After the fall failed to produce a single breakout new comedy series this year, the networks went back to the drawing board and doubled their comedy efforts. That has resulted in a glut of well-received comedy pilots that undoubtedly will lead to some tough choices in the next 10 days. The issue is not as pronounced at Fox, whose pilot volume is smaller as are its comedy needs. Plus, the network already has picked up everything it had an intention of keeping for next season. (Sorry, Touch.) At CBS, the crowded comedy field features at least five very strong contenders — Chuck Lorre’s Mom, Greg Garcia’s multi-camera pilot, Friends With Better Lives, Crazy Ones and the Rob Greenberg project — with several others capable of an upset. The network, an epitome of stability, is not known for splurging on new series; last year it only picked up two new comedies. And with 19 programs already renewed, including five comedy series, the influx of strong comedy pilots does not bode well for any remaining CBS bubble shows, especially if the network opts to expand its existing comedy blocks to accommodate more half-hour series. That includes Vegas, whose poor performance on Friday already sealed its fate; veterans Rules Of Engagement and CSI: NY, which also had been unlikely to continue; and freshman Golden Boy. (Criminal Minds’ expected renewal is held up by cast negotiations.)
Things are far more complicated at ABC, which has not renewed any series for next season, and NBC, which has yet to renew any comedies. With the two networks’ brass liking so many half-hour pilots, bubble comedies that easily would’ve made the cut last year might be tossed aside. NBC in particular has a lot of comedies in limbo: freshmen The New Normal, Go On and Guys With Kids; sophomore Whitney; and veteran Community. (Parks and Recreation is guaranteed a renewal.) As of several weeks ago, The New Normal and Go On both looked like solid bets to return, plus likely one multi-camera series. The excitement surrounding the network’s pilots has made those bets not-so-sure. Meanwhile, after being down for the count with a string of all-time lows, Community perked up last night, just in time for the pickup decision-making. At ABC, with a very late start and disappointing premiere numbers, Family Tools will have no time to make a better impression and likely won’t be part of any renewal discussions. But there is a lot of intrigue surrounding ABC’s other freshman comedies The Neighbors, How To Live With Your Parents and Malibu Country. Until recently, The Neighbors — which enjoys the support of ABC brass — appeared very likely to come back. Then How To Live launched to solid ratings. However, left to fend for itself in a sea of repeats after only two weeks of original lead-ins, How To Live fizzled and wasn’t able to make up the lost ground when it finally got support from the rest of ABC’s Wednesday lineup last night. With almost all of ABC comedy pilots considered contenders, any chance of both The Neighbors and How To Live continuing appear slim, and the decision on which one stays is a toss-up. There are mitigating factors, like The Neighbors being owned by ABC versus How To Live coming from an outside studio, 20th TV. 20th TV still is assured at least two comedy renewals at ABC for hit Modern Family and Friday’s Last Man Standing starring Tim Allen. Its companion, Malibu Country, also had been considered likely to return, based largely on the popularity of star Reba McEntire. But that is now uncertain, especially with a new multi-camera project, John Leguizamo’s pilot, coming in strong as a potential Last Man companion. The strength of ABC’s comedy pilots also doesn’t bode well for cult series Happy Endings, which ticked up in its season finale and has USA interested if ABC ends up passing.
Needless to say, there will be multiple scheduling scenarios be floated over the next week, with pieces featuring bubble shows getting on the board and coming down, until the networks settle on their new lineups. And while sweeping off all underperforming existing series in favor of new ones appears tempting, the economics of the network business likely will help get several bubble shows back. “The good thing about bringing a bubble show back is the networks don’t have to spend millions to launch another new show,” one observer said. “That’s always the trade-off.”