It’s that time of year again, TV fans: If your favorite show hasn’t been renewed or canceled yet, it’s officially on the dreaded bubble. But before you run off to start your “Save My Show!” Twitter campaign, know this: Not all bubble shows are created equal.
To make sense of the jumble of shows (more than 40) still dangling in primetime limbo, we’ve grouped all the remaining bubble shows into one of six categories. From there, we’ll predict their chances of surviving for another season. Let’s get started with:
1. Freshman Sitcoms
Fresh Off the Boat (ABC)
The Last Man on Earth (Fox)
Marry Me (NBC)
The Odd Couple (CBS)
There are some standouts among the rookie comedies: CBS’s Odd Couple reboot has performed admirably after Big Bang on Thursdays (its last airing pulled in 10.2 million viewers), so a second season looks like a lock there. And Fresh Off the Boat and Last Man on Earth combine decent ratings with good critical buzz, so both have a strong case for renewal.
Not so much, though, for Cristela; ABC will look for a better Friday pairing for Last Man Standing next fall. Galavant was a fun experiment (a medieval musical spoof in primetime!) that didn’t really work out. And NBC won’t renew its vows with the Casey Wilson rom-com Marry Me — especially since the network seems to be fleeing from comedy in general. (NBC doesn’t have a single half-hour comedy that’s likely to return next season.) Now on to…
2. Freshman Dramas
American Crime (ABC)
Battle Creek (CBS)
CSI: Cyber (CBS)
Marvel’s Agent Carter (ABC)
The Mysteries of Laura (NBC)
Secrets and Lies (ABC)
State of Affairs (NBC)
The outlook is considerably cloudier on the drama side: None of these are out-and-out hits, but some still stand a decent chance at seeing Season 2. For all the flak it took from critics, Debra Messing’s MomCop procedural The Mysteries of Laura fits in well with Wednesday’s Chicago block (Fire and PD); it wouldn’t shock us to see it come back. (NBC has bigger problems.) And Agent Carter did an OK job holding down the fort during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s hiatus; the Marvel connection should help bring it back for another season.
CSI: Cyber hasn’t dialed up (ha!) much of an audience in its first three weeks; it’s a true coin flip whether it returns at this point. American Crime and Secrets and Lies both debuted this month to lukewarm ratings; Crime's stronger reviews (and a possible Emmy nod for Felicity Huffman) may earn it a second season, but ABC could opt to use the “It’s just a limited series!” argument for both and start fresh next year. Backstrom and Battle Creek tried to put a quirky spin on the procedural genre, but neither found much of a fan base; they’re likely one-and-done. And the fate of State of Affairs, Stalker, and Forever was sealed by their poor performance in the fall: They’re all toast. Next up…
3. Saved By Syndication
Blue Bloods (CBS)
The Mindy Project (Fox)
New Girl (Fox)
Here’s a dirty little secret about the TV biz: The lure of easy syndication money can keep a show alive long past its sell-by date. And the magic number is 4 seasons, or 88 episodes; once a show reaches that milestone, it can cash in for big bucks in syndication, so networks and studios have a big financial incentive to keep it on the air.
That’s why middling performers like Mindy and Nashville will almost definitely see a fourth season; they’re right on the cusp of that syndication jackpot. Blue Bloods and Elementary (WGN America) and New Girl (TBS/MTV) have already nailed down syndication deals — and all three shows are owned by their networks — so a renewal is basically a license to print more money. God bless America. Moving on…
4. Aging Procedurals
Person of Interest (CBS)
NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS)
Criminal Minds (CBS)
These shows have been solving murders in workmanlike fashion for a combined 64 (!) seasons now, and as they creep up in years and their stars’ salaries continue to rise, it becomes more and more expensive to keep them on the air. That said, there are a few shoo-ins here: The renewals of NCIS, Criminal Minds, Bones, and Castle are just a formality, as long as all the talent signs on the dotted line.
The other three, all on CBS, are a bit trickier. While not an NCIS-level smash, Person of Interest is still a healthy ratings performer and is the youngest of this group; Season 5 isn’t guaranteed, but it’s a safe bet. NCIS: Los Angeles dipped a bit in its move to Mondays, but it still nets close to 12 million viewers a week, so renewal is very likely. And then there’s that old warhorse, CSI: Original Flavor, which hit series lows in its 15th season and actually had its episode order reduced — never a great sign. The brand name is still strong enough that it might eke out one more renewal, but it feels like this may be the year CBS zips up the body bag for good. Which brings us to our next category…
5. “Is That Still On?”
About a Boy (NBC)
The Following (Fox)
Hawaii Five-0 (CBS)
Last Man Standing (ABC)
The Night Shift (NBC)
A mix of once-buzzy and never-really-buzzy shows that no one talks about much anymore, and they surprise us every time we remember they’re still on the air. But buzz isn’t everything, of course. CBS makes a living (and a big ol’ pile of money) out of ignoring buzz, and Hawaii Five-0 is a decent Friday night pairing with Blue Bloods, so we’re predicting one more season in paradise for McGarrett and Danny. Likewise for Tim Allen’s red-state sitcom Last Man Standing, another steady performer on Friday nights.
The Following and Revenge both looked like sure-fire hits in Season 1, then fell off a cliff creatively and are currently dangling by a thread; even Revenge fans are ready to say goodbye, and The Following’s poor showing this season (it’s pulling in fewer than 4 million viewers) signals that it’s time to go. With Minnie Driver signing on for new projects, About a Boy is looking DOA. And two forgettable shows that probably shouldn’t have gotten a Season 2 — Resurrection and The Night Shift — likely won’t see a Season 3. (Although Shift could move back to summer, where it did well for NBC last year.) And now, it’s finally time for some good news…
6. Sure Things
Family Guy (Fox)
The Goldbergs (ABC)
The Good Wife (CBS)
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)
How to Get Away With Murder (ABC)
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)
The Middle (ABC)
Modern Family (ABC)
Once Upon a Time (ABC)
Let’s finish up with shows that should and will be renewed, but for some reason, it hasn’t been made official yet. The Good Wife has always been one of CBS’s lowest-rated dramas, but a die-hard following and all the Emmy buzz means it’ll at least get a shortened final season to wrap things up. Family Guy is a lock, most likely for a multi-season renewal. And ABC has a policy of not announcing renewals before the upfronts in May, so even huge hits like Scandal, Modern Family, and HTGAWM are still technically on the bubble. Don’t worry; they’ll be back. There’s no end in sight for Grey’s, either, and corporate synergy should help Once (Disney) and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Marvel) stick around.
The Goldbergs and Black-ish are solid bricks in ABC’s Wednesday comedy block; the only possible loss we see here is The Middle, an aging show that’s losing co-star Charlie McDermott (Axl) to CBS’s superhero pilot Super Clyde. If The Middle does get canceled, we could easily see Fresh Off the Boat taking its slot next fall. But the bottom line here for ABC: If Wednesday nights ain’t broke, don’t fix ‘em.
CBS: 2 Broke Girls; The Big Bang Theory; Madam Secretary; Mike & Molly; Mom; NCIS: New Orleans; Scorpion
NBC: The Blacklist; Chicago Fire; Chicago PD; Grimm; Law & Order: SVU
Fox: Bob’s Burgers; Empire; Gotham; The Simpsons; Sleepy Hollow
The CW: The 100; Arrow; The Flash; Jane the Virgin; The Originals; Reign; Supernatural; The Vampire Diaries
ABC: Manhattan Love Story; Selfie
CBS: The McCarthys; The Millers
NBC: Allegiance; A to Z; Bad Judge; Constantine
Fox: Gracepoint; Mulaney; Red Band Society