TV NotesBubble shows ponder finale, futureEvery network has programming in jeopardy
By Michael Schneider, Variety
- March 5, 2009
With the network upfronts just two months away, it's the start of nail-biting season for primetime's bubble shows.
Most of broadcast's comedies and dramas are in the midst of plotting their year-end finales. But for producers who still don't have a clue about the fate of their shows, that creates a conundrum.
Do you tie up loose ends, and shoot a de facto series finale, just in case it's all over? Or do you leave the viewers wanting more via a big, messy cliffhanger in hopes that execs will find it more difficult to cut things off midstream?
This year, the producers behind ABC's "Life on Mars" came up with a third option: Persuade the network to announce the show's fate right now in order to at least go out with a bang.
"The producers were really pushing for it," said ABC Entertainment exec VP Jeff Bader. "Based on the ratings the way they are now, it didn't look like it would be back.
"So (the producers) said, 'Let us end it.' We thought, Let's do the right thing and give viewers a satisfying ending."
"Mars" exec producer Andre Nemec said he and the show's other producers -- having just come off another show, "October Road," that left the air without a proper goodbye -- decided to sit the writers down at the very beginning and hammer out what the series' end would look like.
"Obviously we would have loved to be on the air for nine years, and none of this comes without great sadness," Nemec said. "But we found ourselves riding the bubble. The network was aware that we knew where we were going. We think (it's cool) that we're able to wrap this series up and not leave the audience high and dry."
As a result, the mysteries of "Life on Mars" will more or less be resolved when the show winds down at the start of April. But that scenario doesn't frequently occur.
More often, execs don't want to give up the option of bringing back a bubble show until May, when they've screened their pilots and know for certain what their options are.
"The series finale is definitely satisfying for the viewers of the show and provides that closure," said NBC program planning/scheduling exec VP Mitch Metcalf. "But you can't always do that. There are usually so many shows on the air that we like that we want to keep them in contention and see how everything balances out with development."
Last year, the writers' strike ended up helping primetime's bubble brigade: With few new shows available in the fall, nets were more apt to give low-performing skeins the benefit of the doubt, and many of those series returned in the fall (where they promptly collapsed).
With no work stoppage this year, and a hefty number of pilots in the works (particularly at ABC and CBS), this year's fence straddlers won't be so lucky.
Now, over the next few weeks, proactive producers will pitch net execs on their next season plans - "Chuck" producer Josh Schwartz, for example, said the show's season finale ends with a "game changer" that sets up a third season - and fans will start to bombard execs with emails and mailers in an attempt to save their favorite shows.
But it will mostly be up to how well those shows perform during the final weeks of the season -- and how all those pilots look once the nets head into the screening room. For now, a look at what the nets will be pondering over the next two months:NBC
Among all nets, producers at the Peacock may have the most reason for concern: With "The Jay Leno Show" moving into primetime, NBC will have five fewer weekday hours in the fall.
That could be an issue for shows whose fates are still unclear, including "Chuck," "Life" and "Medium."
Then there's the granddaddy of NBC's lineup, "Law and Order." Having cheated cancellation in the past, "L&O" is once again not a lock for fall.
But given its historic importance to the net, "L&O" is perhaps the latest leading candidate for a program-sharing deal with another entity, much as "Friday Night Lights" now airs first on DirecTV and "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" initially runs on USA.
But before bubble show producers throw in the towel, the Peacock has said that it's aiming to split more time periods, with different shows airing in the fall vs. the spring. That may be why the Peacock is expected to pick up only 18-20 episodes of "Heroes," for example.
NBC is expected to use the Winter Olympics as a buffer between those fall and midseason skeds.
"We have a lot of shows that are in contention," Metcalf said. "And we've got some additional considerations with 'Leno' coming in, as there will be fewer spots. We'll take a very hard look at all of them as the pilots start coming in."ABC
Given the sheer number of late premieres this year at the Alphabet, net execs really won't get a good read on what should stay vs. what should go until right before their upfront presentation.
Indeed, the net won't be able to make a legitimate assessment on sitcoms like "Surviving Suburbia" and "In the Motherhood" or dramas "Cupid" and "The Unusuals" until mid-April.
ABC's other two newbies, "Castle" and "Better Off Ted," premiere earlier -- but "Castle," at least, really won't be tested until April, when it no longer airs directly behind "Dancing With the Stars."
But beyond those midseason entries, ABC has a pretty good handle on what's returning and what's not now that the fate of "Life on Mars" has been determined. Despite some concerns about its perf, "Ugly Betty" is expected to be back. And although the fate of "Private Practice" was not really in doubt, its boffo numbers during a recent crossover with "Grey's Anatomy" solidified the show's return.
The Alphabet has invested enough in "Samantha Who?" that a pickup seems likely; that means the only real question marks are "Scrubs" -- which would likely be dramatically revamped if returned -- and "According to Jim," which has come back to life so many times that it's now impossible to say for sure whether the show is finally over.CBS
If the Eye has to make some tough decisions, it's partly because CBS has an embarrassment of riches.
With few slots open for new fare, that's not a good omen for "Eleventh Hour," which cedes its spot to "Harper's Island" in April. And although sitcoms "Rules of Engagement," "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and "Gary Unmarried" all perform decently enough, the Eye will want to launch one or two other laffers in the fall -- which could be problematic for at least one of those existing half-hours.
With so many crime dramas in development and so little space on the sked, the Eye may also be looking to rest a long-running performer such as "Cold Case," "Without a Trace" or "The Unit," at least in the fall.
And in the case of close-ended procedurals, there aren't a lot of loose ends to tie up -- so the net can wait until the very end before deciding those shows' fates.FOX
With "Prison Break" closing up and sitcom "'Til Death" already securing a pickup for next season, most of the remaining uncertainty surrounding Fox's primetime resides on Friday night.
It's still too soon to tell whether "Dollhouse" will be a long-term player for the net, but given the perennial fate of shows on the night, no renewal is assured for that series or "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles." It's also too soon to tell on newcomer "Lie to Me," which will get its first real test when Fox moves the drama to 8 p.m. next week.
While the fate of those current shows is still unknown, Fox has announced that one new skein, "Glee," already has a slot on its fall lineup.CW
With no new laffers in the works, and last comedies standing "Everybody Hates Chris" and "The Game" both on the bubble, that's a real possibility.
Also up in the air: "Reaper," which just made its return this week, and "Privileged," which ended its season with one of those big "to be continued" cliffhangers. (Viewers waiting for resolution might be waiting a long time, in other words.)
Meanwhile, it's already a foregone conclusion that at least two -- and possibly three -- of the CW's pilots are a shoo-in for the schedule, even before a pilot has been shot: "Melrose Place" and "Vampire Diaries" are considered virtual locks, as is the "Gossip Girl" spinoff "Lily."http://www.variety.com/article/VR111...goryid=14&cs=1