Ahead of the broadcast upfronts later this month, we are examining the chances of scripted series on the bubble whose renewal is in limbo. While ABC, NBC and Fox still have non-bubble series to pick up including Grey’s Anatomy (pending cast deals), Station 19, The Goldbergs, Black-ish, The Rookie, Law & Order: Organized Crime, 9-1-1, 9-1-1: Lone Star and Call Me Kat, CBS has wrapped all of its obvious renewals, with the fate of the remaining six series uncertain. The list includes SEAL Team, now in its fourth season’ sophomores All Rise and The Unicorn; and freshmen B Positive, United States of Al and Clarice.
Because of how late the pandemic-impacted 2020-21 season started, not giving enough time for shows to prove themselves, and because how late many pilots are this spring, decisions on more bubble shows than ever may not be made before the upfronts. CBS is ahead of the game on the pilot front with screenings underway, so the network may make more of those difficult calls ahead of its May 19 upfront presentation.
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Of the six CBS bubble shows, two are fully owned, SEAL Team and The Unicorn, which are produced by CBS Studios. All Rise, B Positive and United States of Al come from Warner Bros TV (All Rise is a co-production with CBS Studios), while Silence of the Lambs sequel Clarice is a CBS Studios co-production with MGM, the studio behind the movie. Ownership is bound to play a significant role in the network’s renewal decisions.
Once heavily favoring fully owned series, amid falling linear ratings and diminishing off-network/international returns, the broadcast networks have become more open to “leasing” vs. “owning,” especially on series with limited downstream potential like most comedies.
SEAL Team, starring David Boreanaz, is the most established series and highest-rated drama on the list. It is very well liked creatively by CBS brass and has a devoted fan following. The biggest challenge for the show’s renewal is its very high price tag, covered entirely by CBS/CBS Studios. But I hear there is a desire to get one more season, which would bring its run to 100 episodes, making its library more valuable for downstream sales including streaming, which would help CBS Studios recoup its costs and potentially see a profit. (Because of its U.S. military subject, SEAL Team is not a hot commodity in all international markets the way a crime procedural like NCIS or CSI is.)
Boreanaz recently urged CBS to renew the series.
All Rise, headlined by Simone Missick, is heavily on the bubble. After a promising launch last season, it has become a middling ratings performer, and the confidence in its creative is not as high in light of the continuous behind-the-scenes turmoil, which included a writers revolt and ultimately led to the recent exit of creator-showrunner Greg Spottiswood over misconduct allegations.
Clarice also is a very much on the bubble. A serialized drama with dark overtones, the show has struggled to find a wide audience in the Thursday 10 PM slot much like its predecessor Evil. While Clarice has been a modest performer at best, it comes from arguably the most important showrunner on CBS Studios’ roster, Alex Kurtzman, the architect of the Star Trek TV universe. Taking that into account, the studio will likely pursue every avenue to continue the series on CBS, Paramount+ or somewhere else.
Freshmen comedies B Positive and United States of Al both come from another top showrunner, Warner Bros TV-based Chuck Lorre, whose two other CBS series, the network’s flagship comedy Young Sheldon and Bob Hearts Abishola, already have been renewed. (His fifth show on the network, the critically praised Mom, is ending its run this season.)
Neither B Positive nor United States of Al have been breakouts but comedies traditionally take longer to find an audience. Because of Lorre’s stature and track record, it is unlikely that CBS would cancel both of his new series. Also, as I noted above, there is currently a financial upside for broadcast networks not to own some of their comedies. Still, one of the two series could conceivably be axed. Both newbies’ performances behind Young Sheldon has been within a similar range. B Positive received much stronger reviews, but its star Tom Middleditch recently faced sexual misconduct allegations, prompting some to refer to the title of the show as B Negative, referring to the impact the accusations have had on the show’s chances. Meanwhile, United States of Al, about a U.S. veteran and his Afghan translator, is more diverse, though the show has faced some criticism over what has been characterized as stereotypical portrayals.
A comedy that CBS owns, The Unicorn, has been a favorite of top CBS brass for two seasons now. While also heavily on the bubble, I hear there is a path toward for a short third season order through trimming of the budget for the single-camera series starring Walton Goggins.
How many of the six series CBS will bring back will depend on how many of its pilots the network will order to series (read my handicap here) and whether CBS would go for a wildcard pickup, like the Kelsey Grammer-Alec Baldwin comedy, which is being pitched around.
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