This week, advertisers and press descend on New York City for the broadcast networks’ annual upfront presentations, in which CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and the CW announce their new fall schedules, tout their returning shows, and break some viewers’ hearts by dropping the axe on more than a few shows.
Gallery: Upfronts 2011
Increasingly, the broadcasters are facing tougher competition from cable, both in terms of viewership (cable network USA regularly beats sister network NBC, while MTV’s Jersey Shore seems unstoppable) and in terms of buzz, with cable programs such as Mad Men, True Blood, The Walking Dead, and the Real Housewives franchise regularly grabbing the spotlight away from their broadcast brethren.
In response to that threat—as well as to criticisms that they played it safe with their programming this past season—the networks have taken more risks in their picks this season. While the usual number of doctor/lawyer/cop procedurals made it to the pilot stage (and beyond), the broadcasters also attempted to get more creative as well, ordering series that revolved around 1960s flight attendants, Playboy Club bunnies, witches, Alcatraz prisoners, bitchy Southern belles, fairy tale monsters, identity thieves, sleepwalking detectives, ghostly free clinic doctors, and vigilantes using futuristic (and scary) software to predict crimes before they happen. (The latter comes from J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan, brother of Chris.)
All of which are efforts to lure viewers back to their television sets (the number of U.S. households with televisions dropped this year) and—after being lured—away from cable. But it’s also time for several networks, such as ABC and NBC, to attempt to refine their brand amid changes in management.
Of the 44 pilots ordered to series this year, there's only a 30 percent chance that each of them will make it past their respective first seasons. Which means there's a bit of an uphill battle for each of these new shows and ABC—which picked up no less than 13 new shows—has more to lose on that front, given the likelihood that the majority of new shows will fail. But the broadcasters are also trying to minimize the risk, holding back some of the more ambitious or daring programming until midseason, where a 13-episode order can run uninterrupted and when they can (they hope) make more of a splash with promotion and marketing than in the already crowded fall.
Here’s the bright side for viewers: After this past season, which featured too many duds— Outlaw, My Generation, Running Wilde, etc. etc.—and no new real hits, the networks probably couldn’t do worse.
Additionally, here’s a scorecard—broken down by network—to help you keep track of which shows will be returning next season and which are now six feet under.
ABC Renewed: Body of Proof, Castle, Cougar Town, Grey’s Anatomy, Happy Endings, Modern Family, Private Practice, Secret Millionaire, Shark Tank, The Bachelor, The Middle, 20/20, America’s Funniest Home Videos, Dancing With the Stars, Desperate Housewives, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Wife Swap (Celebrity Wife Swap Edition) ABC Canceled/Ending: Brothers and Sisters, Detroit 187, Mr. Sunshine, Better With You, My Generation, No Ordinary Family, Off the Map, Skating With the Stars, Supernanny, The Whole Truth, V ABC On the Bubble/In Limbo: Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Primetime
CBS Renewed: The Amazing Race, The Big Bang Theory, CSI: New York, How I Met Your Mother, NCIS, Rules of Engagement, Survivor, Two and a Half Men, Undercover Boss, 60 Minutes, Blue Bloods, Criminal Minds, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, Hawaii Five-0, NCIS: Los Angeles, Mike & Molly, The Good Wife, The Mentalist, 48 Hours Mystery CBS Canceled/Ending: Mad Love, $#*! My Dad Says, Chaos, Live to Dance, Medium, The Defenders, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior
Fox Renewed: American Dad, American Idol, America’s Most Wanted: America Strikes Back, Bob’s Burgers, Bones, COPS, Family Guy, Fringe, Glee, House, Kitchen Nightmares, Mobbed, Raising Hope, The Cleveland Show, The SimpsonsFox Canceled/Ending: Breaking In, The Chicago Code, The Good Guys, Human Target, Lie to Me, Lone Star, Running Wilde, Traffic LightFox On the Bubble/In Limbo: Million Dollar Money Drop,
NBC Renewed: 30 Rock, Chuck, Community, Football Night in America, Harry’s Law, Parenthood, Parks and Recreation, Sunday Night Football, The Office, The Sing-Off, Who Do You Think You Are?, Dateline NBC, The Voice, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, The Celebrity Apprentice, Saturday Night LiveNBC Canceled/Ending: America’s Next Great Restaurant, Chase, Friday Night Lights, Outlaw, Outsourced, Perfect Couples, The Cape, The Paul Reiser Show, School Pride, Undercovers, The Event, Law & Order: Los Angeles
CW Renewed: 90210, America’s Next Top Model, Gossip Girl, Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, Nikita, One Tree HillCW Canceled/Ending: Life Unexpected, Smallville, Hellcats, Plain Jane, Shedding for the Wedding
Jace Lacob is The Daily Beast's TV Columnist. As a freelance writer, he has written for the Los Angeles Times, TV Week, and others. Jace is the founder of television criticism and analysis website Televisionary and can be found on Twitter. He is a member of the Television Critics Association.
Maria Elena Fernandez is a senior entertainment reporter for Newsweek/The Daily Beast. She previously covered television and nightlife for The Los Angeles Times and spent many years on the crime beat, writing for The Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She also worked at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, where she covered the AIDS epidemic. Her children's book, The Secret of Fern Island, was published in 1996 under a pseudonym so that she wouldn't be stalked by screaming children.