For the broadcast television networks — Fox, NBC, CBS, ABC and The CW — this has been a highly unusual year, to say the least. With production shut down last spring because of COVID-19, the networks, which generally produce a number of pilots from which to choose the next season’s schedule, instead had none. As a make-shift strategy, the networks renewed most of their existing shows, and put in a few straight-to-series orders.
Of course, making sure production would be safe took months to figure out, and scripted television didn’t get back up and running until late in the summer. As the season unfolded, the broadcasters rolled out premieres of returning shows, sprinkling in some new ones as well, with most scripted shows heading back on air in late fall and early winter. A few, such as CBS’ “Evil,” a hit during its first season, have yet to be scheduled.
The question, of course, is how much did this fluke of a season change network television forever? A show like “Grey’s Anatomy,” for instance, which in the past has aired 25 episodes a year, will only produce 17 this season — and even that’s a lot. Because of COVID-19 safety precautions, days on set are shorter and production is more expensive, making pilot season somewhat wan. And with ever-diminishing ratings for the broadcasters, does making tons of pilots even make sense anymore?
For years, the networks have wanted pilot season to evolve, and COVID finally forced that to happen. If network television is becoming more like cable or the streamers — ordering shows all year long, and renewing or canceling them off-cycle — that would be a significant change in the industry. And certainly, when you look at a show such as “Stumptown,” which was renewed last May, but then canceled in September for financial reasons before it could even go back into production, we’ve already seen huge shifts. Just look at “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” which ended up taking a year off, and then announcing that its upcoming eighth season — whenever that is — will be its last.
Times are certainly a-changin’.
What the upfronts — and upfront presentations — will look like this May is also still to be announced. But the annual ritual of canceling and renewing shows will again commence in earnest, as always.
This list will be continually updated, and here’s where things stand now.
Michael Schneider contributed to this report.