Heading into the May upfront presentations to Madison Avenue ad buyers, ABC and CBS are faced with major decisions about three of their flagship comedy hits.
CBS’ The Big Bang Theory and ABC’s Modern Family and The Goldbergs are heading into the final year of their multiple-season renewal deals, and sources say both networks have begun talks to determine if all three of the top 10 comedies will continue on beyond their existing deals.
The Big Bang Theory, created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, is heading into its 12th season in the fall after producers Warner Bros. Television inked the cast to new deals last year. (The five original stars also took $100,000 pay cuts to help bring co-stars Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch to parity.) Lorre told The Hollywood Reporter in August that “[o]ne could easily presume [season 12] would be the end of the series,” while acknowledging that producers never imagined they’d get to season 11. (The season 11 finale will feature the wedding between Jim Parsons’ Sheldon and Bialik’s Amy in what many viewers presumed would be the end game for the show.)
Sources say WBTV and CBS have had some conversations about potentially continuing the series beyond season 12, which would require signing the stars to new mega-deals to return to the comedy from Steve Molaro and showrunner Steve Holland, though a decision could be made post-upfronts. The series continues to be a ratings cash cow, with the network using it to launch prequel spinoff Young Sheldon this season. (The spinoff, which Molaro oversees as showrunner, has already been renewed for the 2018-19 season after becoming a top 10 comedy this season among the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demographic.)
“We know we have season 12; we don’t know what we have beyond there,” Holland told THR in late April. “Our goal of doing season 12 is to not leave anything on the table. If this is going to be the end, they should tout it as the final season, but I’m not sure when we’ll have a definitive answer on that.”
CBS and WBTV declined comment.
In terms of Modern Family, the pending $52.4 billion Fox-Disney deal is expected to play a larger role in talks between ABC and 20th Century Fox Television about whether the Emmy-winning comedy will run beyond its upcoming 10th season. Co-creator and co-showrunner Steve Levitan previously said was the “plan is to end it at 10,” though that was before producers 20th Century Fox Television were poised to become a Disney property should the deal close as expected. That would eliminate one of the biggest obstacles to the show’s renewal, with ABC no longer left to pay a sizable licensing fee to 20th TV for the series. What’s more, it would incentivize ABC to renew the star-studded comedy for a potential 11th season and boost its own bottom line.
“The answer is, I don’t know,” Levitan told THR in mid-April about whether the Disney deal would pave the way for additional seasons of Modern Family. “I thought it made sense to do that, but there has been some whispers and some wondering, and so it was never definitive. But we’re going to get into it, I expect, relatively soon.”
Complicating matters is the fact that Levitan and co-creator/co-showrunner Christopher Lloyd’s overall deals with 20th TV expire this month, with sources noting that Netflix has set its sights on the former for a lucrative pact. ABC would then have to sign the cast and potentially its creators to sizable pacts. (Levitan also has Fox comedy L.A. to Vegas in contention for a second season via his 20th TV deal.)
“I’m open to the best opportunity,” Levitan told THR when asked if he would leave 20th for Netflix. “I don’t know what it’s going to be going forward, and that’s the big unknown. That is a giant question mark for people like me. What would it actually look like? Who would I be working with? I’m waiting for more clarity on that. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I wouldn’t even be thinking about it at all if everything wasn’t changing right now.”
ABC and 20th TV declined comment.
As for The Goldbergs, the 1980-something-set series was renewed for two seasons last year and is heading into its sixth season. The Sony Pictures Television Studios-produced comedy has become a solid performer for ABC and helped open its Wednesday night comedy block. This season, the series celebrated its landmark 100th episode with creator Adam F. Goldberg already having an endgame in mind.
“The last episode is Adam’s [Sean Giambrone] high school graduation, which marks the end of his childhood,” Goldberg told THR last year. “I’d love to go beyond season six, but it will always be set in the ’80s. We have yet to run out of any videos of mine, and there’s just so much from that decade I love.”
ABC recently went straight-to-series on a 1990s-set spinoff after Goldberg pushed to air last season’s pilot as a special episode of the flagship and the writers reconfigured the series with A.J. Michalka reprising her flagship role of Lainey.
“At the start of every season, I always plot out an arc for the family members, and there is no plan whatsoever for this to be the last year of The Goldbergs,” Goldberg tells THR. “I would go well beyond season six. All I need is the word that ABC wants it to continue.”
Keeping one or both The Goldbergs and Modern Family around would be beneficial for ABC, which is wrapping veteran comedy The Middle and tentpole dramas Once Upon a Time and Scandal and as its studio counterpart could lose Black-ish creator Kenya Barris to Netflix.
ABC and Sony TV declined comment.
While it’s unclear whether ABC and CBS will announce final-season decisions before their respective upfront presentations May 15 and 16, some industry sources say those deals could come in the weeks or months that follow.
Jean Bentley contributed reporting to this story.