TV Upfronts Preview: Burning Questions for Each Broadcast Network

Can ABC keep TGIT? Will NBC find a new comedy heir apparent? Could 'The Masked Singer' move to the fall? Here are a few sore spots that are likely to be addressed ahead of the May 14-17 presentations to Madison Avenue ad buyers.
ABC; CBS; Fox; The CW; NBC
Clockwise from top left: ABC's Karey Burke, CBS' Kelly Kahl, Fox's Charlie Collier, NBC's Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks and The CW's Mark Pedowitz

It’s May, which means the broadcast networks are about to cancel a bunch of shows, order even more new series and then brag to the advertising community that it’s all part of some predetermined plan to be No. 1.

“No. 1 at what?” you might ask. But the answer doesn’t really matter. The important questions, the ones that will help shape the narratives and schedules at ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox and NBC, are right here. So when the decisions, announcements and presentations start coming fast and furious over the coming weeks, expect to get the most clarity where the following matters are concerned.

ABC

It's a new, supersize era at ABC. The Disney-owned broadcaster this season welcomes former Fox execs Peter Rice and Dana Walden to the fold as the duo will, alongside new ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke, look to put their stamp on the network. Burke, specifically, has said her goal is to see ABC regain its perch as the most-watched broadcaster among women.

Among the new regime's orders of business are to take a hard look at the network's aging comedy brand, which will see stalwart and former Emmy favorite Modern Family wrap its run in 2019-20. The network is also in negotiations with notoriously demanding indie studio Sony TV for a possible return of veteran The Goldbergs and its success story spinoff Schooled. Black-ish is locked to return, this time with spinoff Mixed-ish — and then there's bubble comedies including American Housewife and Speechless, the latter of which is now also fully owned by the network. Save for The Conners, ABC also needs to determine how much of its rookie comedy class will return or if they'll make room for pilots including half-hours starring Hannah Simone and Leslie Odom Jr.

Also top of the agenda is if the network will stick to its TGIT-branded lineup of Shonda Rhimes-produced dramas with Grey's Anatomy spinoff Station 19 searching for a new showrunner to replace creator Stacy McKee and the case effectively dismissed for legal drama For the People. Veteran Grey's Anatomy is a slam dunk to return as is How to Get Away With Murder, though the latter is showing its age.

Elsewhere, Jimmy Kimmel's contract is up this year and re-upping the late-night host and upfront staple is a top priority for Burke, who told THR that there's already a contingency plan in mind should he step away from the desk.

The only other big variable at play is American Idol. And while the singing competition, which has seen ratings highs and lows heading into May, is considered very likely to return...the cast remains another question.

CBS

America's most-watched network is uncharted territory as this is its first upfront in recent memory without CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves, who typically played a big role in renewal, cancellation and new series pickups. This year, new CBS chief creative officer David Nevins — who also oversees Showtime — is helping make those decisions alongside CBS president Kelly Kahl.

Heading into upfronts, the network has more bubble series than it typically does this time of year. The reason? The network's annual renewal spree — which last year included veterans Hawaii Five-0 and Bull — never happened. Instead, CBS handed out early pickups to all three NCIS dramas plus Blue Bloods and an odd handful of rookie series. Left on the outside looking in are Hawaii, Madam Secretary, MacGyver, SEAL Team and SWAT — effectively all the dramas you'd imagine would have been picked up early. Will the network opt for a radical face-lift and expand beyond its glut of tried and true procedurals?

On the comedy front, CBS faces a massive hole on its schedule as TV's most-watched comedy — The Big Bang Theory — ends this month after 12 seasons. Spinoff prequel Young Sheldon appears poised to take over the all-important Thursdays at 8 p.m. slot and creator Chuck Lorre has another comedy — frontrunner Bob Hearts Abishola starring Mike and Molly's Billy Gardell — that could help fill the Thursday void. Will the network stick with multicamera comedies and its Lorre-produced block including the previously renewed Mom?

And, after unscripted stumbles The World's Best and Million Dollar Mile, will there be more interesting reality buys in anticipation of the new season? Or is CBS going to wait and see how its stateside spin on U.K. smash Love Island pans out?

THE CW

The most stable of all the broadcast nets, The CW's entire 2018-19 slate — save for the departing Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin and iZombie — is returning. Network president Mark Pedowitz is pushing harder into year-round programming with scripted originals — and potentially fewer low-cost Canadian imports.

With Arrow ending in 2019-20, The CW is ready to usher in the second wave of DC Comics fare with Batwoman considered a lock to go to series. Meanwhile, network staple Supernatural — which has been used as a lead-in/lead-out for pretty much every series on the network — is also ending its run. On the pilot side, how much IP will The CW look at to fill those voids with spinoffs of Riverdale, Jane the Virgin and familiar titles in Nancy Drew and The Lost Boys all in the mix? Will the network take a shot on an original idea and potential breakout star with Glamorous, about a gender nonconforming intern (played by Ben J. Pierce)? 

After opening up a sixth night of originals Sundays with solid returns for Supergirl and Charmed, could The CW move recently renewed bubble drama All American to the night in a bid to better expose its audience to the Netflix breakout?

FOX

Welcome to the future. The "New Fox" — aka newly independent Fox Entertainment — right now looks a lot like the old one when the broadcaster had a studio counterpart: 911, Empire, The Resident, Last Man Standing and animated staples The Simpsons, Bob's Burgers and Family Guy. But what's the future of the animated lineup once Fox has to really step up to the plate to pay Disney for them when their current renewals expire in the coming years? Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier is already planning for that with a pair of two new animated comedies expected to debut next season.

On the bubble front, who's ready for another chapter in the highly entertaining saga of Lethal Weapon? Star Damon Wayans Sr. has said he doesn't return, but the procedural reboot of the film franchise does well for Fox and is literally the only scripted series on the network's entire roster that isn't now owned by Disney.

Collier is taking some big swings for summer — a show-within-a-show 90210 revival and aftershow spoof What Just Happened. Will his "scrappy" approach transfer to the fall as well? Speaking of the fall, midseason hit The Masked Singer is likely to return this year sources say. That would mean much of the network's fall lineup would consist of postseason baseball, the NFL on Thursdays and wrestling Fridays, with the animation block Sundays — and it leaves little room for scripted. Sources say the network is betting big on midseason, when there's dramatically reduced competition and it's easier to cut through (see The Masked Singer season one).

NBC

New NBC Entertainment presidents Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks have not said much about what their vision is for the network after the duo took over for Bob Greenblatt last September. Heading into the pre-upfronts week, NBC has renewed the bulk of its scripted lineup, including all its Dick Wolf dramas and comedy staples Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Superstore and The Good Place. But it's in dire need of a new hit comedy. This past season's comedy crop delivered only Fox import Brooklyn and two freshman clunkersOn the bubble side, Blindspot's end may be in sight as the Greg Berlanti-produced drama from Martin Gero was recently pulled out of May sweeps. Will Telegdy and Cheeks take the same broad-procedural focus as Greenblatt or take more risks? What's their vision for NBC? 

There's also the nagging matter of The Voice. NBC reduced its episode count and airtime this past season, but with ratings down again — below even American Idol some weeks — is the network finally ready to quit tossing in two cycles per season?

Michael O'Connell contributed to this report.

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.