Up Front About the Upfronts: State of the Networks 2014

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It's almost time for the Upfronts, that annual week of hand-shaking and star-parading that TV networks participate in with hopes of convincing advertisers to spend money on their shows. It's the one time of year where they really get to show off, so it's pretty important that they get their sh*t together ahead of time by cleaning the kitchen, putting a case of beer on ice, and making sure their fall schedules are in order. That means now is the perfect time to assess what they've been up to for the last year and how well it worked for them. Below, I'll run through each of the broadcast networks' last season, what is in store for them, and how they might fare at this time next year. 



ABC

2013–2014 finish among the five broadcast networks: Fourth place in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic with a 2.1 rating (down 5 percent from last season), bouncing between third and fourth with an average audience of around 7.5 million viewers (down slightly from its 7.88 million average in 2012-2013). 

Renewed this season: Officially? Nothing. But it's pretty safe to put The BachelorCastle, Grey's Anatomy, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Middle, Modern Family, Once Upon a Time, and Scandal on this list. 

Canceled this season: The Assets, Back in the Game, Lucky 7, Mind Games, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

New shows already ordered to series: The Club (12 episodes), Secrets & Lies (10 episodes), Astronaut Wives Club (10 episodes, midseason)

What's coming?: Shonda Rhimes' How to Get Away With Murder has a great shot at earning a spot on the schedule and becoming ABC's new darling as the network considers changing its name to AFS (Anything From Shonda). And American Crime, from 12 Years a Slave writer John Ridley, has the makings of being ABC's first prestige drama since Mistresses Zero Hour I dunno, Lost? ABC might also make a push toward bringing in an African-American audience with comedies Black-ish and Kevin Hart's Keep It Together.

State of the network: Another ho-hum season for the Alphabet, which continues to slide down into late-2000s-era NBC territory. The good news for ABC is that the rampant erosion of broadcast networks didn't affect it as much as it affected other networks, so drink a pint to that, ABC boss Paul Lee! ABC is still anchored by some stalwarts in Modern Family and Grey's Anatomy (yes, still), and Scandal gets a lot of chatter via social media, gossipers, and the White House. But even with S.H.I.E.L.D., which should have been a megahit but turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment ratings-wise, ABC's development portfolio for the 2013-2014 season was dreadful. Remember, someone actually greenlit Betrayal. Scheduling continues to be a problem for the network, as Trophy Wife was mishandled drastically while ABC fell in love with the idea of a movie star and placed Super Fun Night after Modern Family; there, it racked up decent-enough numbers thanks to the Modern Family lead-in to let ABC keep it there for too long, while worthier shows suffered elsewhere. And then, having not learned its lesson, the network put Mixology behind Modern Family once Super Fun Night vacated the spot. I mean, this may as well have been a repeat of 2012-2013, in that the network remained pretty static. ABC is going stale fast.



CBS

2013–2014 finish among the five broadcast networks: Third place in the 18-to-49 demo with a 2.4 rating (down 17 percent from last season; having the Super Bowl in 2012-2013 must've been nice), first place with an average audience of around 10.78 million viewers (down a chunk from its 11.85 million average in 2012-2013, thanks to the aforementioned Super Bowl). 

Renewed this season: 2 Broke Girls, The Amazing Race, The Big Bang Theory, Big Brother, Blue Bloods, Criminal Minds, CSI, Elementary, The Good Wife, Hawaii Five-0, Mike & Molly, The Millers, Mom, NCIS, NCIS: LA, Person of Interest, Survivor, Two and a Half Men, Undercover Boss

Canceled this season: We Are Men. But we can also put Intelligence and Hostages here.

New shows already ordered to series: Battle Creek (13 episodes)

What's coming?: There's a chance CBS adds a new CSI (Cyber, starring Patricia Arquette) and a new NCIS (New Orleans, starring Scott Bakula) to its stock, but both backdoor pilots were met with tepid response from critics and viewers. Though no one really wants it, I'd guess that How I Met Your Dad will get a go because of its formula. And the network's The Odd Couple redo, with its familiar brand and familiar face (Matthew Perry), sounds like something CBS will want on its schedule. 

State of the network: The big ratings drop is in part due to not having the Super Bowl this season, but there's something else going on here as well. Things are sagging just a bit at CBS, though it's not anything to get too worried about. Just last week, CBS still had 15 of the 25 most-watched shows on network television (and four of the top five), and that number only drops to 10 when you consider the highest-rated programs among 18- to 49-year-olds. The big deal here still remains The Big Bang Theory, which is an absolute monster each week it airs—and which is now locked down through the 2016-2017 TV season. And NCISCSI, and NCIS:LA are the kind of reliable product that other networks slaughter goats for. The big problem is that CBS didn't replenish its stock with new hits this season, and was a big 0 for 2 in new dramas with the dismal Intelligence and Hostages. What's its big new program? The Millers? Of course, it's important to note that CBS has so many veteran shows that it doesn't have that many chances to plant new shows. And with its very flexible schedule, CBS will be fine next year. (Full disclosure: CBS is the parent company of TV.com.)



The CW

2013–2014 finish among the five broadcast networks: Sixth place (when you factor in Spanish-language Univision) in the 18-to-49 demo with a 0.8 rating (up from a 0.7 last season), sixth place (again, behind Univision) with an average audience of around 1.87 million viewers (up from a 1.76 million average in 2012-2013). 

Renewed this season: America's Next Top Model, Arrow, Supernatural, The Originals, Reign, The Vampire Diaries. UPDATE: And now Hart of DixieThe 100, and Beauty and the Beast are officially renewed, too.

Canceled this season: Nikita, which was planned as a final season to begin with. Big question marks remain over the heads of The Carrie DiariesHart of DixieThe Tomorrow People, Star-Crossed, and Beauty and the Beast UPDATE: The Carrie Diaries, The Tomorrow People, and Star-Crossed are officially dunzo.

New shows already ordered to series: Nothing yet!

What's coming?: A couple spin-offs are in the works—Flash from Arrow, and Supernatural: Bloodlines from Supernatural. I'll be SHOCKED if Flash didn't get a series order (even though I don't think it should get one), and after Bloodlines' atrocious backdoor pilot that even dedicated SPN fans couldn't stomach, I'll be shocked if it DOES get picked up. Rob Thomas' iZombie sounds like the kind of CW show that would fit in nicely with the rest of the network's lineup, and I'm praying every day to my Mark Pedowitz shrine that Jane the Virgin gets made because I HAVE to see thisUPDATE: OMG Jane the Virgin is totally happening! Pedowitz heard my prayers! (The Flash and iZombie have the greenlight, too, and Bloodlines is officially dead.)

State of the network: Ignore the "sixth place" up there in the stats blurb; the important numbers are the ones that are bigger than last year. WAY TO BUCK THE TREND, CW! This is great news for the network, and it comes from the decision to operate more like a cable channel with a narrow niche. Sexy vampires, sexy vampire killers, sexy superheroes, and sexy ladies and gents of history. At this point, C-Dubs should keep an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" 'tude and continue to do what it's doing. That means keeping it up with sc-fi-heavy programming aimed at young adults and not casting anyone who's over 25 years old or under an 8 on the hotness scale. 



Fox

2013–2014 finish among the five broadcast networks: Second place in the 18-to-49 demo with a 2.4 rating (flat relative to last season), battling with ABC for third place with an average audience of around 7.5 million viewers (up from a 7.0 million average in 2012-2013). Fox had the Super Bowl this season, and that always helps.

Renewed this season: American IdolBob's Burgers, Bones, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Family Guy, The Following, Glee, MasterChef Junior, The Mindy Project, New Girl, The Simpsons, Sleepy Hollow

Canceled this season: Raising Hope, Almost Human, The X Factor, Us & Them, Dads, Enlisted, Surviving Jack, and Rake

New shows already ordered to series: Will Forte's Last Man on Earth (midseason), Mulaney (16 episodes), Weird Loners (six episodes), Backstrom (13 episodes), Empire, Gotham, Hieroglyph, Red Band Society.

What's coming?: See that list of shows already ordered to series? That's what's coming. Fox isn't hiding its hand. 

State of the network: Fox is leading the charge of "limited event series," which should be an interesting experiment to keep an eye on. And I wonder whether Fox is already having second thoughts; it just added more episodes to Sleepy Hollow's second season, despite the fact that one of the reasons the show did so well in Season 1 was that it only ran for a compact 13 episodes. And here's a scary thought: Sleepy Hollow is now Fox's big drama heading into 2014, after a second season of The Following that was disappointing both creatively in the ratings, but not disappointing enough to get it canceled. Gotham and Empire should boost the network's drama slate quite a lot, with the former a possible savior and the latter a contender for sleeper hit. I'd also say Fox's comedy initiative isn't going as well as the network once hoped it would, with New Girl trending down and The Mindy Project not pulling in the numbers Fox expected it to, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine has the potential to grow into something. Fox doesn't schedule the 10pm hour and it lost a few hours of programming per week when it ditched The X Factor (which was already overdue, for my sanity's sake), so it now has the opportunity to make some meaningful gambles with its 2014-2015 schedule. Of all the networks heading into 2014-2015, Fox is the one that could climb the highest... or fall the furthest.



NBC

2013–2014 finish among the five broadcast networks: First place in the 18-to-49 demo with a 2.8 rating (up 17 percent from last year's 2.4), second place with an average audience of around 9.44 million viewers (up big from a 6.97 million average in 2012-2013). One big reason for the first-place finish? NBC had the Winter Olympics this year. 

Renewed this season: The Blacklist, Celebrity Apprentice, Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., Grimm, Hollywood Game Night, Parks and Recreation, The Voice

Canceled this season: Ironside, The Michael J. Fox Show, Sean Saves the World, and Welcome to the Family. We can probably put Believe and Crisis here too, since they've been pulled from the network's schedule. 

New shows already ordered to series: Comedies Marry MeMr. RobinsonUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Working the Engels, and dramas Allegiance, Emerald City, Odyssey, and State of Affairs

What's coming?: Like with Fox, most of NBC's new series have already been ordered. 

State of the network: FIRST PLACE! And that is not a joke! After years of being the doormat on which its peers wiped the poop from their shoes, NBC has pretty much locked up a first-place finish in the ratings race, and a second-place finish in the total viewers war. Thanks to The Voice and its 10pm companion The Blacklist, NBC is no longer a punchline. NBC grew big while most other networks shrunk, and nobody can take that away from it. But I'm gonna take a little away anyway and point out that we're comparing NBC's 2013-2014 numbers to awful ones in 2012-2013, so of course they look great. Plus, the 2014 Winter Olympics contributed a sizable boost, and Sunday Night Football is a perennial beast. It's almost unfair that NBC has the NFL during primetime and can rely on on the football audience when other networks don't have the power of Peyton Manning behind them, but that's what's happening. Thursdays were a total disaster for NBC this season, with The Michael J. Fox Show and Sean Saves the World failing spectacularly. But I'll admit that NBC is looking like a turned-around network at the moment, and the trainwreck on Thursdays only gives it room to improve for an even better 2014-2015. Go ahead and be skeptical all you want, then look at Fox's and ABC's schedules and tell me if they're any better off. 


What's your take on the networks as they head into Upfronts?



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