Upfront Week, when the broadcast networks all announce their fall schedules, doesn't begin until Monday(*), but already reports are starting to leak about what shows, both new and old, have gotten pick-ups.
(*) For those wondering, the schedule is Fox on Monday, ABC and NBC (which only did half an upfront earlier this month) on Tuesday, CBS on Wednesday and the CW on Thursday.
I'll deal with the new shows when the upfronts actually start, but what's been really strange -- and very gratifying -- is the number of good but low-rated series that appear to have survived to next season...
ABC has apparently picked up "Better Off Ted," in addition to ordering a ninth season of "Scrubs" (with Zach Braff and Sarah Chalke being in six episodes, Donald Faison, Neil Flynn and John C. McGinley being regulars, and other deals to be hashed out later). Fox picked up "Dollhouse," which may be the lowest-rated network series to ever get renewed. While the CW itself appears to have no place for "Reaper," CW affiliates seem to like the show enough that they'd like to see it go into syndication so they can air it on what it will be their CW-less Sunday schedules. And while no one has actually reported on a "Chuck" pick-up yet, that now sounds like it's simply a matter of hashing out the numbers.
It's like the networks all got together and decided to reward every single Save Our Show candidate, no matter how poorly-rated. At this rate, the only bubble shows that may not come back -- like "Without a Trace" and "Cold Case" on CBS or "My Name Is Earl" on NBC -- won't be due to ratings, but cost.
Mo Ryan suggested yesterday that these pick-ups might reflect a new kind of thinking at the networks, where the broadcast ratings aren't the only factor. ("Dollhouse" gets a significant bump, for instance, once DVR and Hulu viewing is factored in.) But I also wonder if the bad economy, and the splintering TV audience, might also make the networks reluctant to let go of even some of their more marginal performers. Simply put, these shows are the devil they know. "Chuck," for instance, may have drawn mediocre ratings on Monday nights, but "Deal Or No Deal" did dramatically worse in the timeslot a week later. The idea that a new show automatically has a better shot to draw viewers than a marginal returning series may not be the case anymore, and in this scary environment, a steady number is a steady number.
Now, I'm not going to be chasing scoops like Ausiello, or the guys at the trades, since the official announcements are coming soon, anyway. But I'll have the full press releases when they come out, and analysis shortly thereafter.
Should be a very strange week.