The yearly Upfronts are in full swing, which means that the network television world has just gone through its latest wave of cancellations and renewals. I swear it's getting more dramatic every year as audiences continue to splinter and a cancelled show isn't really cancelled as long as there are web services and other networks that might be enticed to pick them up.
This year, for instance, the biggest story was Fox cancelling "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," the Mike Schur cop comedy that has been a low rated, but much beloved part of their lineup since 2013. After a Twitter storm of reaction, fans spent a tense day waiting to see if Amazon or Hulu might pick it up. The next morning, NBC picked it up, which makes sense since NBC is and has been the home of all of Schur's other network comedies. Alas, there has been no such rescue announced for Fox's other cancellations, "Last Man on Earth," which is going to end on a cliffhanger, and "Lucifer." However, they are resurrecting "Last Man Standing," the Tim Allen sitcom that ABC cancelled last year after six seasons.
I've largely stopped watching shows according to any sane schedule, and frankly haven't been paying as much attention to developments in the television world as much as I used to. It feels like many shows I had just heard about, like "Deception" and "Rise," are already on their way out. I'll be sad to see "Superior Donuts" and "Lucifer" go, as I liked what little I saw of them. Good riddance to "Scorpion" and "Inhumans." The only recently cancelled show that I'm actually still watching is Syfy's "The Expanse," via Amazon Prime. I watched and enjoyed "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" during its first year and liked it, but once it stopped being a priority for me, I gradually drifted away from it. And while I'm happy for everyone working on the show, it's already run five seasons and losing it wouldn't have been so bad.
Still, the drama around the cancellations and renewals each year is fascinating. Fan campaigns are now a regular part of each cycle. There are even ones for shows that weren't picked up, like the "Supernatural" spinoff "Wayward Sisters." Creatives actively encourage this - I suspect the "Tremors" pilot being leaked was to try and garner some attention for the cancelled project. I think part of this is due to the programming decisions being so much more visible now than they used to be, with reactions online able to be virtually instantaneous. In the old days, the networks felt much more remote, and most of the campaigns to save shows were treated as futile endeavors. Now, you have Mark Hamill and Lin-Manuel Miranda weighing in on the cancellation of "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" on Twitter within hours of the announcement.
It's also easier to save a show than it used to be. The rules have changed drastically over the past few years, with the television landscape still in flux, and cable and web series often setting the standard. Bringing a struggling show back for an abbreviated final season is now common. "Agents of SHIELD" is going to have thirteen episodes next year to wrap things up. The "Lethal Weapon" series is being retooled, with its misbehaving lead actor replaced with a more familiar face for its third year. Reportedly, Seann William Scott will not be playing Riggs, but his brother - who is also named Riggs, of course.
The way network television operates has felt antiquated for a while now. The pilot process looks increasingly wasteful and clunky. Attempts to revamp the ratings systems have come across as increasingly desperate. Nothing has stemmed the steady exodus of viewers, and the networks have finally decided to try reducing the amount of ads next season after years of increases. Even the concept of the Upfronts, with all of these programming decisions being made in a few frenzied days in May, seems very outdated in an era where Netflix premieres new content every month and rarely releases viewer data.
I guess I'd better enjoy all the drama while it lasts, because in a few more years we may not have what we currently recognize as network television at all.