It’s that time of year, folks: February sweeps, when the networks line up soft-drink and erectile dysfunction advertisers, and when ratings really matter. The network suits are eying that bottom line, wondering how they can make more with less, and contemplating which of those fictional reality shows on “30 Rock” might actually work while chanting, “Down the scripted programming! Up with product placement!”
What does that mean for your favorite network shows? It rarely means anything good.
“Modern Family” and “Cougar Town” have already been renewed. “Mr. Sunshine,” the new Matthew Perry show that premiered last night, actually had stronger numbers than “Cougar Town,” and while that’s only one episode, you can bet that it’ll already be back for another year, likely replacing that show that comes on before “Modern Family” that I can’t be bothered to remember. “The Middle” has been renewed, but in any block that contains “Modern Family,” “Cougar Town,” and “Mr. Sunshine,” it looks estranged. “Castle,” which has had a ratings uptick this year even against harsher competition, has also been renewed.
What won’t be back? “V” is likely done for, although I doubt anyone even knows it’s still on now. “Ordinary Family” is on a bubble that looks to burst soon, and I don’t see “Detroit 1-8-7” returning, either.
“Brothers and Sisters,” meanwhile, is on the fence, while “Off the Map” is receiving fairly poor ratings despite solid lead-ins. Its chances may depend on how much ABC wants to risk pissing off Shonda Rhimes.
Assuming Charlie Sheen doesn’t end up in jail or on a mortuary bed, CBS will probably return all of their shows, including “How I Met Your Mother,” “Mike & Molly,” “Shit My Dad Says,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “The Mentalist,” and the procedural mainstays “CSI” and “NCIS.” In fact, the only show in danger is “The Defenders,” and who cares? “Live to Dance,” the Paula Abdul dance competition that no one watched, won’t be back. In fact, it hit a new series low last night.
Who watches this network?
The only two questions that really exist for returning shows on Fox are “Human Target” and “Lie to Me,” and I suspect that there’s a coin toss’ chance that Fox will renew one or the other or both and use them to replace poorly performing shows next season, which is what they’ve done this season. “Lie to Me” took a hit by the premiere of “Chicago Code,” which didn’t have remarkable ratings but it did outperform “Lie to Me” in the time slot. If “Code” can hold its audience, it’ll probably make it to a second season.
All the Seth MacFarlane animated shows will be back, although at this point, they seem interchangeable. “Glee” has already been renewed for the next two seasons and “Raising Hope” has already been renewed for next. Unfortunately, things don’t look great for “Traffic Light.” The premiere after “Raising Hope” on Tuesday finished fourth in its time slot, although it was up nearly 20 percent over the now cancelled “Running Wilde,” but there’s little to brag about there.
The really big question on Fox is “Fringe.” Initially, its move to Friday was seen as a success; its ratings weren’t solid, but they were on par with what the show was getting on Thursday nights, which suggested at least that its base would follow the show. However, the base looks like it’s shrinking. Last Friday’s airing received fairly pitiful numbers, and if it falls any further, it’ll probably be nixed.
Given the atrocious ratings for both “Perfect Couples” and “The Cape,” neither looks to return. Neither “Chuck” nor “Outsourced” look like promising returns, either, but we’ve said that about “Chuck” for two years now. They always seem to find a way. People say “The Event” is on the bubble, but the only reason anyone is still watching it is to finish it through the first season. No one will be watching it next. They probably won’t get the chance. But David E. Kelley’s “Harry’s Law” looks decent for a return — it’ll do like all of Kelley’s legal shows. Start slow, hit its stride, and then fall apart midway through the third season.
As for Thursday night, because Comcast has taken over NBC, with new management, there may be a bloodbath next year. The good news is that “Parks and Recreation” is doing significantly better thanks to its “The Office” lead-in. “Community” continues to draw low ratings, but now facing “American Idol” it hasn’t faced a steep drop off, so it’s in no worst or better position that it’s been since it debuted, which is perpetually on the bubble.
With “30 Rock” already renewed for next season, and NBC unlikely to continue its 3-hour comedy block strategy, something’s gonna go. “Outsourced” and “Perfect Couples” certainly, but if NBC comes up with another decent comedy during pilot season (which is likely — Minnie Driver and Amanda Peet signed on for new pilots just today), “Community” likely will not return. At best, it’ll get the “P&R” mid-season replacement treatment. All I’m saying is: Enjoy “Community” and “Parks and Recreation” this season, and don’t get too attached to the idea of another one.
What about “Parenthood”? I don’t know. It’s not a big ratings winner, but it does well on DVR and it has an affluent demographic. I think it’ll probably return, particularly given the lack of options that NBC has. Then again, NBC is moving ahead now with a “Wonder Woman” pilot. But that’s more likely to replace something like “The Event” or “Chuck.”
What you can count on, at least, is another decade of “Celebrity Apprentice” and “The Biggest Loser.”