TV Upfronts by the Numbers: Total Orders Dip as Broadcast Networks Seek Stability

Total scripted series are down from 45 to 42 year-over-year as the freshman class of 2015-16 returns 16 series, as well as more trends from upfronts.
Ron Batzdorff/NBC
NBC's 'This Is Us'

Following a challenging 2015-16 season that saw the Big Five collectively renew a mere 16 out of the 35 new comedies, dramas and limited fare ordered to series last year, the broadcast networks focused on stability as ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW ordered another 42 series as they start their search for the next big hit all over again.

Despite a forgettable freshman class and planned farewells for The Good Wife, Person of Interest and Mike and Molly — as well as the sudden dismissals of Castle, Nashville and CSI: Cyber — returning series inched up to 65.

As in recent years, broadcast nets relied on tried and true genres — doctors! cops! lawyers! — as well as big-name IP (Training Day, Lethal Weapon, Frequency) in a bid to find sustainability and viewers in a crowded marketplace.

Here's a look at how the Big Five networks are preparing for the 2016-17 season. Click here to see how the studios fared.

Total scripted series orders 2016: 42 (45 in 2015)
Dramas: 27 (29 last year)
Comedies: 15 (16 last year)
Single-camera: 11 (10 last year)
Multicamera: 4 (6 last year)

New shows with white leads: 29
New shows with diverse leads: 12
New shows with nonhuman leads: 3
New shows not wholly owned by a sibling studio: 16
New adaptations of movies: 6
New shows starring a Wayans brother: 2


New ABC Entertainment Group president Channing Dungey inherited a slate of stable soaps and family comedies while also cleaning house, showing a willingness to drop underperforming series regardless of corporate synergy and ownership. Replacing Castle, Nashville, Agent Carter, The Muppets and more are a slate of procedurals (Designated Survivor, Time After Time, Conviction) and family fare (American Housewife, Downward Dog, Imaginary Mary), a mix of traditional and high-concept offerings. It's also worth noting that the new freshman class was picked up to pilot by Dungey's predecessor, Paul Lee.

Series orders 2016: 9 (10 last year)
5 dramas (6 last year)
4 comedies (4 last year)
Single-camera: 4 (2 last year)
Multicamera: 0 (2 last year)


If one thing can be said about new CBS president Glenn Geller, it's that he knows the network's brand. Ordered to series are a mix of IP (the thrice-developed MacGyver, Training Day) and procedurals (Michael Weatherly starrer Bull) as well as comedies fronted by marketable stars (Joel McHale in The Great Indoors, Matt LeBlanc in Man With a Plan and Kevin James in Kevin Can Wait) as CBS remains committed to multicamera fare.

Series orders 2016: 8 (7 last year)
5 dramas (5 last year)
3 comedies (2 last year)
Single-camera: 1 (2 last year)
Multicamera: 2 (0 last year)


With an American Idol-sized hole on its schedule, Fox upped its commitment to dramas with a mix of what's worked: reboots (Prison Break, 24: Legacy, Lethal Weapon, Exorcist) and Lee Daniels (Star). On the comedy side, look for more high-concept comedies from Last Man on Earth's Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Son of Zorn, Making History) as Gary Newman and Dana Walden look to ensure the network brings back at least one freshman half-hour next season.

Series orders 2016: 11 (10 last year)
8 dramas (6 last year)
3 comedies (4 last year)
Single-camera: 3 (4 last year)
Multicamera: 0 (0 last year)


Having already renewed nearly its entire drama lineup (RIP, Mysteries of Laura), NBC has little shelf space. That made it more challenging to get a drama on the air that wasn't a spinoff (Chicago Justice, Blacklist: Redemption) or reboot (Taken), though Dan Fogelman's This Is Us is already garnering strong buzz. On the comedy side, the Bob Greenblatt network is attempting to find its brand again with only one returning half-hour on the schedule (Superstore).

Series orders 2016: 11 (15 last year)
6 dramas (9 last year)
5 comedies (6 last year)
Single-camera: 3 (2 last year)
Multicamera: 2 (4 last year)

The CW

Speaking of stability, the younger-skewing network renewed everything on its slate save for rookie Containment, summer series Beauty and the Beast (already heading into its final season) and reality staple America's Next Top Model. With little room on its schedule, The CW added another comic book show from Greg Berlanti (Archie take Riverdale) as well as a reboot of Frequency from Supernatural's Jeremy Carver and another hourlong dramedy in No Tomorrow. Oh, and about CBS' Supergirl? The CW will take that, too, thank you very much.

Series orders 2016: 3 (3 last year)


Last year, the broadcasters returned 62 total series. That grew to 65 this season despite a wave of high-profile final seasons and surprise cancellations. (Does not include summer fare)

ABC: 16
CBS: 16
The CW: 12 (includes Supergirl)
Fox: 12
NBC: 9


Fox dropped all of its freshman fare, ABC put Castle and Nashville on the chopping block, and surprise cancellations lead a list that also marked the end of the once-storied CSI franchise.

NBC: 10
ABC: 10
CBS: 8
Fox: 7
The CW: 1


Of the 45 new series ordered for the 2015-16 broadcast season, only 16 survived to see a second season (.355). Of those, only four are comedies. That's slightly better than last season when 54 series were ordered and 19 returned (.351), with 14 of them dramas. (And yes, we're including CBS' Limitless, with its studio arm shopping the procedural elsewhere.)

CBS: 3 for 7*, .428 (vs. 5 for 8 last year). Returning one comedy (Life in Pieces) and dramas Code Black and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.
*Includes Supergirl, which CBS canceled and The CW renewed.

ABC: 4 for 10, .400 (vs. 7 for 14 last year). Returning two dramas (Quantico, The Catch) and two comedies (Real O'Neals, Dr. Ken).

Fox: 3 for 11, .272 (vs. 5 for 8 last year). Returning three dramas (Rosewood, Lucifer, Scream Queens).

NBC: 4 for 16, .250 (vs. 1 for 18 last year). Returning one comedy (Superstore) and three dramas (Blindspot, Chicago Med, Shades of Blue).

The CW: 2 for 3, .666 (vs. 3 for 4 last year). Returning two dramas (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Legends of Tomorrow).


Following a season that saw Rush Hour, Limitless and The Muppets all get the ax, the broadcast networks are placing their bets on a new series of familiar titles. Those range from TV shows (CBS' MacGyver, Fox's 24: Legacy and Prison Break, as well as NBC spinoffs of The Blacklist and Chicago P.D.) and feature films (Frequency, Taken, Training Day, The Exorcist and Lethal Weapon) to books (Still Star-Crossed, Time After Time and Midnight, Texas) and comic books (Riverdale). Said NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke: "In a cluttered world with hundreds of choices, … if the right remake or spinoff comes along … there's no reason not to pick it up as you already have the awareness and it makes the launch and marketing easier."


One of the biggest themes of pilot season — in which the broadcasters picked up 27 family-themed comedies — nine ultimately went to series as the Big Four look for the heir apparent to ABC's aging Modern Family. Those include traditional families fronted by proven stars in Marlon Wayans, Matt LeBlanc and Kevin James as well as higher-concept half-hours like ABC's Imaginary Mary, with Jenna Elfman starring opposite a 2-foot-tall, blue-spotted cotton ball voiced by Rachel Dratch.


As CBS said case closed on the CSI franchise with the demise of spinoff Cyber, 10 new dramas have cops, lawyers and doctors ready to take on primetime's cases. Those include titles old (Training Day, Taken, Lethal Weapon) and new (Pure Genius, Conviction, Doubt) and even some based on familiar names like Dr. Phil McGraw (Bull) and Mark Geragos (Notorious).


Call it a coincidence, but four of the five broadcast networks ordered a series featuring time travel for the 2016-17 season. NBC has Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke's Timeless; Fox is taking a comedic approach with Phil Lord and Chris Miller's Adam Pally starrer Making History; ABC is exploring the life of a young H.G. Wells with Time After Time; and The CW is going the Frequency reboot route.


Not only are the broadcast networks placing more of an importance on ownership, but stacking rights — as opposed to the standard rolling five — has become top of mind for networks and studios alike. "It's kind of [the] order of the day, and the studios know it," NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said. Stacking negotiations also helped delay a series pickup for shoo-in The Blacklist: Redemption as producers Sony Pictures Television attempted to bundle that with Timeless and Cruel Intentions, with the latter still in the running for a potential post-upfronts summer order. On the ownership side, 10 of 20th TV's 12 sales were to Fox. ABC Studios took a hit with all of its eight sales to ABC (off from a total of 13 last season) and Universal TV slid from 12 last year to seven — with only one outside sale — a co-production with CBS on Pure Genius. CBS TV Studios had nine (up from 5), with all of them vertically aligned at either CBS or The CW. Meanwhile, indies Warner Bros. Television — who with eight had sales at every network — and Sony Pictures TV (five) were largely stable. (Total number of shows not wholly owned by a sibling studio was 16.)


Among the 35 series that met the Grim Reaper this season, six high-profile cancellations stand out. Castle, Nashville, Agent Carter, The Muppets, The Grinder and Grandfathered proved that nothing is safe. ABC didn't care that Castle had already re-upped contracts for lead Nathan Fillion and four other co-stars. Or that Nashville hired new showrunners. Or that corporate parent Disney owns both Marvel (Agent Carter) and The Muppets. Fox proved that star power (or ownership) doesn't matter if the viewership isn't there, with both The Grinder and Grandfathered getting the ax after rumors the network would renew either the Rob Lowe or John Stamos comedy but not both.

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