Upfront Preview: The Haves and Have Nots

All the networks have needs going into fall—some are just needier than others

Pilot Season is Dead. Long Live Pilot Season.

ABC

WHAT WORKED: The Goldbergs found an audience in its first season despite facing tough competition on Tuesday and never enjoying the large lead-in from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that some anticipated. Modern Family held strong in its fifth season, and The Middle, also on Wednesday night, showed signs of growth. On the drama side, Scandal blossomed into one of broadcast’s most formidable scripted hours, and Resurrection yielded surprisingly big numbers out of the gate at midseason.

WHAT DIDN’T: Much-hyped comedy Super Fun Night couldn’t reach beyond its young, female audience. It hasn’t been canceled, but its performance post-Modern Family was a disappointment. Mixology, which took over that time slot, hasn’t done much better, and has been savaged by critics in the process. Life as a new drama on ABC, meanwhile, was dangerous, as Lucky 7, Killer Women, Mind Games and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland all drew cancelations.

LOOKING AHEAD: ABC will again try to launch a new comedy on Wednesday night, building on the success of Modern Family. And don’t be surprised to see the network whose only multi-camera is Last Man Standing add another. Among the three multi-cam pilots ordered by the network is a show based on the life of standup comic Kevin Hart. In drama, “Thursday night at 8 p.m. has been a challenge for us for a while, as has Tuesday at 10 p.m.,” said Channing Dungey, executive VP, drama development, movies and miniseries, ABC Entertainment Group. “We developed this year keeping those time slots in mind, and we’re hoping that we’ve got some good choices to land there this fall.”

CBS

WHAT WORKED: It’s CBS, so most things. The Millers has been a solid addition to Thursday night. But with so many returning shows last season, the big story for CBS has been sustainability. The most recent cycle of Survivor has outperformed American Idol in recent weeks. And the network issued in April a three-year renewal to The Big Bang Theory that will keep television’s top-rated comedy on the air at least through the 2016-17 season.

WHAT DIDN’T: Almost anything new besides The Millers. The Chuck Lorre-produced Mom has turned in a decent if unspectacular ratings performance. Though comedy We Are Men has been the network’s only canceled show so far this season, Robin Williams vehicle The Crazy Ones, and dramas Hostages and Intelligence are candidates to follow it into the afterworld. The jury is still out on Friends With Better Lives.

LOOKING AHEAD: CBS will face the network TV equivalent of rich people’s problems this fall when it adds eight Thursday-night NFL games to its primetime schedule. Football will yield big live ratings and ensure virtually no Thursday-night reruns through the end of the season, but it will also force the network to either displace or delay some of its strongest shows—including Big Bang. With How I Met Your Mother gone and 2 Broke Girls an inadequate anchor, Big Bang could move to Monday, the night the network is focused on shoring up this season. CBS won’t have many holes to fill, but solid contenders for pickup include spinoffs of NCIS, CSI and How I Met Your Mother.

THE CW

WHAT WORKED: In its second season, Arrow continued to build a male audience for the recovering teen-girl network. Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals paired with stalwart Supernatural to grow Tuesday night. And the revival of improv-comedy showcase Whose Line is it Anyway? created an opening for a new direction on Friday nights.

WHAT DIDN’T: Drama Reign received a renewal despite lackluster ratings. New sci-fi dramas The Tomorrow People and Star-Crossed failed to gain traction. Returning series Beauty and the Beast and The Carrie Diaries were also weak spots for the network.

LOOKING AHEAD: Overhauling Monday night is the CW’s top priority for the coming season. “That has to do with the fact that this year we focused on getting Tuesday to work and sustaining Wednesday and Thursday,” Pedowitz said. “Now we can focus on Monday and get back into the game there.” Options include a Supernatural spinoff, as well as shows based on DC Comics’ The Flash and iZombie. And with comedy series Backpackers joining the lineup this summer, look for more sitcoms next season. “It’s always been a goal since I’ve been here to try to get comedy back onto this network,” Pedowitz said. “But the key play was last year getting Whose Line working, because Whose Line allowed us to have a base to allow sitcoms to come back to the schedule.”

FOX

WHAT WORKED: Sleepy Hollow was this year’s The Following for Fox, a big drama that impressed from the start and delivered that “urgency” that Earley likes so much. Brooklyn Nine-Nine was the surprise of this year’s Golden Globes, taking home awards for best comedy and lead actor Andy Samberg. And the network earned critical acclaim and solid ratings with its eight-episode science documentary Cosmos at midseason.

WHAT DIDN’T: The network’s two big reality music competitions produced big headaches this season. The X Factor was canceled shortly after its season finished and will be missed by few. American Idol, meanwhile, which had been neck-and-neck with NBC’s The Voice, now looks like an obvious second banana as its ratings have continued to slide. Raising Hope and new comedy Enlisted have already been canceled, as has midseason drama Rake and sci-fi try Almost Human. Midseason comedy Surviving Jack has been largely ignored. More troubling may be the ratings declines for The Mindy Project and New Girl, which have seen their numbers slip in their respective second and fourth seasons. “We’re not happy with the viewership on them,” Earley said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to get the viewing closer to the live-plus-three. They’re incredibly time-shifted. But when you look at them creatively, we’re thrilled with them.”

LOOKING AHEAD: Social-experiment Utopia will fill X Factor’s unscripted shoes. Expect several new comedies to join the schedule, among them Mulaney, a multi-cam from comedian John Mulaney, six episodes of which have already been shot. The mediocre performance of Dads last season has not soured Fox on multi-cams. “We haven’t had success there in a while, and it’s something we think is important for our mix,” said Earley, who also talks about Batman prequel Gotham as if it has already been picked up. Expect either it or Hieroglyph—one of two dramas, along with Backstrom, to have already received a 13-episode order—to launch out of Sleepy Hollow in the fall.

NBC

WHAT WORKED: The Blacklist. NBC scored the biggest new show of the fall with its serial-killer drama. Midseason also yielded pleasant surprises in the comedies About a Boy and Growing Up Fisher and Dick Wolf-produced drama Chicago P.D. The latter pairs with Wolf’s Chicago Fire to give NBC its first procedural franchise since Law & Order’s heyday.

WHAT DIDN’T: In the fall, just about anything new besides Blacklist. Dracula did well enough to merit consideration for a second season on Friday nights, but is no lock. Fellow freshman drama Ironside only lasted three episodes before NBC pulled the plug. And the network went 0-for-3 in fall comedies, with Welcome to the Family, Sean Saves the World and The Michael J. Fox Show—all stacked on Thursday night—being canceled before their seasons finished.

LOOKING AHEAD: “That Thursday night schedule in general and comedy at the network in general are very high priorities,” Salke said. The two issues are intertwined because of the longstanding tradition of NBC’s Thursdaynight comedy block, and also because the failure of last fall’s new comedies left little to build on in the night. Parks and Recreation has already been renewed, and NBC is the only network besides Fox to have already given series orders to some comedies. Salke is high on the Amy Poehler-produced Old Souls and an untitled comedy from Tina Fey starring The Office’s Ellie Kemper. “We came into the company with a set of Thursday night shows and creators at the company that we think are the best comedic minds in the business,” Salke said. “I think the goal this year was to take some of that Thursday night talent that is so beloved and so unique and try to develop shows that invite a few more people into the tent than the previous Thursday night comedies did and do.” Salke conceded CBS’ NFL deal will factor into how NBC rethinks its Thursday night. Outside of Thursday, expect the network to attempt to launch new series post-Voice, as it did with Blacklist and About a Boy.