Broadcast Networks Opt for Stability (With a Few Surprises) as New Regimes Largely Play It Safe

As of Friday night, total volume is at 27 new series pickups — down considerably from last year's 37.
The biggest surprise on the Friday before upfronts was ABC's decision to cancel "Speechless."

In one of the quietest pre-upfront weeks in recent memory, the broadcast networks, following a number of cancellations, are in the midst of finalizing their 2019-20 schedules with handful of pilots remaining in contention plus news on bubble shows — and two very important franchises — still yet to come. This year, there are new executive regimes at each of the Big 4 networks, with each employing their own varying approach.

Here's a look at the latest at each network. (For the latest on which pilots are still in contention, click here.)

ABC

At ABC, Karey Burke and Fox-turned-Disney exec Dana Walden are reviewing pilots that were based on development from former entertainment president Channing Dungey. Sources note that Disney's new brass was not impressed with this year's crop. At press time, ABC has only ordered two new series — Black-ish spinoff Mixed-ish (which was developed by Burke as a backdoor pilot that will now air next season) and drama frontrunner Stumptown, starring Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother). That's down considerably from last season's nine total orders.

Rumors are swirling that ABC may pass on all of its remaining comedy pilots — which would be a massive shocker. There are also rumblings about Sony multicam United We Fall (starring Jane Curtin) and the indie studio's untitled Hank Steinberg drama could get the series order call. Also in the mix is Emergence, which was developed at NBC but comes from ABC Studios-based Agent Carter producers Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters. The status of the other remaining pilots (that haven't been marked passed over on THR's grid) remains unclear, including one-time frontrunners starring Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton) and Hannah Simone (New Girl).

On the bubble front, ABC's decision to cancel Speechless has been the biggest surprise. The comedy remains a critical darling, Disney now owns the series (which was produced by 20th TV) and it was a season away from syndication. Veteran The Goldbergs and its 1990s-set spinoff Schooled are both likely to return as producers Sony are driving a hard round of negotiations that possibly includes the Steinberg drama. A decision on midseason debut Whiskey Cavalier — from Warners — may not come until after next week's upfront presentations and Grand Hotel has yet to premiere.

Takeaway: ABC currently appears to maintain its status quo (much to Constance Wu's chagrin) as Burke, Walden and company may opt to wait a year and focus on their own development rather than spending millions on marketing new shows that they didn't develop.

CBS

Speaking of keeping things status quo, CBS renewed pretty much everything you'd expect, even without former CEO Leslie Moonves pulling the strings behind the scenes. This season, CBS chief creative officer David Nevins (recruited from Showtime) and entertainment president Kelly Kahl stuck with all of its procedurals, with the lone surprise cancellation going to midseason filler comedy Life in Pieces, which is now owned by Disney and was also a year from syndication.

On the new series front, the network has ordered four comedies and four dramas (down one from last season) and most of those are about what you'd expect too: fare from proven showrunners (Chuck Lorre, Dick Wolf, Robert and Michelle King) and stars (Patricia Heaton, Edie Falco). Still unclear is if the network will take another shot on Katherine Heigl (in comedy Our House) after she starred in the quickly canceled Doubt a few years ago. Sophia Bush drama Surveillance (a co-production with 20th TV and CBS TV Studios) remains in contention for summer, sources say.

On the bubble front, everything that everyone thought would be canceled pretty much was, including Murphy Brown. Meanwhile, decisions on midseason dramas Instinct, The Code and The Red Line will come after upfronts. 

Takeaway: The biggest surprise thus far from CBS was its decision to renew Bull after settling a harassment case against its star Michael Weatherly as the network strives to improve its culture. Social media had a field day with the renewal, with many around town noting that it was an example of a network valuing numbers more than people, especially after producers Amblin TV quickly exited the series.

The CW

There was zero drama at The CW this season as Mark Pedowitz's network is a case study in stability. The network renewed its entire slate and added three dramas, all of them based on existing IP: Batwoman, Nancy Drew and Riverdale spinoff Katy Keene. Pilot Glamorous still remains in contention.

Takeaway: IP matters to a network whose business model is based on streaming and international deals and originals may trump Canadian imports as Pedowitz strives to go year-round with quality programming.

Fox

Here's where things get interesting. The network, in its first year as an independent broadcaster without a studio backing, made right on its plan to buy half its content from former corporate sibling 20th TV and the other from outside suppliers. Fox quietly boarded all eight of its new series as co-productions, meaning it has ownership in half its new schedule. That is likely why Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier bet big on new originals and ripped the band-aid off on a number of cancellations. Sent out to pasture are beleaguered Lethal Weapon, thriller The Passage, Lee Daniels' Empire spinoff Star and multicam The Cool Kids, the latter of which was once seen as a perfect model of what "New Fox" would become.

In their place, on the new series front, are a number of interesting pickups, including three animated comedies as Fox prepares for life without The Simpsons, Bob's Burgers and Family Guy (likely in the not too distant future). The network added one multicam — Jason Biggs' Outmatched — which we'd guess will be paired with Tim Allen's Last Man Standing. On the drama side, the network has red-hot Stephen Dorff (fresh off a critically praised role in True Detective) in drama Deputy and Michael Sheen in the Greg Berlanti-produced serial-killer hourlong Prodigal Son. They're joined by high-concept entry Next — rumored to be a favorite of Collier's — and a female-led family drama from Jason Katims (Parenthood).

On the bubble front, Proven Innocent was DOA and Seth MacFarlane's The Orville could return as a midseason debut.

Takeaway: Collier wants his network to be scrappy and he's taking some big swings to do so while proving to naysayers that despite all of its sports programming (wrestling, baseball and football, oh my!), scripted isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

NBC

New NBC Entertainment co-chairmen Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks haven't spoken much about what their plans for the network are and judging by its renewals and new series orders, it's pretty much the same as that of predecessor Bob Greenblatt. NBC has five Dick Wolf shows (including the delayed Law & Order: SVU spinoff, Hate Crimes) but still has a comedy problem. This season's two new series, I Feel Bad and midseason debut Abby's were nonstarters with the former already officially canceled. The network desperately needs to launch a new comedy — especially with The Good Place potentially nearing its endgame — but thus far has only picked up two: Mike Schur-produced Kal Penn entry Sunnyside and Kenan Thompson's The Kenan Show. The latter, sources say, is being retooled and will be held for next summer when it will air after the Olympics (which would also allow Thompson to continue on Saturday Night Live).

On the drama front, the network added four new series, including buzzy Jane Levy vehicle Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist and likely This Is Us companion Council of Dads. Speaking of This Is Us, TV's No. 1 drama has yet to officially be renewed. (Who'd have guessed that Blindspot — pulled from the schedule for May sweeps — would be renewed before This Is Us?!) Expect a multiple-season renewal for the Dan Fogelman favorite, potentially taking it toward its endgame.

On the bubble show front, NBC won't make a decision on midseason offerings A.P. Bio, Abby's, The Enemy Within and The Village until after the upfronts. But do not hold your breath for any of them to return.

Takeaway: If it's not broke, don't fix it.

Keep track of all the renewals, cancellations and new show orders with THR's scorecards for ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW and with all the latest pilot pickups and passes with our handy guide. For complete coverage, bookmark THR.com/upfronts.