TV Upfronts: Indie Studios Squeezed Out Amid Network Ownership Push


Cast: Matt Lanter, Abigail Spencer, Goran Visnjic, Claudia Doumit, Patterson Joseph, Malcolm Barrett, Sakina Jaffrey
Team: Shawn Ryan, Eric Kripke, John Davis, John Fox, Marney Hochman
The high-octane drama follows an unlikely trio who travel through time to battle a master criminal intent on altering the fabric of human history with potentially catastrophic results.

This upfronts season, it's increasingly challenging to cut through and land a series on a broadcast network if you're an independent studio.

As the barometer between a hit and a failure continues to blur amid dwindling viewership in the Peak TV era, the Big Four broadcast networks are relying heavily on ownership to help turn a profit.

ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox have increasingly shifted toward picking up shows produced by their studio counterparts ABC Studios, Universal Television, CBS Television Studios and 20th Century Fox Television. That leaves the work cut out for independent studios like Sony Pictures Television and Warner Bros. Television, though the latter has a co-ownership stake in The CW.

Case in point: NBC thus far has picked up four new shows for the 2017-18 broadcast season, and all of them are produced in-house at Universal Television. The network this week also passed on pilots Shelter (Sony), Relatively Happy (WBTV), Spaced Out (WBTV), Where I'm From (20th) and What About Barb? (ABC Studios). Left remaining? Only drama and comedy pilots produced by, you guessed it, Universal Television.

On the bubble side, NBC canceled Sony-produced Timeless, which wrapped with positive reviews and a 2.0 rating among adults 18-49. That's half a point better than Taken, an inexpensive co-production between Universal Television and EuropaCorp. that went on to score a second season. What's more, Timeless also outrated for WBTV's Blindspot, which fell off considerably in its second season but this week was renewed for a third.

Sources tell THR that WBTV came in with a more lucrative offer — including a potential co-production — for NBC to pickup Blindspot with Sony, which will now shop Timeless with the hopes of finding a new home for the time-travel drama from Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan.  

Of NBC's returning shows (so far), only This Is Us (20th), summer drama The Night Shift (Sony) and Blindspot (WBTV) hail from outside studios. Shows produced from outside studios awaiting word on their future at NBC include The Blacklist (Sony), which is expected to return; The Carmichael Show (20th), which has yet to premiere; Blacklist: Redemption (Sony), which will likely be canceled; and Trial and Error (WBTV), which is rumored to be competing with Universal Television-produced Great News for a slot.

Over at Fox, the story is largely the same: All six of its 2017-18 shows picked up so far are produced in-house at 20th. That's on par with last season, when the network added 11 new shows with only one — the previously renewed Lethal Weapon reboot from WBTV — hailing from outside of 20th. As for the remainder of Fox's pilots, 12 of the 13 total are produced by 20th, with only comedy Amy's Brother (WBTV) from an outside studio. (It is not expected to move forward.)

As for Fox's bubble shows, the network already has renewed WBTV's DC Comics shows Lucifer for a third season and Batman prequel Gotham for a fourth. (Fox already picked up Marvel drama Gifted from 20th, meaning it will be the only network with both a DC and Marvel show on the air.) Elsewhere, Universal TV-produced veteran Brooklyn Nine-Nine is firmly on the bubble.

ABC, which has yet to really begin doling out the majority of its renewals and pickups, just handed out a hefty two-season renewal for 20th-produced Emmy darling Modern Family — but it came at a price as the studio's perennial bubble comedy Last Man Standing, starring Tim Allen, was canceled after six seasons. That leaves Sony's The Goldbergs (a slam dunk), Dr. Ken and Imaginary Mary (highly unlikely), 20th's Fresh Off the Boat (50-50) and Speechless, the latter a co-production with ABC Studios and expected to return, awaiting word on their future. (Sony rookie Notorious and WBTV's Time After Time have both already been canceled.) On the pilot front, ABC ordered a leading 24 comedies and dramas — with a whopping 14 produced in-house. The network's needs have changed since landing American Idol, which has thrown a wrench into its midseason plans. Thus far, the Disney-owned network has one pickup — for Marvel/ABC Studios' Inhumans (with Somewhere Between set for summer and Ten Days in the Valley potentially joining it).

Then there's CBS, which renewed WBTV's top comedy The Big Bang Theory for two additional seasons and went straight to series on a prequel, Young Sheldon. The studio's 2 Broke Girls is said to be on the bad side of the bubble and Training Day is not expected back after Bill Paxton's death. Universal TV's Pure Genius has already been canceled. The network also renewed Sony's Kevin James comedy Kevin Can Wait. Of the network's pilot crop, CBS bought largely from its sibling studio with nine of 16 either fully or partially owned by CBSTVS.

Keep track of all the broadcast renewals, cancellations and series pickups with THR's handy scorecard.