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Freshmen Fall Victim to TV’s May Massacre

As the broadcast networks debate their final decisions on what new shows will premiere next season, things look grim for last year’s freshman class.

Of the 25 broadcast series from the 2016-17 canceled so far, 16 were one-season shows. That puts this season on par with last, when 66% of canceled shows were one-and-done.  But with more cancellations expected this weekend, the broadcast-rookie body count will likely continue to climb. The final number will say nothing good about the quality of last year’s development crop or the prospects for next year’s.

NBC has canceled only three current series from the season set to end May 24 — “Emerald City,” “Powerless” and “Blacklist: Redemption” — all of them new. (“Timeless” was canceled Friday, then uncanceled Saturday in a bizarre reversal.) Two more freshmen, comedy “Trial & Error” and drama “Chicago Justice,” still await word on their fates. Two of CBS’ three canceled shows were newbies, dramas “Doubt” and “Pure Genius.” Comedy “The Great Indoors” has yet to have its future decided.

The CW canceled two shows, freshman hours “Frequency” and “No Tomorrow.”

ABC has canceled the most shows at 10, with sophomore “Quantico” still awaiting word. Four of those canceled were freshmen — dramas “Time After Time,” “Conviction,” and “Notorious” and comedy “Imaginary Mary.” At Fox, first-season comedies “Son of Zorn” and “Making History” and dramas “APB” and “Pitch” were axed, along with veterans “Rosewood” and “Sleepy Hollow.”

The high number of canceled freshmen is an indicator of the increasing difficulty that broadcast networks face in developing scripted programming that is able to break out in a crowded marketplace. That point is underscored by the fact that only one show from last year’s development crop, NBC’s “This Is Us,” managed to become a bona fide hit. The 20th-produced drama is poised to finish as the season’s second highest rated scripted series behind “Empire” with a 2.7 rating in the 18-49 demo. The next highest-rated new series is CBS comedy “Kevin Can Wait” with a 1.6.

Unable to gain traction for many new scripted offerings, broadcasters are increasingly turning toward unscripted fare. The Big Four have ordered 10 new unscripted series this year. Witness ABC’s sudden and surprising deal for a 16th season of “American Idol.” The network has committed to airing 40 hours of the talent competition next spring, taking up multiple spots that would have otherwise been filled by new or returning scripted shows.

With dramas and comedies more expensive than ever to produce and yielding diminishing returns, the new batch of scripted series about to be unveiled at upfronts face an uphill climb indeed.

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