As the 2011-12 television season winds down, a lot of people are wondering which network shows will be returning in Fall 2012 -- and some of those people are the ones making the schedules.
Network executives are watching pilot development closely and weighing those programs (and all the factors entailed) against other pilots as well as their current line-up of shows. There are numerous reasons for one program's selection over another, including casting issues, creative concerns and audience reach, but the key question asked is: Will "Show X" make us more money than "Show Y"?
After all, broadcast television is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year business, even in today's saturated media market, and everyone wants to keep their slice of that pie from being shaved thinner. Keeping that in mind, let's take a look at some of the shows that will be back -- and some that might not -- next season.
CBS, the top-ranked broadcast network, hit the ground early, choosing to retain the bulk of their current line-up, including television's top-rated drama series, "NCIS," plus two other long-running crime shows, "CSI" and "Criminal Minds." CBS also renewed the network's biggest comedy, "The Big Bang Theory," as well as their top new sitcom, "2 Broke Girls." All in all, CBS is bringing back a whopping 15 series, including a number of comedies (some of which will be considered for a rumored expansion onto Thursday night), indicating that the powers at CBS believe they are in excellent condition for the long run. A few decisions are yet to come, though. Shows that are on the proverbial "bubble" at the network include both of the expensive and long-running "CSI" spinoffs, plus the drama "A Gifted Man" and the sitcom "Rob." (Another surprising member of the CBS bubble? "Two and a Half Men" -- although reports are that it's a merely a matter of renegotiating Ashton Kutcher's contract before a pick-up can be confirmed.)
FOX renewed a number of their animated comedies, including "The Simpsons" through its 25th (!) season; they'll also bring back a pair of live-action comedies -- "The New Girl" and "Raising Hope" for second and third years, respectively. They also renewed "The X Factor," but it looks like -- at least in terms of personnel -- the show is going to undergo something of a retooling, having let go of two judges and the program's host. On the hour-long scripted side, both "Bones" and "Glee" have been renewed for next season, but the future is dicier for several of FOX's drama entries. While the perennially low-rated cult hit "Fringe" still reportedly has a somewhat decent shot at a pick-up (the sticking point is whether Warner Bros., the studio paying for the show's production, has any interest in reducing -- perhaps drastically -- the licensing fee that FOX pays them), neither "Alcatraz," "Touch" or "The Finder" have seemed to gain any traction among viewers.
Even lowly NBC has gotten in on the early renewal action, picking up additional seasons of two hour-longs, the Monday night musical drama "Smash" and the Friday night fantasy-thriller "Grimm." The drama side of the schedule is one of the weakest points at NBC, so they need all the building blocks they can get their hands on. Meanwhile, a traditional strength -- the Thursday comedy night line-up -- is likely to hold together, but there are lingering issues. "The Office," still the highest rated of NBC's sitcoms, has slipped significantly this first post-Steve Carell season; according to reports, several of the cast members are renegotiating their contracts. "30 Rock" is likely to be back; however, the rumor mill is churning furiously that NBC and the producers are likely going to declare this the final year and order only 13 episodes. And the critically-acclaimed "Community" has a better than average chance of renewal, even with ratings that have slipped week-to-week since the show's return, and the ugly publicity stemming from the suddenly public knock-down, drag-out fight between showrunner Dan Harmon and co-star Chevy Chase. (Meanwhile, perhaps the best comedy in the network's line-up, "Parks and Recreation," continues to roll along, seemingly incident-free; it's likely to be picked up again as well.)
Of the so-called "Big Four" networks, only ABC has not announced any renewals. This isn't to say there won't be any -- "Modern Family" is among the top-rated scripted programs on television, whether comedy or drama; fellow Wednesday night comedy "The Middle" has been a self-starting success since its first season; the fantasy drama "Once Upon a Time" broke through for family audiences on Sunday nights; another pair of ABC rookies, the sexy primetime soap "Revenge" and the quirky comedy "Suburgatory" have ridden a wave of positive critical notices and audience buzz all year long. But ABC also has a sizable number of middling performers, none of which are guaranteed a spot if the network's pilots turn out well. Of all the shows that they could keep, the safest bets are on a couple of rookies and a couple more veterans: the Tim Allen-led "Last Man Standing" isn't burning up the charts in its first season, but it's an okay performer in a tough timeslot; new sitcom "Don't Trust the B-- in Apartment 23" held onto enough of the "Modern Family" lead-in during week one that it merits consideration for renewal; second-year sitcom "Happy Endings" has grown on some people (though I'm not one of them); and "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff "Private Practice," which is getting a Tuesday-nights-at-9 tryout to finish out the year, likely has the internal support needed for at least a 13-episode final season next year. However, it's important to note that ABC has (infamously?) been willing to push aside more veteran (read: costlier) series in an effort to cultivate younger ones, much like what appeared to happen to the "did-fine-on-Wednesdays, not-doing-so-hot-on-Tuesdays" sitcom "Cougar Town" this season. Will that happen here? ABC is playing its cards very close to the vest; while some of their bubble show decisions are likely going to be obvious (those of you waiting for good news on "Pan Am," for example, are going to be waiting for a long, long time), there will likely be at least one or two very surprising renewals/cancellations at that network.