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Television

Dead Shows Walking

What do nine shows airing this fall have in common? They’re not coming back in the fall of 2020. When the last episode of their seasons end next spring, the episode will double as a series finale. (Until they’re all rebooted at least.) All nine were renewed and either simultaneously, or later announced as final seasons. What some of us have started to call a renancellation!

In April, I wrote about the rise in renancellations especially at networks other than The CW, where shows always make it long enough to receive that final season (with only one exception). A short time later, FOX’ Empire joined the lot and two weeks ago, ABC announced that HTGAWM is ending this year. Though not included in my numbers, summer show Agents of Shield is also ending. Renancellations for long-running or well-loved shows provide for great PR and on the back-end time for the cast, writers, and crew to craft finales that should make most fans happy. Plus negotiating sales of the last season becomes easier for the folks involved, because it is the last season of each show.

Renancellations are also a product of a landscape where the so important 18-49 demo rating continues to erode along with C3 ratings. Here I take a look at each of the shows and their history in the current peak-TV landscape, and as always throw out some stats.


This year, each network except FOX has renancelled two shows. While I probably won’t count any new announcements post September as true renancellations, I would be shocked if there’s not more lurking in the background. CBS’ Hawaii Five 0 and Blue Bloods are both into their tenth series now, and outside of the NCIS trifecta, their only long-running series left. The Blacklist, though a co-production between Sony and NBC is in its seventh season now, while both Grey’s Anatomy and Law and Order: SVU are so very old.

Plus, there’s now the slightest chance that shows will jump from a broadcast network to a streaming network with The Orville now the first renewed show to move to Hulu! But I really do mean slightest since the move is primarily due to its ownership by Disney.

Of the nine shows cancelled so far, their final seasons will range from ten to 22 episodes ending with anywhere from four to fifteen seasons. The longest running shows, Criminal Minds and Supernatural will end with 324 and 327 episodes a piece!

Network Show Seasons Episodes
ABC HTGAWM 6 90
ABC Modern Family 11 254
CBS Criminal Minds 15 324
CBS Madam Secretary 6 120
CW Arrow 8 170
CW Supernatural 15 327
FOX Empire 6 102
NBC Blindspot 5 102
NBC The Good Place 4 52
Moments in History

Many of these shows have made TV history in some way, positive or otherwise. Empire‘s first season did so well that each episode had more viewers than the former. It’s also FOX’ longest running drama. The next longest running show will return with only four seasons next fall. FOX is unique now that the Disney/Fox merger is complete. Only seven of their shows are returning from the fall 19-20 season. As I mentioned in my Upfronts coverage, their comedy block as its currently known might just be on its way out. Next May will indicate what the long term goal for the network is.

On the CW, until its cancellation, Supernatural was one of three shows to survive The CW’s first season. It’s also The CW’s longest running show and will likely stay that way.  With Arrow ending too, eight seasons is now the number to beat. In fact, thanks to Smallville priming viewers for comics media, Arrow successfully launched an entire universe populated with a ridiculous number of characters. While the show will end without its original leading lady, the final season is teeing up for a massive crossover. Characters from all of the comics series, including newly introduced Batwoman will play a part in The CW’s take on Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Modern Family is ABC’s longest running comedy with zero competitors. How to Get Away With Murder was at the time one of the only shows to portray what it is like for a person diagnosed with HIV. Plus in her role as Annalise Keating, Viola Davis is the first black woman to win an Emmy Award. It’s also ABC’s second longest running drama only followed by The Good Doctor with three seasons.

On CBS, Madam Secretary was the last show to receive a syndication deal which does not bode well for its newer series. Still, a show with a woman leading an ensemble cast surviving to six seasons on CBS is history itself. It beat Ghost Whisperer by three episodes and one entire season. Criminal Minds will end with only three cast members who were present in every single season and two others who were introduced in season two, and three.

Finally, on NBC, Blindspot is the only show in recent memory to receive a renewal after the network pulled it off the spring schedule in May. It’s also one of the five returning Sony shows to air next year. Though Sony did receive pickups this year, as networks really focus on ownership, Sony has struggled. The Good Place is actually the one outlier to all of these shows, ending in its fourth season. An unexpected cancellation when it is the highest rated comedy on the network. Better that than abrupt cancellation, I guess.

Looking Forward

Predicting anything on broadcast TV beyond renewals and cancellations is almost silly. Every time I turn around, it seems like news breaks about one show or another, especially now that SDCC is over. Plus there’s the August TCAs and of course the start of the new season to look forward to.

Still, I feel confident in saying that renancellations will continue to occur especially as newer shows hit five or six seasons, and the longer shows all age. Removing just the renanceled shows from the roster drops the average season length at all five networks from 4.2 seasons to 3.8 seasons. As a thought experiment, I also removed the longest running show remaining at each network which brought the average down to 3.06 seasons which is pretty wild considering most networks have more shows shorter than five seasons than longer.

Of course the networks would not cancel Grey’s, NCIS, The Flash, The Simpsons, and SVU in the same year. If it happens, I said it here first! What happens when these stalwarts do end? Clearly the main metric networks and advertisers use is not changing, but when the median number of seasons across all five networks is two… Plenty has been said about Netflix churn, but broadcast is the most readily available programming in the US so the churn is worse! But it’s business as usual as long as advertisers fork over increasing amounts of ad money to reach fewer viewers live.

I know I can’t wait to see premiere week ratings in just two months!

Seher
Written By

Seher obsesses over show ratings and usually writes about media representation issues. Otherwise, she's reading away for her graduate program in anthropology.

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