Canceled by inaction. That is the fate that awaits CBSMike & Molly, underscoring a conundrum six-year-old shows face when they come from outside studios and are not a runaway hit the size of The Big Bang Theory.

Mike & Molly, starring Melissa McCarthy and Billy Gardell, received an early Season 6 renewal in March. But after the CBS Logo Featured 1sitcom did not land a spot on the fall schedule for a third consecutive year, its 22-episode order was reduced to 13 episodes. I hear producing studio Warner Bros TV early this season approached CBS about possibly increasing the episode order and renewal plans for next season. I hear CBS declined to discuss either issue and has chosen not to engage in any communication with the studio regarding the future of the show. In light of the impasse, Mike & Molly executive producer Chuck Lorre reportedly informed the cast recently that this likely is the end of the show, leading to posts on social media by cast members Rondi Reed, Gardell and McCarthy that Mike & Molly has been canceled. It has not been officially but is certainly cancellation-bound with time running out.

Mike & MollyWhen a new broadcast series is picked up, that typically comes with a six-year license fee deal between the network and the producing studio and matching six-year pacts between the studio and the cast. When the six seasons are over, the network has to negotiate a new license agreement with the studio (usually shorter-term, one to three years). Based on that, the studio negotiates new contracts with the actors. Ideally, that is done early into the sixth season of a show, so the cast can be locked in for Season 7 and creators can plan the storyline. But that happens more and more these days as the networks are holding tightly their purse strings and try to postpone their renewal decisions until the last second.MiddlecharlieABC did the same last season with another under-appreciated WBTV-produced comedy, The Middle. There was a wakeup call in February when co-star Charlie McDermott was cast as the lead in Greg Garcia’s CBS/CBS Studios comedy pilot Super Clyde. ABC had not given WBTV indications whether it was going to renew the show, and for a studio like WBTV, which is not affiliated with the network, it is not an easy decision to sign rich new actor contracts without a license fee deal in place. For blockbuster The Big Bang Theory, WBTV two years ago negotiated a new agreement with CBS first, before proceeding to hammer out new contracts with the original cast.

WBTV eventually re-signed The Middle cast, and the show was renewed by ABC, but had Super Clyde gotten a series order at CBS, McDermott would’ve left the ABC comedy.

That also will be the case with Mike & Molly. As of February 1, after the 13th and final episode of Season 6 is filmed, most of the actors from the show will be free to do pilots and series that will have them in first position. I hear that of the nine-member cast on the show, all but one have six-year deals. The remaining actor (I hear that is likely Gardell), has another year on their contract, which happens when a cast member gets a salary bump early in a show’s run.

McCarthyWalkFameThere had been speculation that star McCarthy would not have re-upped anyway, looking to focus on features full time the way The Office‘s Steve Carell and The Vampire Diaries‘ Nina Dobrev did, leaving their respective series at the end of their contracts. But sources close to the production insist that McCarthy had been very supportive of the show, which cast her before she was a movie star, and had been willing to continue on the comedy that earned her an Emmy. “I was shocked and heartbroken when @CBS canceled #MikeAndMolly,” McCarthy wrote on Twitter Monday. “I would have shot this show for 50 more years. I’ll miss my 2nd family.” McCarthy is close with her Mike & Molly co-stars and invited them, along with Lorre, to her Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony in May. The rest of the cast, which also includes Reno Wilson, Katy Mixon and Swoosie Kurtz, had been looking to continue on Mike & Molly, but with cancelation looming, they are on the market for a new series.

SpyMike & Molly has been as solid a utility player as they come. The past two seasons, it was left on the bench in September and summoned in to plug a hole on the CBS schedule when a freshman comedy misfired. Airing in a new time slot each of the past two seasons, Mike & Molly kept steady, averaging a 2.7 rating among adults 18-49 and 9.8 million viewers in 2013-14 (Live+7) and a 2.6 and 10.2 million viewers in 2014-15. What’s more, with Chris Pratt’s Parks & Recreation gone, Mike & Molly is the only broadcast series featuring a bona fide current boxoffice star in female lead McCarthy, who might be on the cusp of even bigger stardom — next summer, she is starring in her potential global blockbuster, the female Ghostbusters. McCarthy filmed the movie, along with several others, while on Mike & Molly as the studio has accommodated her in every way so she can continue her burgeoning movie career.

Mike & MollyFrom CBS’ perspective, it has a network business to run. CBS had a lot of half-hour series for this season and fewer slots after replacing the Monday comedy block with dramas, so Mike & Molly, 2 Broke Girls and The Odd Couple were left off the fall schedule. Mike & Molly’s sixth season will not premiere until January 6, with new comedy Angel From Hell debuting the following night and sophomore The Odd Couple not returning until April, so the network likely would not want to start talks about a seventh season until it sees how Mike & Molly as well as the other two comedies perform and it takes a look at the crop of comedy pilots for next season.

CBS always tries to keep its options open, delaying decisions on some mid-tier shows until the last second, as everyone on Rules Of Engagement can attest. Still, a sixth-season show could’ve been handled with more care given the circumstances, including an earlier launch so a renewal decision could be made sooner. In situations like this, ownership does play a role as a network sees most shows from outside studios that are not big tentpoles as puzzle pieces, not assets.

mccarthyIn the case of Mike & Molly, there is another factor. The show comes from the top comedy producer in town, Lorre, whose entire business for the past decade had been on CBS, including blockbusters Two And A Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. Men was given a proper sendoff, with a series-end announcement early into its final season. The same courtesy is not being extended to Mike & Molly, leading to Lorre and his team’s decision to treat this as a final season and try to give the show a proper closure creatively. That move might open up the network playing field next time Lorre hits the marketplace with a new comedy series.

Despite its not-so-dignified exit, Mike & Molly will leave a legacy — it played an important role in helping American audiences accept a show with leads that might not fit the traditional TV star mold. And it gave McCarthy her first leading role. It might be awhile before we see her back on series TV.