal Predicted|
|The Goldbergs||ABC||Renewal Predicted|
|Grey’s Anatomy||ABC||Renewal Predicted|
|Last Man Standing||ABC||Renewal Predicted|
|The Middle||ABC||Renewal Predicted|
|Modern Family||ABC||Renewal Predicted|
|Once Upon a Time||ABC||Renewal Predicted|
|Hart of Dixie||CW||Renewal Predicted|
|Family Guy||Fox||Renewal Predicted|
|About a Boy||NBC||Renewal Predicted|
|Law & Order: SVU||NBC||Renewal Predicted|
|The Big Bang Theory||CBS||Renewed|
|The Good Wife||CBS||Renewed|
|Mike & Molly||CBS||Renewed|
|Person of Interest||CBS||Renewed|
|Two and a Half Men||CBS||Renewed|
|2 Broke Girls||CBS||Renewed|
|The Vampire Diaries||CW||Renewed|
|The Mindy Project||Fox||Renewed|
|Parks and Recreation||NBC||Renewed|