With Just Days Left to Lock In Next Season’s Lineup, Here’s What Broadcast Networks Are Focusing On

Crunch time for NBC, CBS, Fox, ABC and CW execs ahead of upfronts

The networks will build their schedules around hits Scandal, Big Bang Theory and This Is Us. Sources: ABC, CBS, NBC
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The broadcast upfronts are a few days away, which means that execs at the five broadcast networks are behind closed doors as they make the final, excruciating calls on their schedules for the 2017-18 season. They’ll be deciding which promising pilots will make the cut, which current series deserve another year and what other big moves they need to make in order to retain—and, dare they hope, actually add—viewers next year.

For NBC, which should reclaim the adults 18-49 demo crown this season and already has the Winter Olympics and the Super Bowl on tap for next season (along with a Will & Grace revival), the network’s pre-upfront preparations are less frenzied than in recent years. “Given how stable everything is, we’re not doing one of those crazy, throw-a-bunch-of-things-against-the-wall pilot seasons,” said NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt. The network only has 12 pilots in contention for next year; half its usual number. “It’s nice to go into the process this way,” said Greenblatt, whose biggest decision will come down to whether to keep freshman hit This Is Us on Tuesdays at 9 p.m., or move it elsewhere on the schedule to maximize ad revenue.

Geller: Sonja Flemming/CBS

CBS, which will be without its broadcast chief Glenn Geller, who is on medical leave through the end of May, has already checked off its biggest to-do item for next season: securing a two-year renewal for The Big Bang Theory in March. TV’s most-watched entertainment series is also CBS’ best launching pad—this season it gave a healthy ratings boost to Kevin Can Wait and Superior Donuts—so the network must determine which chosen pilots will receive the golden ticket (i.e., the coveted post-Big Bang slot) next season. One contender: Big Bang Theory prequel Young Sheldon, which got a straight-to-series order.

Like CBS, Fox has already landed its white whale for next year, by locking in another 10-episode season of The X-Files. Between that and its order for The Orville, a sci-fi series created by and starring Seth MacFarlane, “we don’t have that many open slots to fill next year,” said Gary Newman, chairman and CEO, Fox Television Group. “We have some very strong pilot contenders on both the comedy and drama side, and we’re focused on adding a handful of new shows to the schedule.”

Finishing up her first full development season as ABC Entertainment president, Channing Dungey has a bit more work ahead of her than her peers. While “I feel really good about our comedy brand,” Dungey said that after drama fizzles like Notorious, Conviction and Time After Time, “I want to figure out exactly what our drama brand is, outside of TGIT” shows from Shonda Rhimes. “I am very interested in broadening our portfolio of drama to include some lighter, brighter [shows], maybe even a one-hour comedy in the vein of Desperate Housewives or Ugly Betty.”

As The CW considers pilots like a Dynasty reboot and a fifth DC Comics series, Black Lightning, president Mark Pedowitz will also consider whether middling freshman fall shows Frequency and No Tomorrow received enough traction from Netflix viewers to warrant a surprise renewal. As part of The CW’s new deal with the streaming service, its shows migrate to Netflix just eight days after their season finales. “By accident, it ended up being a good thing to have this, eight days later,” said Pedowitz, noting that the strong digital performance of shows like The 100 can buy them extra seasons to find an audience. “We can actually get a sense of what’s going on.”

This story first appeared in the May 8, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.