TV Upfronts: The Biggest Surprises (So Far)

'Castle,' 'The Muppets,' Fox's comedy bloodbath and more of the biggest head-scratchers to emerge ahead of next week's upfront presentations.
Mitchell Haaseth/ABC
'Castle'

The broadcast networks' bloodbath began a day early with Thursday's flood of news that saw a whopping 12 shows canceled, 13 picked up to series and five renewed for additional seasons as each of the Big Five prepped to debut their new slates to Madison Avenue ad buyers at next week's upfront presentations.

Amid the multiple narratives already emerging — vertical integration, stacking rights — there were also several surprises that left industry insiders scratching their heads and angry fans already planning Twitter campaigns.

Here's a look at the most surprising moves so far as NBC, CBS and Fox (and ABC) still have some big decisions to make (looking at you, Sleepy Hollow).

Castle Gets the Ax

The Disney-owned network axed six series — with the bigger shocker of the bunch being its veteran Nathan Fillion drama. It's perplexing that the network would cancel Castle after publicly firing Stana Katic and Tamala Jones and then going through the trouble of negotiating new contracts for season nine with Fillion and four other co-stars. It's embarrassing for ABC to have gone through the backlash (and new contract talks) for no reason. Also confusing is that Castle is a sturdy procedural that required little promotion, it's owned by ABC Studios and likely cheaper than the costs associated with launching a new show. 

Supergirl to The CW

The Melissa Benoist starrer was considered too pricey to move to The CW, which originally heard the pitch for the Greg Berlanti/Ali Adler/Andrew Kreisberg DC Comics drama and passed on it. With producers Warner Bros. Television trimming costs with a move to Vancouver, a move to the younger-skewing network was rumored to still be too expensive. Talks intensified as the rumor about a network move started to become a realistic possibility. Also interesting is that The CW added Supergirl to an already crowded roster of 11 originals that consists of its entire scripted slate save for Containment, plus three new series (Riverdale, No Tomorrow, Frequency). With so much returning (and only Beauty and the Beast and America's Top Model signing off), where will Mark Pedowitz schedule everything? Could some of the network's beloved yet lower-rated fare (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin, Reign) score short orders?

Channing Dungey Says No to Corporate Synergy

ABC Entertainment Group president Channing Dungey appears poised to usher in the new in her first year, even if that means saying no to corporate synergy. Gone is critically adored yet low-rated Agent Carter with Agents of SHIELD spinoff Marvel's Most Wanted also getting passed over. On top of that, damaged goods The Muppets was also shown the door as Dungey doesn't seem to have any problem dropping the ax, Mouse House involvement or not. Sorry, Kermit.

Shondaland Goes 2-for-3

With Scandal's season six order cut to 16 to accommodate star Kerry Washington's second pregnancy, ABC handed out a surprise renewal to modestly rated freshman drama The Catch — as well as picking up Romeo and Juliet sequel Still Star-Crossed. If the network keeps its TGIT block intact and holds Scandal for midseason, as has been speculated, fall could launch with Grey's Anatomy, The Catch and How to Get Away With Murder with midseason potentially seeing Scandal and Still Star-Crossed taking over at 9 and 10 p.m., respectively. And while nobody is perfect (save for maybe Dick Wolf this season), the network passed on Toast, Shondaland's first comedy to go to pilot.

High on High Concepts

ABC picked up two female-led comedies with high concepts in Downward Dog, in which Allison Tolman stars opposite a "talking" dog; and Imaginary Mary, where Jenna Elfman talks to a two-foot-tall blue-spotted cotton ball voiced by Rachel Dratch. Fox has live-action/animated family comedy Son of Zorn and Making History, a comedic time travel series starring Adam Pally, while ABC is traveling through time with Kevin Williamson and H.G. Wells. Also look for NBC to greenlight Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke's Time. With the time travelers and other out of this world, Fox's Last Man on Earth continues to make its mark as one of development season's biggest trends comes to fruition.

Fox Comedy Failure

Despite rumors that Fox would renew either The Grinder or Grandfathered — but not both — the network instead opted to pass on the Rob Lowe and John Stamos vehicles. All told, Fox will not have a single returning freshman comedy on its 2016-17 slate with animated Bordertown and Cooper Barrett's Guide to Surviving Life also put out to pasture. Overall, its freshman class will see only 3 of 11 return.

Farewell, Franchises

With CBS cancelling CSI: Cyber after two seasons, the once-storied Crime Scene Investigation franchise came to an unceremonious end after 16 seasons. Also gone is ABC's Nashville, a co-production with Lionsgate TV that spawned annual concert tours, albums, digital spinoffs and downloads as part of a secondary revenue stream. Despite a recent backlash over the country music drama's creative direction, Nashville was poised for a creative reboot with respected writers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick (My So-Called Life, thirtysomething) poised to take over as showrunners. Sources say the duo were already recruiting old friends to join them in the writers' room.  

Family Values

Despite multiple family comedies on its pilot slate, ABC handed out surprise renewals to freshman Dr. Ken and The Real O'Neals. Despite Dr. Ken's strong performance on Fridays and Real's lukewarm reviews, industry insiders note that their renewals are a commentary on just how poorly ABC's multiple family comedy pilots turned out. Early favorite Chunk & Bean — starring Anna Gunn and Andy Daly — was passed over; Casey Wilson entry Hail Mary is being redeveloped, as is Candice Bergen cancer comedy Pearl. Meanwhile, Minnie Driver comedy Speechless — about a family with a special needs child — is likely to score a series pickup as ABC hammers out a deal with producers 20th Century Fox TV for that and Last Man Standing.

Keep up with all the renewals, cancellations and new series pickups with THR's handy scorecard and follow the pilot crop status here. For full upfronts 2016 coverage, go to THR.com/upfronts.

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