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Welcome to the so-called Hell Week.
With their formal presentations to Madison Avenue ad buyers set for May 16-19, ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox and NBC are in crunch time this week as scores of scripted comedies and dramas currently living on the bubble await their fate. This is the week that all five networks are going to evaluate what they’ve seen of the few pilots that have completed production, weigh footage and sizzle reels (and series bibles) as they plan out their schedules for the 2022-23 broadcast season.
With the pandemic permanently turning the annual pilot season into a year-round process and sports increasingly in demand as viewers continue to shift to streaming, there are a lot of big questions heading into next week’s presentations.
Here’s a look at some of the big questions facing each network, with answers expected to come into focus in the weeks ahead.
ABC Is it still safe to describe ABC as female-skewing? The Craig Erwich-led network will usher in Monday Night Football to its schedule in the fall, with four NFL games set to displace the female-leaning Dancing With the Stars (heading to Disney+) after a 16-year run. How will the network fill the remaining Monday-night block without the reality staple? Grey’s Anatomy continues to be ABC’s crown jewel, and The Rookie is poised to get the franchise treatment after strong ratings for its not-yet-titled Niecy Nash-led spinoff. And while Abbott Elementary and The Wonder Years were clear breakouts, the rest of ABC’s freshman crop is on the bubble along with sophomore half-hour Home Economics. Will ABC cut back on scripted or fill the Dancing and Black-ish voids with lower-cost unscripted fare?
Inasmuch as broadcast TV works in 2022, CBS has its formula figured out: episodic dramas where the good guys prevail and broad-based comedies, sprinkled with some enduring unscripted franchises, news and sports. It also feeds programming to its sibling service Paramount+, which parent company Paramount Global is heavily invested in growing. Former CBS series SEAL Team is now a Paramount+ original, and back when it was still called CBS All Access, the streamer became the home for The Good Wife spinoff The Good Fight. It seems unlikely that Paramount would raid CBS for content — under the category of don’t fix what isn’t broken — but more franchise extensions and spinoffs ending up at Paramount+ would make some sense.
The network’s years of stability have come to an end. Starting with the late-April cancellations of DC dramas Legends of Tomorrow (after seven seasons) and Batwoman (after three), the studios behind the younger-skewing broadcast network, Warner Bros. TV and CBS Studios, have begun to cut bait amid sale talks to station group Nexstar. Without revenue generated by a $1 billion Netflix output deal and international sales, both studios are expected to continue to thin The CW’s roster of scripted fare ahead of the Nexstar sale. Once considered slam dunks to continue, Charmed, Dynasty and Legacies — the latter the last remnant of former network staple The Vampire Diaries — are all firmly on the bubble as The CW’s biggest question will be how much of its scripted roster will get the ax and when, exactly, will that sale close.
How will Fox fill the void created by Thursday Night Football moving to streaming? The network will see its primetime ratings drop in the fall — that’s all but guaranteed as it replaces the weekly NFL showcase that averaged nearly 15 million viewers this season. While it relieves Fox of a hefty rights fee, the loss of the NFL on Thursdays creates a programming hole that it will have to fill with just a fraction of the viewers that football brings. With a relatively thin development slate, the network seems more likely to plug in unscripted programming on Thursdays in the fall, which would have the advantage of delivering whatever audience it can at a lower cost than scripted shows would.
What will NBC look like post-This Is Us? The network will need to give marketers a safe place to land with the hit drama ending after six seasons this year. With its Chicago and Law & Order franchises effectively holding down two nights of the week, the network needs a fresh drama or two to fill in the gap. Could a Quantum Leap reboot be what it’s missing? On the comedy side, can a Night Court revival jolt an otherwise light comedy lineup? And then there’s the Peacock of it all. Will NBCUniversal lean into streaming as it makes its pitch?
Keep track of all of the broadcast pilots, castings and series orders with THR’s handy scorecard. And follow along as all the bubble shows await word on their futures with our renewal guide.
A version of this story first appeared in the May 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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