Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What are the chances of your favorite show coming back next year?

Some of your favorite shows may be on the bubble. Networks are now just getting in their pilots and in a couple of weeks will announce their fall schedules and order additional shows for midseason. Most of the hit series have already been picked up. But each network has two or three “bubble” shows – they could go either way.

Determining whether your fave will survive or face the chopping block is difficult because each show is in its own unique situation. If your show gets a 1.5 share on NBC you might scrape by. The same 1.5 gets you axed with extreme prejudice on CBS.

Many factors figure in. Does the network own your show? Is your show a critical darling? Is the audience small but building? Does it attract the right demographic? Are there commitments attached?

Example: TNT has paid CBS a fortune for syndication rights to HAWAII 5-0. But they must have a certain number of episodes. So CBS will keep HAWAII 5-0 on the air until they reach that number. That’s great for Alex O’Loughlin; not so great for you if you have a drama pilot at CBS. That’s one less slot that’s open.

Also, what are the needs of the network? Good luck getting a comedy on CBS only because they’ve picked up most of their current crop. TWO AND A HALF MEN is gone but that’s only one opening. CBS could add another hour of comedy or pick up a few shows for midseason, but that will depend on how well they like their pilots, whether they want to lean more towards comedy than drama, and whether they keep bubble shows like THE NEW ODD COUPLE.

It seems you have a better chance of getting on the air if you have a comedy pilot at NBC. But the trouble there is that their comedy presence is a disaster. So they have no idea what they want, where to put the shows, and how to launch them. On Tuesday you’re exactly what they want, on Wednesday you’re dead, and then on Thursday you’re back in the mix. You’re shooting at a moving target.

And if you’re a bubble show on NBC like UNDATEABLE and ONE BIG HAPPY with shitty numbers (and they are), are your chances enhanced simply because you’re already a known entity and NBC doesn’t have to launch you? Or will the game plan be to flush out all the marginal shows and start fresh with new shows? And if so, how many new shows? And where? And when? And paired with what? 

Or… a combination of both. Pair a new show with ONE BIG HAPPY. Good luck to that new series, by the way.

Networks pay studios a “license fee” to produce shows. Once you get down to the eleventh hour, negotiations for license fees can get hairy. There may be a show the network wants to add but the studio balks at how little the license fee is. Or the studio goes back to the showrunner and says, “Can you still do the show if we have to cut the budget by 20%?” His answer, and the studio’s willingness to settle for the license fee determines whether the show gets on the schedule. And your pilot or bubble show might hang in the balance based on the negotiations with this other show. Nerve wracking, huh?

And like I discussed last week, re-signing actors whose deals are up is also key.  
But wait… there’s more! Counter-programming. Although time slots are not as crucial as in years past, it’s still important. Maybe half the viewers still watch TV in real time. So will your bubble show or pilot serve as a nice alternative to what else is on during a particular time slot?

And never forget the importance networks place on research, despite how untrustworthy the results are at predicting success. When a staggering number like 90% of shows fail, you have to really question the validity of research that gave these shows a thumbs up. Remember last year? The big story was CRISTELA. ABC had passed on the script. The producers took the penalty payment they received, made the show anyway, and it tested absolutely through the roof. This was going to be the next COSBY. ABC then put the show on the air with great fanfare. The result: it’s a bubble show.

If you have a comedy pilot at ABC I hope it’s about a family. Those are the sitcoms that get on the air. If there’s one slot open and it’s between your pilot that’s set in an office or CRISTELA, who do you think gets the nod?

But wait… there’s STILL more! Casting. Stars (or at least actors networks think are stars). A Matthew Perry project has a much better chance than a pilot starring a fresh new face – even though Matthew Perry has had a string of bombs. Star power matters. Does your pilot or bubble show have one?

And in rare cases, showrunners are stars. Networks want to be in business with them. Chuck Lorre and Shonda Rhimes can pretty much get anything they want on the air. They’ve earned that right.

But wait… yes, there’s even still more. Under the table deals. When our show ALMOST PERFECT got renewed it was only because CBS wanted JAG, which was at the same studio. Paramount tied us into the deal. ABC also wanted JAG. Had Don Bellasario, the producer of JAG decided to take the ABC deal our show probably would not have survived or been pushed to midseason. Instead we were on the fall schedule even though the network demanded we drop one of the stars and we had no idea what the actual show was.

And finally, fan campaigns. It’s a Hail Mary, but the more fans of a bubble show can rally, send letters, emails, and flood the network with love the better. In fairness, networks have been burned by these. They’ve kept shows on the air that had small but fierce fan bases and rarely do those shows suddenly blossom given a second life. But it could happen. And it does get the network’s attention. I’m sure CRISTELA will have a fan campaign. I suspect it will be hard for ONE BIG HAPPY to get six people to write in on their behalf.

The next few weeks will tell. In the meantime, we have pilot buzz, rumors that change hourly, and secret deals in the works. If only the shows themselves could be as exciting as the process.

Good luck to all the writers, producers, and actors who either have pilots or bubble shows still in the ring.

UPDATE:  Speaking of pilots, my writing partner David Isaacs' daughter just graduated from the University of Miami and is trying to produce a sitcom pilot.  She has a Kickstarter campaign and could use your help, dear blog readers with money who like to support the arts.  Here's the info.   Between Annie Levine and Andie Isaacs we're getting ready to pass the baton to the next generation of Levine & Isaacs.   Thanks much.


Mike Botula said...

Wow! Your blog is the first thing I read in the morning. Today's installment twisted my brain just trying to follow the plot twists in "Program Survival 101" and gave me a migraine. All I had to deal with in my broadcast news career was: crime, punishment, global warming, Watergate, war, poverty, the Manson Murders, OJ,and the Zsa Zsa Gabor "Cop Slapping Trial." But YOU! YOU, Ken, are a REAL hero!

Anonymous said...

So far all the TV shows I follow will come back. The fan base is huge. I just love watching them. I read that they will spin the movie versions too.

I am really thinking of going for the TV show spec market 100% this year.

Keep reading and keep writing.

We love Ken's blog.
Film school can be boring.
But Ken's blog adds the spice and
makes our years exciting.
Thank you Ken.

McAlvie said...

Speaking of The Odd Couple, I've been trying to figure out what happened to Matthew Perry. I always liked Perry, and TOC seemed like a sure thing. The rest of the cast is great. Perry seems to have forgotten how to act.

Oat Willie said...

JAG lives on in reruns, because, as a "Family Guy" cutaway said, old people just like the noise and the company. Kind of like MeTV's afternoon westerns.

Bob Summers said...


Do networks kick themselves later when a show like JAG is on for one season on NBC, then goes another 9-10 at CBS?

Anonymous said...

My issues with Odd couple are: 1) Perry's contorted faces 2) too many sitcom situations. There's much in the mix to like, but I suspect it's doomed.

Mary Lewys said...

I'm dizzy. How does a television show ever make it to air? Wow.

Roseann said...

"Instead we were on the fall schedule even though the network demanded we drop one of the stars and we had no idea what the actual show was."


Mike Barer said...

Neil Simon's Odd Couple is so amerced in our culture, that the new odd couple doesn't work. We can't take the characters seriously.

DaveMB said...

Roseann -- Ken has written about this before and I'm sure he or someone will post a link. The premise of the show was that Nancy Travis got the job of her dreams and the man of her dreams in the same week. The network ordered then to drop the man, Kevin Kilner, and had no useful input as to how to repair the premise.

VP81955 said...

Why every showrunner has hope: If you recall a year ago, my favorite current sitcom, "Mom" (then airing on Mondays, generally in between the excreable "2 Broke Girls" and the slobbish "Mike & Molly") survived its debut season by the skin of its teeth; no doubt its Chuck Lorre connections and good critical buzz, not to mention the presence of Allison Janney (hey, we knew Anna Faris could do comedy, but Allison too?), ensured its survival.

A year later, following a hectic season where it was shifted to Thursdays at the last minute (a sticker on early releases of its season 1 DVD promoted its airing on Mondays) which delayed its season premiere a month because of NFL commitments, not to mention time slot shifts (8:30/7:30c to 9:30/8:30c to its current 9/8c), "Mom" has become a CBS Thursday mainstay, no longer needing "The Big Bang Theory" as a lead-in. It was renewed for a third season some time ago, whereas the Matthew Perry "Odd Couple" revival hardly is a sure thing.

Michael said...

I love how Ken mentioned Cristela. I love the show although I admit that the show still needs to improve. Also, Cristela Alonzo's blog post is nice. She was able to settle the criticisms in case that ABC will cancel the show.

Also, you're right Ken. Cristela will indeed have some fan campaigns but One Big Happy.....doesn't quietly have

Anonymous said...


Scott H said...

"The Odd Couple" has been tremendously disappointing. Perry is certainly over-acting. The cast is talented, but the writing has really been lazy, uninspired, and not funny. Thomas Lennon is also a bit over the top, but has managed to make Felix almost feel like a real person, and not a collection of quirks.

Cedric Hohnstadt said...

Friday question: What do you think about "Last Man On Earth"? The pilot was widely praised for it's bold and original premise: Two talented comedians (Will Forte and Kristen Schaal) who's characters can't stand each other and no one else on the *entire planet*. But new characters keep showing up and now it's being criticized for feeling like just another sitcom. I'm sure it would have been a huge challenge to keep the stories fresh and funny with only two people in the cast (although I would have loved to see them try). But I think there's also a danger that the freshness of the premise gets further watered down with each new cast member. What do you see as the risks/rewards of the "last man" premise, and do you think enlarging the cast was the right move?

Jason Roberts said...

The LA Theater actors have spoken!


Cap'n Bob said...

In learned a new word today--amerced.

Anonymous said...

I saw a mention of Last Man on Earth and just wanted to say that 2 episodes ago (the first one with Mary Steenburgen) the ending had me laughing so hard I was crying (I do not recall ever trying to catch my breath from laughter with ANY network show ever). That show is so strange that it is refreshing. Every show, and almost every scene, I find myself wondering how they will come up with something funny and every time they do! I just wanted to make sure people out there watch it.

Igor said...

@Cap'n Bob - about "amerced", just be sure to learn its actual meaning. AFAIK, @Mike Barer used it... well, not as I understand its meaning.


Richard John Marcej said...

I tried a few episodes of "The New Odd Couple". It didn't entice me to tune in every week. Not necessarily because of the show itself. METV runs the original "Odd Couple" on Fridays from 10-11 PM. So one week, after watching the new series on a Thursday I watched the original the next night*.

What really came across to me was, on the original, there were several scenes with JUST Oscar & Felix. Just Klugman & Randall. No other characters were needed. They held the scenes together and made you laugh.

On the new version, there were NO scenes with just Oscar & Felix. Perry & Lennon were constantly surrounded with supporting characters. And there are a TON of supporting characters. It's as if the producers of the show are telling the audience, "We don't have confidence that Perry & Lennon are enough to get you to watch."

If the producers of the show aren't confident in their work, why should I watch it?

* - BTW, the original I watched was from it's first season, so it was a fair comparison.

Curt Alliaume said...

The Odd Couple 2015 is pretty likely to come back; the ratings have actually been pretty good. On the other hand, it would be nice for CBS to promote the show - I didn't even know it had been on the last three weeks.

Do I love the new version? No. But it's okay. (And, let's face it, Jack Klugman wasn't exactly underplaying Oscar in the first year or so of the ABC version.)

benson said...

Curt, you beat me to the post.

My fiance likes the new one better than the original. She's 47. She's seen both. I loved the original.

I understand the criticism pointed out here, but, you, know, it is ok. Could it be better? Oh, yes, but for a 2015 network show, it's ok. (Which, in the big picture, is an indictment...lol)

One thing I would praise about it, is the actress who plays Felix's girlfriend. She play vulnerable well. Physically, she reminds me of Liv Tyler in "That thing you do".

Johnny Walker said...

Let's not forget the threat of old shows coming back. TWIN PEAKS! I bet it'd be a shock to lose your slot to s show that was cancelled 25 years ago :)

(Ok, it's on Showtime, so I guess it doesn't count in the network entered discussion, but still...)

Kathleen O'Neill said...

@Anonymous 9:46AM

Dear God. Whitney meets St. MoDo, Patron Saint of Perpetual Petulance. What could go wrong?

Mike Barer said...

amerced, it didn't look right but spell check, corrected it as such. I think the word ingrained would fit better.
I really think that the Felix and Oscar characters are so cartoonish, it's impossible to take them seriously.

Tabman said...

Surviiving Jack could have been a hit given just a little time.

Gary said...

Problems with the new Odd Couple are that Matthew Perry's voice is so raspy now he seems to be struggling to project. Also, the way Thomas Lennon is playing Felix reminds me of Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. He's too robotic as Felix.

Cap'n Bob said...

Amerce: To punish by imposing an arbitrary penalty. As I said, a new one on me.

Barry Traylor said...

By accident I happened to catch about two minutes of ONE BIG HAPPY last night. Good grief, what dreck.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

UNDATEABLE has been a favorite of me and my wife since we saw the first episode last year. Bill Lawrence shows are often hit or miss (Scrubs hit, Cougar Town miss, Spin City hit, Ground Floor mostly miss).

But Undateable and its cast is enjoyable, fun and frankly lovable. It's 22 minutes of smiles with your weird friends.

NotMark said...

@Cedric Hohnstadt: Here's a quote from a Will Forte interview you might find interesting:
"If there’s one thing I could change it’d be spending a little more time in that world, more time with just Phil alone, then more time with just Phil and Carol, a little more time with just the three [with Melissa]. Because you know once you get these people, there’s no going back, unless you kill someone off. But they’re all so nice. I don’t want to kill anybody. So it’s tricky. A lot of thought went into that and it was the decision of a lot of people that this was the way to go. I’m very happy with it and proud of it so I stand behind it but it is a tricky situation."


This is my own worthless opinion, but it's my belief that the title Last Man on Earth is meant metaphorically. In the pilot, Carol asks Phil, "Are you a nice person?"

As the series progresses, Phil answers that question through his decidedly rotten actions. He hits on Melissa in front of Carol, he attempts to murder Todd, he tells Gail and Erica that Carol is dead, he lies to Carol, Melissa, Todd, Gail, and Erica for his own selfish gains again and again and again. And now, nobody trusts him, with good reason! He's alienated himself from the rest of the group, hence, The Last Man on Earth.

I love this show.

Johnny Walker said...

Huh! Some pro-Kickstarter sentiment :)

cadavra said...

As a middle-aged Jewish guy, I'm not the target demo for CRISTELA, but I do enjoy it as a smartly-written, well-acted show, despite an unfortunate tendency toward stereotype of her family members. The ratings aren't bad for Friday, and given it's the only network show with a Latino-majority cast, I'd like to see ABC hang onto it--especially since they left us with quite a cliffhanger.

(I also hope THE MYSTERIES OF LAURA and FOREVER are renewed; yeah, they skew old, but is that really such a bad thing?)

CBS keeps advertising ODD COUPLE as the "#1 New Comedy!" Pretty gutsy for a show on the bubble (FWIW, I think it's okay).

chuckcd said...

Family Guy was brought back by the network after fans complained...