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The bulk of the renewals, cancellations and new series pickups are in, and the five broadcast networks largely played it safe by greenlighting what you’d expect them to: extensions of well-known and easily sold franchises and reboots of their own IP.
That said, there were still some surprises. Here are the six biggest ones.
Of all the cancellations, Rebel is by far the most perplexing. The Katey Sagal-led drama, inspired by the life of Erin Brockovich, was produced by the network’s most important showrunner (Grey’s Anatomy and Station 19 boss Krista Vernoff). The network extended options on the cast and ordered additional scripts during the pandemic and made Rebel, co-staring Andy Garcia and John Corbett, its first drama pilot to get the series order call. (Big Sky was picked up straight to series.) After a massive marketing push, Rebel launched April 8 in ABC’s prime post-Grey’s Anatomy slot, which gave Vernoff an entire night of programming on the network. The cancellation came after a month of episodes, meaning execs had time to look at 30-day DVR and streaming returns for the pilot and little else. “You give them three shows during a pandemic, they give you five episodes. Cool cool. Cool,” Vernoff wrote in a since-deleted tweet. Rebel was greenlit by Karey Burke, who handed over ABC to Craig Erwich after she was promoted to oversee Disney studio 20th TV. Sources note the decision to cancel the show came down to the wire and was ultimately based on its lackluster same-day ratings (3.2 million total viewers and a 0.43 in the adults 18-49 demo, off slightly from the since renewed A Million Little Things) and modest streaming performance. Furthermore, Rebel was perfectly on-brand for ABC and, as a co-production with Sony TV, was a bit more cost effective than if the network owned it outright. As shows like Lifetime-dud-turned-Netflix hit You illustrate, sometimes programming needs time and a platform to catch on, and that sadly won’t be the case for Rebel as sources note Erwich has no plans to revive it on Hulu (which he also oversees), though producers ABC Signature are shopping the series.
“When we first came up with it, we assumed it would be a streaming show, and David Nevins said it will have more impact on network.” That’s Clarice co-creator Jenny Lumet describing how her Silence of the Lambs update landed on broadcast and not a streaming platform. “We went back and forth because there are more constraints on network. But then I thought well, fuck it, it’s much more interesting to see what we can do within all those rules and regulations because that’s what Clarice is doing.” That’s all out the window now, as the freshman drama will make the move to ViacomCBS’ streaming platform, Paramount+. The pricey series from Star Trek franchise captain Alex Kurtzman — CBS Studios’ most important showrunner — was the broadcast network’s lowest-rated drama. Clarice is one of three CBS dramas to make the move to Paramount+, joining Evil (which broke out on Netflix after its first season on CBS) and SEAL Team, with the latter scoring another season to help get the David Boreanaz military drama to the syndication threshold. All three moves arrive as CBS has reduced shelf space with new takes on cash-cow franchises including CSI, NCIS and FBI.
The Mark Pedowitz-led broadcast network will have nearly the same volume of programming hours as Fox when it bows originals on Saturdays come October. The network, a joint venture between CBS Studios and Warner Bros. TV, will announce its schedule on May 25, with the expectation that acquired originals or unscripted programming could debut in one of television’s worst slots on the schedule. Still, the move opens up the network to increase its volume of scripted originals which, in turn, would create additional revenue streams for content from its parent companies while also helping to bolster HBO Max and Paramount+.
The network that launched “Must-See TV” on Thursdays with hits like Friends and Seinfeld will, for the first time in at least 50 years, start the 2021-22 season with zero comedies on its schedule. Instead, the network — under new leaders Susan Rovner and Frances Berwick — will bow returning series Kenan, Mr. Mayor and Young Rock alongside rookie comedies American Auto and Grand Crew in early 2022. The abbreviated final season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine will, as expected, launch in August out of the Olympics and close its run in September — just as the new broadcast season is beginning. “In recent years our comedies haven’t performed as well in the fall, so we’re doubling down in midseason with two big nights of comedy,” Rovner told reporters of the eyebrow-raising decision.
From the moment The CW put its live-action update of The Powerpuff Girls in development, the Greg Berlanti-produced pilot from writers Heather Regnier (Veronica Mars) and Diablo Cody (Juno) was a frontrunner. Casting Dove Cameron, Chloe Bennet and rising star Yana Perrault help solidify early buzz as industry insiders fully expected the update about disillusioned 20-somethings to score a spot on The CW’s fall schedule. Instead, Pedowitz greenlit fellow frontrunner, Ava DuVernay’s DC Comics drama Naomi, and a spinoff of The CW (and Netflix) hit All American to join straight-to-series entry The 4400 on the schedule. The property remains an important franchise for Warners, which has tasked Regnier and Cody with redeveloping Powerpuff off-cycle. The entire cast, including Donald Faison, remains attached. Nancy Drew spinoff Tom Swift — which has yet to film a pilot — also remains in consideration, though it’s unclear if either will be for midseason 2021-22 or the 2022-23 season.
Powerpuff wasn’t the only pilot frontrunner to not land a spot on the schedule. While many pilots across all five broadcast networks remain in contention as part of the long-awaited and pandemic-related shift to year-round programming, the most surprising outright pass came from CBS. Despite having a marketable star in Patrick Dempsey — who reignited his career with a surprising return from the dead on Grey’s Anatomy this season — sources say the political backdrop of the drama that was picked up in early 2020 made a series pickup less appealing given the country’s political fatigue this year.
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