Bubble Watch: A Look At CBS's & Fox's Pilot Seasons + Is Fox, Like NBC, Just Trying To Divert Attention From Bad Ratings?

Categories: Bubble Watch

Written By

April 13th, 2014

Parenthood November 14

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.)

CBS

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)

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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.)

Fox

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)

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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.

Tom’s Soapbox

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

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Show Network Status
Back In The Game ABC Canceled
Killer Women ABC Canceled
Lucky 7 ABC Canceled
Mind Games 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
Raising Hope Fox Canceled
Rake Fox Canceled
Ironside NBC Canceled
The Michael J. Fox Show NBC Canceled
Sean Saves The World NBC Canceled
Welcome To The Family NBC Canceled
Betrayal ABC Cancellation Predicted
Mixology ABC Cancellation Predicted
The Neighbors ABC Cancellation Predicted
Super Fun Night ABC Cancellation Predicted
Trophy Wife ABC Cancellation Predicted
The Crazy Ones CBS Cancellation Predicted
Hostages CBS Cancellation Predicted
Intelligence CBS Cancellation Predicted
The Mentalist CBS Cancellation Predicted
Beauty & The Beast CW Cancellation Predicted
The Carrie Diaries CW Cancellation Predicted
Star-Crossed CW Cancellation Predicted
The Tomorrow People CW Cancellation Predicted
Almost Human Fox Cancellation Predicted
Dads Fox Cancellation Predicted
Enlisted Fox Cancellation Predicted
Surviving Jack Fox Cancellation Predicted
Believe NBC Cancellation Predicted
Crisis NBC Cancellation Predicted
Dracula NBC Cancellation Predicted
Growing Up Fisher NBC Cancellation Predicted
Revolution 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
Castle 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
Nashville ABC Renewal Predicted
Once Upon A Time ABC Renewal Predicted
Resurrection ABC Renewal Predicted
Revenge ABC Renewal Predicted
Scandal ABC Renewal Predicted
Suburgatory ABC Renewal Predicted
Hart Of Dixie CW Renewal Predicted
Family Guy Fox Renewal Predicted
About a Boy NBC Renewal Predicted
Community NBC Renewal Predicted
Hannibal NBC Renewal Predicted
Law & Order: SVU NBC Renewal Predicted
The Big Bang Theory CBS Renewed
Blue Bloods CBS Renewed
Criminal Minds CBS Renewed
CSI CBS Renewed
Elementary CBS Renewed
The Good Wife CBS Renewed
Hawaii Five-0 CBS Renewed
Mike & Molly CBS Renewed
The Millers CBS Renewed
Mom CBS Renewed
NCIS CBS Renewed
NCIS: LA CBS Renewed
Person Of Interest CBS Renewed
Two and a Half Men CBS Renewed
2 Broke Girls CBS Renewed
Arrow CW Renewed
The Originals CW Renewed
Reign CW Renewed
Supernatural CW Renewed
The Vampire Diaries CW Renewed
Bob's Burgers Fox Renewed
Bones Fox Renewed
Brooklyn Nine-Nine Fox Renewed
The Following Fox Renewed
Glee Fox Renewed
The Mindy Project Fox Renewed
New Girl Fox Renewed
The Simpsons Fox Renewed
Sleepy Hollow Fox Renewed
The Blacklist NBC Renewed
Chicago Fire NBC Renewed
Chicago P.D. NBC Renewed
Grimm NBC Renewed
Parks and Recreation NBC Renewed
tvbythenumbers.com

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