This time of year can be brutal for TV fans. In the next few weeks, a number of shows will be canceled to make room for fall's new kids. The sad reality is that for every The Playboy Club or Charlie's Angels sent to the TV graveyard with little to no fuss, there's a handful of beloved shows that we're not ready to part with just yet. Behold, here are the shows we're desperately hoping the execs will give one more chance. (Click here to see our picks in photo gallery form!)
32 Bubble Shows: Which will survive?
30 Rock (NBC)
So Alec Baldwin continues to announce he's leaving the show. So viewership is, OK, the smallest it's ever been. So it isn't exactly a spring chicken, having been on the air for six seasons. So? So what! It's still, for our money, one of the sharpest comedies on network television, with a top-tier cast able to handle Tina Fey's fast and furious funnies, and TV's best guest stars, who just love to come and play (and play against type — More. Jon. Hamm. Please.) Please, NBC sirs, can we have s'more?
Sure, it was a slow going at first — but now the mystery of the disappearing, reappearing Alcatraz prisoners is getting seriously interesting. And by seriously interesting, we mean we just found out that the inmates are at war with each other, having being kept alive by some silver blood. (What? Yes!) A little sci fi, a little conspiracy theory, an ominous Big Bad, and a season finale we have to see the end of — is Rebecca really dead? — Alcatraz is totally teaserific. Rip this one away too soon, and kiss our patience for serialized mysteries goodbye.
Network TV needs to celebrate shows this ambitious. Jason Isaacs gives an incredible performance as he navigates Detective Britten's two dueling realities, choosing not to be bogged down by the truth of his situation — either his wife or his son has died — but to celebrate each of the two halves that make his life whole. Sure, jumping back and forth between timelines can be a challenge, but we trust executive producers Kyle Killen and Howard Gordon are going to make the journey worth our while, provided they get a chance to see that journey to its end.
There's not much in the rom-com department on prime time outside of Mike & Molly. (It's true — Nick and Jess can't get together this soon, New Girl fans.) So entered Bent, which stood apart for everything it wasn't: no crazy, wacky comedy, no over-the-top cartoon characters, no concept episodes. Just the grounded, super-sweet, extra-relatable story of opposites attract. Is it Bent's fault it had the timeslot of death, crushed by the double whammy of American Idol and Modern Family? No. And if it was given a second chance — and a different night — we have no doubt it would charm the pants off a much bigger audience.
Must-watch finales: Scoop on 39 season-enders
Being a perennial bubble show hasn't stopped creator Dan Harmon from always swinging for the fences — even when NBC benched the show for several months in the middle of the season. While the show doesn't always hit a home run (the take on Ken Burns' documentary style was clever, though not a blockbuster, laugh-out-loud half-hour), few other network comedies take as many exciting chances. And we're hard-pressed to find a better comedy duo right now than Donald Glover and Danny Pudi. If another season can produce one episode as brilliant as "Remedial Chaos Theory," we'll take it.
Cougar Town (ABC)
Give co-creator Bill Lawrence and his cast an "A" for effort. They busted their humps to get the word out about the show's third season — its quirkiest (and funniest) yet. While the masses haven't shown up, this show does have a loyal following, which isn't something the network can say about any new comedy it brings on this fall. If ABC is serious about launching a second comedy block, this show should be a part of it, if for no other reason than to continually justify our own excessive wine consumption.
CSI: NY (CBS)
The bad news first: The show is battling for a slot on the network that has the fewest to give — and it's battling against franchise sister show CSI: Miami. While Miami is new to the bubble, we still give the edge to Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) & Co. on quality. We'll take Mac's steely silence and more grounded approach over David Caruso's sunglasses and pre-credits zingers. Plus: We like our crime scenes a little grimier than the sun-kissed locales of Miami.
Fall TV Scorecard: Which shows are returning? Which aren't?
Although its freshman season has been uneven, these catty Christians are the clear heirs to the Desperate Housewives throne. All shows take some time to work out the kinks, but we see sparks of potential brilliance all over this ensemble, including standouts Kristen Chenoweth and Miriam Shor. We're ready to see what other juiciness lies under these ladies superficial surfaces.
All of the family drama, none of the implausible soap opera antics — what's not to like? And what would TV be without the Bravermans, a clan so closely observed and so beloved, that it would literally break our hearts not to convene with them on a regular basis. Jason Katims, who last gave us the fantastic small town epic Friday Night Lights, is our nurturing TV patriarch and he needs to have a seat at the prime-time table, always.
It's difficult to defend Ringer, which saw its audience shrink to just 1 million viewers over its first season, but we're going to try. Why? Because the drama got better as it went along, and those who invested were rewarded by the season's end! What began as a convoluted, not-so-trashy cat-and-mouse game starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as estranged twins, one with a hidden and diabolical agenda, became the most fun we've had since original recipe Melrose Place was on the air. You like WTF twists and guilty pleasure treats? Ringer's your ride, and by the last handful of episodes, the roller coaster was rising, plummeting and zipping at dangerously addictive speeds. So the sisters never came face to face after that first episode? All the more reason to bring it back for a second season and exploit the sure-to-be amazing catfights that would ensue.
The River (ABC)
It's true: Some viewers rejected the found-footage horror series about an expedition to find a missing explorer. The show's shaky-cam style and genuinely gasp-inducing scares were probably never going to be compatible with its Cougar Town lead-in. Why not keep the unique show — which drew positive reviews from critics and ended on a helluva cliffhanger — on a different night?
Maybe we just miss The West Wing, but Shonda Rhimes' gritty, fast-paced political thriller has us hooked — and it keeps getting better. As fixer Olivia Pope, Kerry Washington commands the screen but also lets viewers see Olivia's vulnerability. Plus: Her surrounding ensemble is great, particularly Guillermo Diaz's quiet badass and Jeff Perry's raging White House bulldog. Best of all, aside from Olivia's forbidden romance — you know, with the president — this show is more concerned with the fate of the nation than with who's boinking who in Exam Room 3.
The Secret Circle (CW)
Turns out there is room for both angsty vampires and budding teenage witches in our lives! This coven just figured out puberty and now they're dealing with dark magic, newly discovered powers, witch hunters, demons — not to mention all the usual things that cause grief during those painful adolescent years: forbidden romance, jealous friends and controlling parents. Throw in the return of the ambiguous John Blackwell and now we don't even know who's good or bad anymore.
There was a large, gaping hole in our hearts — nay, our souls — after 24 went off the air. The loss of watching Kiefer Sutherland do the right thing in the face of danger week after week was almost too much to bear. And now that he's back, doing the right thing for his gifted-but-troubled son week after week, Fox just wouldn't take that away from us. They can't!