Upfront presentations are over and the five networks ordered 35 new series! The least since we had three networks. Most of them are actually inclusively cast! In a year where so much has and continues to change, that’s almost commendable. Since 2014, I have looked at the percentage of casts with multiple leads of color. The stats have taken on a few different formats, with last year’s roundup including the most. After five years, I’m moving on. While this roundup does include the shows with inclusive casts, I’m focusing more on the big picture. Especially in a year where the word upheaval doesn’t begin to describe the Big 4.
For a variety of reasons, the Big 4 network brass has changed drastically since this time last year. Only The CW’s Mark Pedowitz has stayed in his position. At ABC, President Karey Burke is focused on bringing women back to the network while newly formed FOX Corporation is in its first season post Disney/FOX merger. CBS is…still feeling the aftershocks of CEO Les Moonves’ ouster. NBC’s the only network that even with new leadership is doing alright. Leadership changes and the continuous decline of linear ratings led the networks to order only 63 pilots, the least in recent history!
Casting too is a new beast with networks competing against each other and streaming which goes year round. Big names are increasingly choosing shorter run series over a broadcast pilot. If broadcast casting works hard, they can find plenty of talented people of color! 22 shows are inclusively cast but if the folks in charge and in the writers’ room aren’t inclusive, then who cares? I’ve mentioned in past articles how important it is that the writers’ room, showrunners, producers, and crew look like the cast. When people creating shows anchor their work in life experience, the product is almost always better.
Below I briefly provide all the numbers, point out some interesting series orders, and talk about common themes. Stay tuned for a piece tomorrow with trailer reactions and what shows I think might make it to fall 2020.
New Series Orders
21 dramas and 14 comedies
ABC: 4 dramas, 2 comedies, all inclusive, -2 shows from 2018
(renewed 15, canceled 8, renanceled Modern Family)
CBS: 4 dramas, 4 comedies, all, -1
(renewed 17, canceled 8, renanceled Criminal Minds and Madam Secretary)
THE CW: 3 dramas, all, -2
(renewed everything, renanceled Arrow and Supernatural)
FOX: 6 dramas, 4 comedies, 2 inclusive, +4
(renewed 7, canceled 8, renanceled Empire)
NBC: 4 dramas, 4 comedies, 7, same
(renewed 14, canceled 5, renanceled Blindspot)
The most exciting thing pre-Upfront week was Constance Wu’s anger at Fresh off the Boat‘s renewal and that the new regime clearly did not like any of their pilots. Multiple shows are getting retooled and Karey Burke’s team only ordered four shows. Their comedies this year are Mixed-ish, a prequel to Black-ish and United We Fall which is about a couple who are united against everyone as they raise their Catholic Latinx kids.
Dramas include Cobie Smolder leading Stumptown like the comics with three actors of color and For Life, inspired by the life of Isaac Wright Jr. (Nicholas Pinnock), a wrongly convicted man who started practicing law and his relationship with a progressive warden (Indira Varma). Beauty and the Baker is pretty much a Latinx baker meets beautiful international superstar and the chaos that ensues. Finally, the network picked up Emergence originally for NBC which follows the police chief of a small town taking in a child found at a mysterious accident.
Of all the networks, ABC’s large comedy renewal and low series orders surprised, especially since Karey Burke really does want to bring women back to the network. Clearly she and Dana Walden (now Chairwoman at Disney and ABC) were not fans of their predecessor’s development. Can’t wait to see what they develop next year!
In the news for having the worst workplace ever, pretty regularly, CBS went with their tried and true topics. Though all eight pickups have multiple leads of color, I’m not super hopeful for what’s going on behind the scenes. Like I’ve said for years, and as echoed by ex-executive Whitney Davis, the network has a white problem. And from what news we do have, it might be the most toxic broadcast network to produce shows for. Still, head of casting Peter Golden stepped down due to his involvement in multiple controversies so keep an eye on shows developed for the 2020-2021 season. (I will give them props for being the only network to still have shows with actual disabled actors on them though!)
Plus they renewed Bull in hopes for syndication, even though now renanceled Madam Secretary was the last show to receive a cushy syndication deal. Not receiving one is what killed Scorpion so I won’t be surprised if Bull is canceled next year if no deal is made.
Of their new shows, Bob Hearts Abishola has the most leads of color of the comedies since the story follows a middle-aged sock businessman falling for his Nigerian cardiac nurse after a heart attack… Of course he has to win her over! Absolutely on brand for the network whose list of problems goes back years and contributes to one of the longest threads that I’ve seen. It might address “adult dating and immigration” but do we have any faith it’ll do that well?
Seriously though, + 10 for having more than one lead of color per show! All Rise is the only one led by a black women and only has two male leads of seven. FBI: Most Wanted has two Indigenous actors (Nathanial Arcand and Keisha Castle-Hughes).
In its first year as Fox Corporation and without its own studio, they unsurprisingly had two straight-to-series orders for animated comedies. Their other orders include a third animated series and one live-action comedy plus four dramas! Clearly they’re preparing for the eventual end of the current animated block, at least as we know it on Fox. They’re also filling the schedule with co-owned properties after cancelling eight shows owned by others. (One of the animated might not air until the Fall 2020 season.)
Two of their dramas each have four actors of color and three white leads. Deputy follows a fifth generation law-man taking on the role of LA County’s sheriff, while Not Just Me (based on an Australian concept) follows three women (Brittany Snow, Megalyn Echikunwoke, and Emily Osment) who find out they’re sisters. Their dad, a fertility doctor used his own sperm to conceive children. (Haram and something that happened in real life…)
It makes sense that FOX wants to air as many new series as possible. If even four make it to the next year, that’s four more shows they now co-own.
Mind you, they cancelled all of their shows with Black leads and didn’t provide data to the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition for their yearly report and received an F. So we’ll see how it pans out come next May.
Among the dramas, Bluff City Law stars Jimmy Smitt as a lawyer working with his daughter after years apart and Lincoln based off The Bone Collector follows a former NYPD Detective and forensic genius forced to quit after a serial killer attacks him. (The actor is not disabled. Remember Ironside? Same problem.)
Kal Penn returns to broadcast after moving to Netflix on Designated Survivor in Sunnyside, about a bunch of immigrants seeking the American Dream. Kenan Thompson leads a show where he takes care of his daughters while dealing with his father in law’s own parenting style, slated for after the Summer Olympics. I left it as part of the orders but…it’s not a fall/season show then! Finally, Perfect Harmony‘s lead Bradley Whitford is a Ivy League music professor directing a rural choir.
For the first time ever, The CW renewed every single one of their shows, the first for any network since the early 1980s! With 3 new orders, their roster for this upcoming season is 17 shows deep. Glad I’m not their scheduler! With their deal with Netflix ending, and both parent companies working on streaming services, CBS Studios and WB need new content to negotiate with for funding. While all the currently airing series on Netflix will stream there for the life of their on CW runs, the studios will have to negotiate deals show by show with various streamers for funding. If the network can’t find or doesn’t think they can find a streaming outlet for a pilot, it’s likely dead moving forward. Predicting the renewal chances for new and aging CW shows too just got harder.
No surprise then, that all pick-ups are IP with Batwoman and Nancy Drew (third time’s the charm) in the fall and Katy Keene (spin-off from Riverdale) in the spring. Their only original pilot, Glamourous followed Ben J. Pierce’ non-binary Marco starting an internship at the same makeup company that they panned in a YouTube video. Unfortunately, it did not receive an order but if it airs mid-season after retooling, Ben J. Pierce joins Ruby Rose as the second and third ever gay actors to portray gay characters Alan Cumming on Instinct.
Paltry Pilots Provide Pitiable Orders
For the first time, not a single reboot made it to series this year (yet), but 11 shows are based on intellectual property! Surprisingly, the percentage of shows about law enforcement or legal settings dipped from 36% to 31%. Not a single medical show made it unless you consider Carol’s Second Act and only three shows are about courtrooms. On the studio side where networks consistently stick to their vertically-aligned studios, Sony TV actually did really well! Four of their six pilots received orders, and all airing shows received renewals. (WB got five series orders.)
As for representation beyond racial and ethnic identity…well, it’s still disappointing. Disability rep continues to stay almost non-existent except for Lincoln, though Russell Hornsby is an abled actor. Hollywood may have come far in representation of other marginalized communities, but it is atrocious about disabled representation. 1 in 4 Americans have a disability! Concerning too is the number of shows that included scenes with people abusing (?) prescription medication. Bleh. Body diversity is as expected with a lot of thin pretty people populating all of the shows unless there’s a specific reason for a larger person in a show.
And LGBTQ rep is at least from the start, not incredibly apparent with the Big 4. I don’t want writers to treat characters as spoilers like a certain movie franchise! However, fully realized LGBTQ characters are still a small percentage of LGBTQ characters introduced each year.
Overall, this development season provided interest more for what it lacked than what occurred. 35 orders is a few too many for broadcast when networks won’t pull poorly performing shows from their perches. Receiving a mid-season show premiere on the Big 4 does not bode particularly well. Especially for those premiering in late April. Two orders from last May have yet to air and as of this Friday, only four mid-season shows received a second season. This is assuming the six newbies still airing, and the two yet to air are dead. 18 newbies then met with cancellations. Even if FOX had the space for renewals, that only brings the midseason total up to six.
In fact, FOX is the only network to order more shows than last year and made up for the other networks ordering fewer series. All but ABC picked up enough shows to replace their canceled series and add one or two more to their schedule to fill the space left behind by the six renanceled shows next May. I do wonder if networks will pull bad performers off the schedule this year. Saying they’re moving to year-round programming and actually doing that (well in the eroding demo) is another thing. This year’s renewals include Last Man Standing and B99 so I’m predicting there are even less renewals come May. If the networks get one success each this fall, well they’re a third of the way to renewing almost half of the newbies!
Thoughts on this year’s fall crop?