The TV Set: US Networks Grind Their Axes

14 May 2012 | 5:26 pm | Andrew Mast

It's nearly Fall in the US - that means axings, renewals and new show orders.


Now that TV is the new rock star, LA went zombie-shit crazy last week as many of the networks began formalising their plans for the hallowed Fall Season. Y'see, Fall (or what we like to call that-season-that-used-to-be-autumn) is when the US networks send their new schedules out into a hardened-by-pirated-access and increasingly-cynical planet of serial lovers. Remember a brief moment last year when you actually heard Ashton Kutcher mentioned in a sentence that didn't involve Twitter, GI Jane or "steamy threesomes"? That was Fall. And, the future of television rested with Kutcher (and one and a half other men). It was around the same time you heard chatter about Charlie's Angels being re-stiletto'd and about how Pan Am was the new Mad Men.

Last week marked the beginning of the pre-Fall scramble for another year. Once again, Ashton Kutcher is in the mix (yet another prank show), as is a leftover Charlie's Angel, and everyone else is hoping their show isn't the new Pan Am.

As the cable networks refuse to recognise the LA-yan calendar, it is mainly the 'broadcast networks' (ABC, CBS, CW, Fox and NBC) who participate in pre-Fall Frenzy. So yeah, HBO have given hipster-Sex & The City show Girls a second series, alongside their politico-comedy The Veep, and TBS have felched-out ABC's sloppy seconds Cougar Town, but mainly the cable guys just waited to see which of their bandwagons would be the most jumped onto. [This year it looks like Dexter and Breaking Bad are the wagons to fall off.]

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And, we care because there is always a glimmer of hope that we can be delivered another Greg The Bunny or Friday Night Lights. Just maybe.


The first part of the pre-Fall Fracas is to put the hard rubbish out. Fox killed off the dinosaur Terra Nova, another Spielberg TV failure; while a different kinda dinosaur, House has also been euthanised. Animated shows Bob's Burgers and Napolean Dynamite are said to hanging by a thread as well. But Fox has had the animation axe swing back at them twice before, cancelling both Family Guy and Futurama only to discover they had attained enough of a following to make them economically viable - they brought Family Guy back quickly and are now rumoured to be angling to win Futurama back off Comedy Central which is soon to air that show's seventh season. Who wants to be the one to tell boss Rupert Murdoch that they lost another fanboi franchise if more early axings backfire - you're likely to be sacked via Twitter.

Generation CW-types prefer to make the kinda rash decisions that their target demographic are presumed to make. Both witch opera  The Secret Circle and Sarah Michelle Gellar's non-slaying Ringer have been shown the back door after one season each. CW have also promised no more Gossip Girl or One Tree Hill after this Fall. Who knew One Tree Hill still existed?

Besides dumping Cougar Town after three unsteady years (bet Courtney Cox wishes she stuck with her bitchy role in Dirt), ABC gave up fighting for the Republican-hated GCB, nee Good Christian Bitches. And while CBS doesn't seem to have made any drastic calls yet, it is believed that a couple of CSI's may soon be the subject to murder investigations themselves. They also seemed to have wised-up to the fact that '90s revivalism doesn't involve keeping Rob Schneider and Tim Allen sit-coms on air.

NBC learnt that Prime Suspect minus Helen Mirren is as smart a move as buying the rights to Chelsea Handler's acidic Are You There Vodka, It's Me Chelsea and then packaging it up as Are You There, Chelsea. Both shows are gone. They have also rolled 30 Rock out for the last time, announcing a final 13-ep season for Fall.


Fox has held on to its surefire animated hits American Dad, The Simpsons and Family Guy - probably just so they can torture the voice talent with threats of across-the-board sackings if they keep insisting on being paid like actors. Fringe and Glee survive too. No one expected anything other than for CW to renew Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries and 90210 - but no one saw the recomissioning of Hart Of Dixie, aka, Summer Moves From OC To Alabama.

Also betting against the odds, ABC will bring back Revenge, Once Upon A Time and Suburgatory. All three reeking the stench of one-season wonders. While CBS is hoping Zooey Deschannel can cutesy her way through another year with her three Hollywood rom-com reject co-stars in New Girl. And, they seem to be planning for the How I Met Your Mother kids to be middle-aged by the time their dad gets to the point of the show's title.

Good news is that NBC has realised there is money to be made from the small, but faithful, following of its sit-coms Community, Parks & Recreation and The Office - although the latter has to endure further cast shake-ups (although still no word on a Dwight Shrute spin-off). Also back for a second season is CSI: Nightstalker, aka Grimm. The not-as-dark-as-it-thinks-it-is take on Grimm fairy tales needs to lose some of its over-acting support cast and concentrate on strengthening its story arc to maintain the fanbase it so desperately wants (that is, fanboi snobs).


The Stark reality for the slew of new shows announced in the past week is that some will be slain in the pre-Fall battlefields while others face beheading before given more than a few weeks to claim their timeslot's throne and only a handful will remain to rule through the winter. Fox have snared The Office's Mindy Kaling for her long-mooted solo outing The Mindy Project (previously known by its working title It's Messy). Moving away fast from The Secret Circle failure, Kevin "Dawson's Creek" Williamson brings Kevin Bacon in for a serial killer serial The Following. Friday Night Light's quarterback Zach Gilford becomes The Mob Doctor (self-explanatory) and Scott Foley (Felicity) tries his hand at family comedy in Carter Bays' Goodwin Games. While an offspring of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith goes mom-com in Ben & Kate.

Over at CW they are hoping to make up for the previous season-not-of-the-witch by bringing in as many new shows as budget allows (lucky those teen actors are cheap to feed). There's respected sci-fi director David Nutter's superhero Arrow, Miguel Arteta's Sex & The City prequel Carrie Diaries, Merryl Streep's granddaughter starring in medical drama First Cut and convention-magnet sci-fi Cult (cast includes ex Lost and Heroes stars). Aaaaaaaand, there's to be yet another take on Beauty & The Beast.

ABC's got a couple of re-do's on the books: a Dutch crime matriach tale becomes Red Widow with our own Radha Mitchell and former pop star Luke Goss as well as British show Mistresses with Alyssa Milano. Reba MacEntire teams with Lily Tomlin (East Bound And Down has given her a taste for it again) for a sit-com that hopefully won't be Reba.2 while Connie Britton has wisely fled the very unscary American Horror Story for music-com Nashville, where she tries to save cheerleader Hayden Panettiere from a future of convention appearances. Also at ABC: Entourage's Jamie Gertz will attempt to carry alien-com The Neighbors; ex-Neighbours star Dichen Lachman continues her foray into sci-fi with The Last Resort; another Aussie Rachael Taylor tries sci-fi as well in 666 Park Avenue; Anthony Edwards has a turn at conspiracy drama Zero Hour; and Sarah Chalke (Scrubs) and Elizabeth Perkins (Weeds) team up for sit-com How To Live With Our Parents (uh-oh).

CBS are staying quiet about new programming so far. Whereas NBC seem to have greenlit enough shows that our own Nine Network here may be able to find fodder to program around their Big Bang Theory marathon. On the comedy front there's Dane Cook and Jeffrey Tambor in Next Caller, former Cosby kid Tempestt Bledsoe in Guys With Kids, Justin Kirk (Weeds) in vet-com Animal Practice (from the creators of Community), Jenna Elfman and Bill Pullman in White House comedy 1600 Penn, gay-com The New Normal from a Glee creator (thank you, Mr President for paving the way for that), Anne Heche finds art imitating her reality as a woman who channels God in Save Me and Matthew Perry returns Friend-less in Go On. Then there's 'lavish soap' Infamous from TV dynamo Gail Berman and firefighter drama Chicago Fire with Jesse Spencer. But on the could-be-promising-but-bet-they-let-us-down list are: Jeckyll & Hyde update Do No Harm that has Freaks & Geeks' Samm Levine in the cast list; Bryan Fuller (Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me) revives the Lecter myth in Hannibal; JJ Abrams (forget Lost, he did Felicity) and Jon Favreau team for sci-fi show Revolution with Home And Away's Anna Lise Phillips.

But it's just as likely that this complete list will be changed by the time it's published.

CORRECTION: It was initially stated here that House would air a final season this Fall. That is incorrect, as the final season of House is currently airing. This error was corrected 16/05/12.