the industry

Which On-the-Bubble TV Shows Will Survive to See Another Season?

Photo: Maya Robinson and Photos by FOX, ABC, NBC and CBS

This week brought good news for the producers of Bones (it got renewed for a tenth season) and heartache for the team behind Sean Saves the World (NBC shut down production on the Sean Hayes sitcom, almost certainly spelling doom). But the fates are not so certain for the folks behind the many so-called “bubble” shows, those new and veteran series that have neither tanked hard enough to merit being yanked (R.I.P., Ironside) nor broken out enough to earn early renewal (such as NBC’s The Blacklist and Fox’s Sleepy Hollow). Every year around this time, Vulture takes a trip to the land of bubbles, where we compile a list of shows whose futures have at least a shadow of a doubt. We process the ratings numbers, look at the scheduling grids, and, increasingly these days, consider the various financial factors surrounding them (e.g., whether the network owns the show, how well it does in the international marketplace, etc.). We throw that data into our time-tested Bubble Meter, which then spits out a numerical score representing each show’s odds of survival. A top score of ten means another season is as certain as The Blacklist; the low score of one signals that the series is likely to meet the same fate as the short-lived CBS sitcom We Are Men.

Before we get to our predictions, we need to issue the usual caveats: Already renewed shows (Fox’s Glee, for instance) and those that have been pulled and/or outright canceled aren’t included here. (Hence no Lucky 7 or Welcome to the Family.) Unless we’ve identified a financial issue, veteran shows whose renewals are likely formalities are also missing from the list (no need to worry about Person of InterestGrey’s Anatomy, or anything from Dick Wolf). Reality shows, animated shows, and anything from the CW also can’t be processed by the Bubble Meter; the usual rules of renewals simply don’t apply to them. And this year, we’ve also opted against including any shows that debuted or returned after January 1 (the sole exception: Community, which has already racked up five episodes), as there’s just not enough existing data to gauge the staying power of newbies such as Rake and Chicago P.D., or even ABC’s returning Suburgatory, whose third season began just a few weeks ago. Finally, an acknowledgment: It’s becoming harder than ever to render a verdict on some bubble shows. As one industry source told us this week, “The bubble stuff is infinitely trickier now because you have to factor in so many more things.” Those factors include the aforementioned matters of ownership and profitability, as well the networks’ increasing realization that they’re better off sticking with even very low-rated programs than launching new series to fill the void (this explains why NBC kept Hannibal around for another season, and why ABC renewed The Taste even after it bombed on Thursdays last winter). The bottom line: Predicting which bubble shows will float and which will get popped is an art, not a science.

Note: In tandem with our follow-up article running down the fates of 2014 series that premiered too late to be included here, we have updated ten of these slides to reflect the decisions networks have made on ten programs as of April 3. Fans of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and nine others can rest easier knowing that we’ve been able to slap a happy blue “RENEWED” stamp on them; remaining Raising Hope viewers have already cried into their pillows about seeing that chilling red “CANCELLED.” And yet bubble shows remain! Click forth!

The critical buzz of season one faded long ago, and ratings are meh at best. But DVR growth is huge, ABC chief Paul Lee is a fan, and ABC has much bigger holes in its schedule. Y’all come back now, you hear?     Photo: © 2013 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Golden Globe winner is a favorite of Fox execs, and Fox execs are patient with most new comedies (see last year’s renewal of The Mindy Project). A renewal is certain.
It hasn’t reached the levels of other Chuck Lorre comedies, but it does fine on Mondays. Also, Chuck Lorre. Mom isn’t going anywhere (unless it moves to Thursdays).
Last season’s big hit now just sort of limps along Wednesdays at eight, with zero buzz and so-so ratings. But while it hasn’t lived up to its early potential, there is a loyal audience for the show and it manages to open up the night better than NBC’s Thursday or Friday leadoffs and about as well as The Biggest Loser starts Wednesdays. Its fate could well depend on how NBC’s drama development goes: The more the network loves its new crops, the longer the odds. Right now, though, the show is slightly more likely to return than not. Photo: 2013 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
There’s not much of a case to made for this show based on ratings: Nobody’s watching. This isn’t a shock, given its random 9:30 Tuesday time slot and the misleading title. But the show has gotten better reviews than any other new comedy this season. And if you count DVR replays, Trophy is averaging around the same ratings as Parks and Rec. NBC has shown a willingness to stick by low-rated shows such as Parks. It’s unclear whether the network that killed similarly rated Happy Endings and Don’t Trust the B—- will. Photo: Ron Batzdorff/© 2013 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Mothership is long past its glory days, but it’s a workmanlike performer and CBS owns the show. The only reason we’re mentioning it is because shows this old have expensive casts and production costs (see: Two and Half Men). It will still be back.
Though it does very well with one demographic, women under 35, Mindy remains little-seen, even once DVR replays get tallied. It doesn’t do much worse than Brooklyn among viewers under 50, but that’s mostly because it follows the higher-rated New Girl. But, just as NBC’s Bob Greenblatt gave a thumbs-up to Parks and Rec, Fox boss Kevin Reilly told reporters a few weeks ago that he’s pretty certain Mindy will be back. Reilly’s rating is the only one that really counts in this equation, so there’s hope.
After a solid start and decent reviews last fall, viewers began to drift — then run — away from Fox’s much-anticipated return to weekly TV. This is a shame, because unlike Sean, this show is actually pretty good. Fox has suffered from extraordinary expectations, both from the media and the execs inside NBC who shelled out big bucks to land him. It didn’t help that producers seemed to struggle early on to find the show’s voice. Something similar happened nearly two decades ago, when CBS brought Bill Cosby back to sitcoms: Ratings were far below what were expected, and most in the business expected CBS to move on. But Eye brass stuck with Cosby, and the show ended up running nearly 100 episodes. Will NBC be as patient? Probably not, but if its spring sitcoms flop, the Peacock may decide to give Fox another shot.  Photo: 2013 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
Robin Williams’s TV comeback is in no danger: Despite a much lower lead-in, Crazy’s season-to-date average is now on par with Millers once its much bigger DVR audience gets tallied. CBS is very happy with the show. Photo: © 2013 Fox Television. All rights reserved
ABC prayed for a game-changing hit from this franchise spinoff. What it got was a narrowly focused success that does particularly well with young men, and reasonably well with everyone else. It also jumps nearly 70 percent via DVR time-shifting, and thanks to a huge launch, its season-to-date ratings put it on a par with Scandal and other drama hits. It will be be back, even if ABC execs are quietly bummed about what might have been. Photo: Danny Feld/© 2013 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
Its same-day Thursday numbers are just okay opposite ABC’s red-hot Scandal. But nearly 5 million more viewers watch Elementary via DVR, allowing the CBS drama to actually draw a bigger overall audience than Shonda Rhimes’s aforementioned hit. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out this show is safe.
Despite solid numbers from lead-in Last Man Standing (the Tim Allen comedy that’s a lock to return next season), and a spot before Friday hit Shark Tank, ABC’s alien comedy falls off a cliff at 8:30 p.m. Friday. It’s a mystery why the network has left the show on this long. It won’t be patient much longer. Photo: Carol Kaelson/© 2013 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
This show often out-rates everything else NBC airs on Thursdays, has a passionate fan base, and does great DVR numbers. The only reason it’s not a slam dunk: The show’s huge cast makes producing it particularly pricey. Still, unless the network’s post-Olympics dramas all do unexpectedly well, it’s hard to see NBC not ordering at least a partial season. Photo: 2013 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
Its ratings aren’t great among younger viewers. But it does fine in overall audience, it reaches upscale viewers advertisers love, and CBS covets the show’s critical buzz. Add in the fact that CBS makes money from various syndication sales of the show, and there’s no reason for fans to worry. Good Wife is good to go.
It does okay same-day numbers on Tuesday nights behind the not-very-compatible S.H.I.E.L.D., but shoots up almost a full ratings point among viewers under 50 once DVR replays get counted. That, plus ABC chief Paul Lee’s public pronouncements of support, makes it likely ABC will give the show more time to find its audience. Then again, Lee loudly told the world how much he loved Happy Endings, and we all know how that ended. (Sniff.) Photo: Richard Cartwright/© 2014 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
Nope.   Photo: © 2013 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
There’s more buzz now that Dan Harmon is back at the helm; sadly, there aren’t any more viewers. But there also aren’t notably fewer viewers, either. And Community does about the same ratings as Parks, and it’s outrating all of ABC’s new comedies this year. As long as Harmon and his bosses at NBC and producer Sony don’t clash again, at least the first part of #SixSeasonsAndAMovie seems within reach. A potential hurdle: If one of NBC’s upcoming mid-season half-hours suddenly catches fire, the Peacock might be okay graduating from Greendale for good (particularly if the network also decides to cut back to two — or even zero — comedies on Thursday next fall). Photo: 2013 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
With an average audience approaching 13 million viewers, why put this long-running CBS success on the bubble? Because it has two big strikes against it: Its age makes it costly, and CBS doesn’t own the syndication or international distribution rights to it. If CBS has a good drama development year, it’s quite possible the net will part ways with the show.   Photo: Robert Voets/© 2013 WBEI. All rights reserved.
Some of you are still watching this Sunday soap, particularly via your DVRs. Unless ABC finally admits there’s no more story to tell here, Emily will live to scheme another season.   Photo: © 2013 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
Sadly, Fox seems to have forgotten it even airs the show. It seems to be a goner.
See Betrayal.   Photo: JEFF NEUMANN/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.© 2013 WBEI. All rights reserved.
We’re pretty sure the same viewers who kept Coach on the air for a decade are watching Dads, but the fact is, the audience for this show is on par with Fox’s other comedies (though viewership skews older). Fox did trim the show’s episode count to 19, down from 22, but that could be a function of Glee moving back to Tuesdays later this year. We don’t get the sense Fox execs love Dads, but unless its numbers start tanking, a renewal is a real possibility. Are you proud of yourselves, America?
ABC honchos admit they screwed up by not sticking to their original plan of airing this spinoff in the Once Upon a Time time slot come winter. The show died on Thursday, with lower ratings than last fall’s Last Resort (a show ABC should’ve given a second season to work). While we wouldn’t be shocked to see ABC do another Once spinoff or companion, it won’t be Wonderland. Photo: Jack Rowand/© 2013 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
NBC has shut down production on the show a few episodes before it was scheduled to end. Sean can’t save the world if he can’t even save himself. Photo: 2013 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
It bleeds viewers from The Big Bang Theory, and its DVR increases are pretty tiny. But CBS loves the show and its cast, and it produces the series in house. The farting continues, next fall on CBS.
NBC chief Bob Greenblatt is a big fan; viewers have been less receptive. On the plus side, the show is cheap to produce thanks to international partners, and it nearly doubles its audience once DVR replays get tallied. It’s a long shot to return, but financial considerations could save it. Photo: 2013 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
The show’s ratings are fine, often building on lead-in The Crazy Ones. What’s not fine: Everybody associated with this show gets paid a ton of money, and CBS doesn’t own the syndication rights. CBS might decide to shell out for at least some episodes, if only to have one more reliable comedy performer in its arsenal (something it will need with How I Met Your Mother ending). But it’s also possible the net will just move on. It’s CBS. It can do that.
NBC chief Bob Greenblatt told TV critics the show will return next season. That’s not an official renewal, but it’s the next best thing. Don’t be shocked if NBC announces it as the show’s final season, though.
It draws more viewers under 50 than Glee and has done about as well as the long-established Bones. If it doesn’t return, it would only be because Fox execs didn’t like the show. As of now, it seems more likely to return than not.
Everybody loves Rebel Wilson! But does anybody really love her ABC comedy? Alphabet execs have certainly been patient, ordering extra episodes and keeping it behind Modern Family well into the New Year. Problem is, the show literally loses half of its lead-in some weeks. And consider DVR replays: While Modern Family goes up a healthy 50 percent or more from its already big same-day numbers, SFN barely goes up 25 percent from its much smaller base. There’s no sign SFN has a passionate audience that’s simply watching it later. The one scenario where we could see the show returning: Wilson agrees to a serious revamping, perhaps with her character relocating or getting new friends. ABC did something similar with Ellen DeGeneres’s 1994 comedy These Friends of Mine, which shed some cast and changed its name to Ellen between its freshman and sophomore years. It worked. Photo: © 2013 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
Which On-the-Bubble TV Shows Will Survive?