Every year in May, the major broadcast networks clean house, usually just before the big unveiling of their new fall schedules for critics and advertisers at the upfronts. This year has been particularly brutal, as ratings have continued to decline across the board, and hits have been scarce. There have been some especially dramatic renewals and cancellations, with several long-running shows on the block. I'm not watching much network television anymore, but it's been fascinating to watch all of this play out regardless.
So "The New Girl" gets to return for a final season, but "Two Broke Girls" is toast, despite delivering higher ratings. So "American Crime" has been dropped despite a major Emmy win, but "Timeless" was pulled back from the brink after briefly being cancelled for three days. I don't know what kind of deal NBC reached with Sony, but nobody is buying that fan response prompted anyone to rethink the decision. Some shows no doubt saw the writing on the wall. The CW's one-season "Frequency" even released a brief epilogue to give their fans some closure. "Sleepy Hollow" is finally being put out of its misery. On the other hand there's ABC's "Last Man Standing," which was the network's second highest rated sitcom. Its cancellation after six seasons sparked conspiracy theories in its fanbase, but the truth is that the show probably got too expensive, and ABC wants the timeslot for "Once Upon a Time," and maybe later its "American Idol" revival.
And revivals and spinoffs certainly have been popular, though their track record hasn't been very good. Fox has no plans for more "24" or "Prison Break" and the moment. ABC just gave "The Blacklist: Redemption" the axe, while "Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders" is now the second "Criminal Minds" spinoff to have been a dud. And yet, "Will & Grace" is coming back to NBC's Thursday nights, after the success of their election sketch, along with "Roseanne" over at ABC. A "Big Bang Theory" spinoff about young Sheldon Cooper's adventures is on the way, and "Dynasty" is being rebooted, while yet another "Law & Order" spinoff is being readied, this one a limited series about the Menendez brothers. Also, to my immense distaste, more of "The X-files" is reportedly in the works.
I'm not sad to see some of the promising, but ultimately crummy newbies like "Powerless," "The Great Indoors," and "Emerald City" go, but the amount of freshman series that failed this year and last year is concerning. Hardly anything seems to be sticking, especially on the sitcom side, and the networks are often reluctant to give new shows the time to find their audiences. It doesn't say anything good about the networks' pilot process, which looks more antiquated every month next to what the cable nets and streaming services are doing. Just looking over the slate of newly announced shows for next year, there's not much that stands out.
Then again, looking at what did stick, audiences seem to have liked action series reboots like "Lethal Weapon," "MacGyver," and "Taken," which all survive to see another year. "Training Day," not so much though. Superheroes are in, including next year's "Inhumans," and "Black Lightning." The year's biggest hit was undeniably the melodrama "This is Us," which NBC is going to try and rebuild its Thursday night lineup around. I'm also happy to see that high concept shows "Riverdale" and "The Good Place" will get sophomore runs, and that somehow "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" are still hanging in there.
It's also important to remember that while the broadcast networks may be feeling the brunt of the cordcutting, ratings are down for cable series too, and they're certainly subject to some of the same lack of creativity in their programming. HBO, of course, reportedly has five different potential "Game of Thrones" prequel spinoff projects in the works. Cable networks do participate in the upfronts to an extent, but since they don't adhere to the traditional broadcast schedule, their cancellations and renewals don't come all at once, and not quite so dramatically.
The television landscape continues to change, and the changes are coming faster now as the audience gets spread thinner and thinner. Nobody has hit the breaking point yet, but at the moment I can only assume that it's coming. And I can't help wondering if "Law & Order: SVU" is going to end up outlasting its own network.