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2018-2019 Upfront Studio Scorecard: Volume of New Scripted Series Drops as Biz Faces Big Transitions

The logline on the 2018-2019 network TV development season: A glamorous business in the throes of transition grapples with unseen forces of disruption and the empire-building ambitions of its alpha-executive leaders.

The major studios ended upfront week with fewer orders for scripted series from Big Four networks and CW compared to the past few years: 34 this year compared to 37 at this point last year. So far, enthusiasm among ad buyers and industry-ites for the new shows has been fairly muted, with none of the newcomers showcased during the week’s parade of programming presentations generating heat a la NBC’s “This Is Us” in 2016 or CBS’ “Young Sheldon” last year.

In a year of reboots, last-minute rescues and ownership concerns driving pickup and renewal decisions, it’s a tough time to be an independent studio. At the same time, co-production deals on shows that originated at other studios bolstered the rosters of vertically integrated players particularly CBS Television Studios and ABC Studios.

The focus on ownership has only intensified as broadcast network parent companies increasingly lean on worldwide content licensing deals rather than advertising sales in first-run telecasts to drive profits. To sell a show around the world, you have to own it, or least have a piece of the backend action. 

Given this dynamic, it’s no surprise that Sony Pictures TV, Lionsgate TV, MGM, Entertainment One, and now even the long-dominant Warner Bros. TV are channeling more and more energy and resources to producing for the cable and streaming realm.

Sony Pictures Television came away with just one new series order, “Schooled,” the spinoff of “The Goldbergs” for ABC. Lionsgate fielded three pilots, but did not land an order (although there are rumblings that CBS drama pilot “L.A. Confidential” might relocate to CBS All Access). MGM’s “Cagney and Lacy” didn’t make the cut at CBS. Entertainment One went 1-for-2 with Nathan Fillion drama “The Rookie” grabbing a straight-to-series order from ABC, the same network that axed eOne’s Kiefer Sutherland starrer “Designated Survivor” after two rocky seasons.

Sony had a hard loss in the demise of CBS comedy “Kevin Can Wait” after two seasons. Warner Bros. TV couldn’t save Fox drama “Lucifer” after three seasons but pulled out a Hail Mary rescue for Fox’s “Lethal Weapon” with an 11th-hour recasting, and it mustered a final 13 episodes for “Gotham.”

All told, Warner Bros. TV fielded 11 new shows in total, including two unscripted series (ABC’s “The Proposal” and CBS’ “The World’s Best,” also with MGM TV).

The leverage plays for Warners and other studios were clearly defined this year. Two of WB’s scripted offerings — CBS dramas “God Friended Me” and “The Red Line” — are co-productions with CBS Television Studios. The reboot of “Murphy Brown” is not a co-production, because Warner Bros. brought valuable IP to the table in a property that CBS really wanted.

With NBC drama “Manifest” and ABC drama “Whiskey Cavalier,” the studio’s aces were filmmaker Robert Zemeckis and showrunner Bill Lawrence, respectively. Warner Bros. also sold three dramas to CW, “All American,” “Legacies” and “Roswell, New Mexico.”

The upheaval on the Fox lot (and elsewhere) was evident in a lighter year of sales for 20th Century Fox TV.

The studio landed six new broadcast series, four of them comedies including the revival of Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing” on Fox a year after its cancellation by ABC. Only one of 20th’s orders this time around came from an outside network, ABC comedy “Single Parents,” a co-production with ABC Studios. For Fox, 20th is delivering two other comedies “Rel” and “The Cool Kids” and two dramas: “The Passage” and “Proven Innocent.”

Universal Television had a busy year in landing “Magnum P.I.” and Dick Wolf’s “FBI” on CBS. Both shows wound up as co-productions despite the IP and auspices the studio brought to the table. All told, Universal has 10 new shows, including the series order for NBC “The Gilded Age” handed out earlier this year to “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes and NBC’s summer drama “Reverie,” which bows May 30. For the new season, Universal is delivering to NBC comedies “Abby” and “I Feel Bad” and dramas “New Amsterman,” “The Enemy Within,” “The Inbetween” and “The Village.”

CBS Television Studios has 12 new broadcast series. CBS comedies “Fam,” “Happy Together,” and “The Neighborhood” originated at the studio, as did dramas “Blood & Treasure” (ordered for summer 2019) and “The Code.” CBS dramas “The Red Line” and “God Friended Me” come out of the Greg Berlanti Productions pipeline at Warner Bros. TV. “Magnum P.I.” and “FBI” are co-productions with Universal TV.

CBS Television Studios also was lead horse on CW’s “Charmed” revival and “In the Dark,” plus it is a co-producer with Warner Bros. TV on CW’s “Legacies,” “All American” and “Roswell, New Mexico.”

ABC Studios grabbed eight broadcast series orders, all for ABC including the nod for scripted series “Take Two” that premieres June 21. ABC’s roster includes co-productions on comedies “Schooled” and “Single Parents” while it flies solo on 1970s-set laffer “The Kids Are Alright.” ABC is a co-producer on drama “The Rookie” and is the lone studio on dramas “The Fix,” “Grand Hotel,” and “A Million Little Things.”

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