It’s May, which means we’re very close to the network upfronts. Choices about which series live and which series die are probably being made right now by all the major networks. This of course means it’s time for fans and critics to start stumping for their favorite series stuck on the bubble between cancellation and renewal. This year though, this are a bit different. So many of the series that would have received heaps of praise and #SaveX hashtags were renewed extremely early. Thus, we don’t have to worry about Community, Parks and Recreation or Fringe. All three of them are coming back next season for full seasons, which is just shocking and amazing.
Meanwhile, the slate of programming left on the proverbial bubble is a bit thin this spring. When I realized I wanted to do this feature, I was surprised to find that there were only a few series I thought were worth saving. I tried to find one for each network, but I think you’ll see that a few of them aren’t necessarily super-bubble series in the traditional sense (we’ll talk more about this when I get to those posts). And even one of the go-to barometers for “saving” criteria doesn’t quite apply this season either. So many of this season’s new broadcast programming was terrible and is thus obviously not coming back, and there is thus very little reason to try to discuss how they could theoretically improve in a possible second season.
Nevertheless, there are five series that have yet to be renewed (maybe they’re officially on the bubble, maybe not) that should be. There’s one series for each of the five broadcast networks. Over the next few days, I’ll be discussing why I think each series should come back for the network’s benefit, not just for the fans. Hopefully there are good reasons why ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and the CW should keep these series around. Some of them have stronger cases than others, but this is always a fun exercise to partake in.
FOX, you’re up. You’re the most successful network in the 18-49 demographic and next year’s schedule is going to be super-tight. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider bringing back your freshman police drama, The Chicago Code. I know the ratings haven’t been good this spring, but here are three things you might want to think about when filling out your schedule for next season.
1.) Its storytelling framework and pedigree actually fit into your packed schedule
Listen FOX, I understand that you have only 10 hours of schedule real estate (animation is clearly locked into Sundays) and a whole lot of series, old and new, to fill those spots. American Idol will take up a lot of room in the winter/spring and Simon Cowell’s X-Factor will holding court in the same ways in the fall. Throw in renewals for Bones, Fringe, Glee, Raising Hope and presumably House, wherever the heck Terra Nova is going to go and any other new series, there’s really not a lot of space to put things. Chances are that FOX is considering Lie to Me, Human Target and The Chicago Code for one spot, if that. FOX has moved Lie to Me around a lot, but they appear to like it, Human Target less so. But both of those series have had three and two seasons respectively to prove their worth, with middling results at best. The Chicago has struggled, but it’s still young.
More importantly, Code would work really well into what FOX is probably looking for: 13 episodes. With the jam-packed schedule, I find it hard to imagine that FOX would be willing to give Code more than 13. And really, that’s probably best for a series like this. Shawn Ryan’s experience with The Shield (and Terriers) tells you and everyone else that he knows how to craft a well-paced, damn-good story across that shorter episode length. In fact, most of the people disappointed with The Chicago Code probably came to that conclusion because they were expecting a series more like The Shield and less like The Unit. Code has struggled to find the right mix between the “broadcast” elements and the “cable” elements of its storytelling and atmosphere, but I think most everyone would agree that when it plays towards the latter, it’s better. I would argue that those struggles are probably because Shawn Ryan wanted this series to be a big, broadcast hit (and he should have). But the story on the ratings have been written, it’s not going to be hit. Freed from some of those constraints and that pressure, Ryan could craft a well-executed, tight 13-episode story that could run in the fall and be in and out. It’d be good for the series, and good for you FOX.
2.) Your drama series are old
House has struggled in the ratings all season and all indications are that next season will be the final one. Bones is still kicking around on Thursdays, but it will be entering its seventh season next fall with one of its two stars needing off to have a child. It’s still a good hit, but it is old. With Lone Star and The Good Guys failing and the aforementioned Human Target and Lie to Me also struggling, the network doesn’t have successful “drama” series under the age of five. Glee doesn’t really count and Fringe is super-lucky to be coming back next season at all. FOX, I have to imagine that you don’t want to fill your schedule with just singing competitions and a comedy/musical series about singing competitions. House has proven this season that it doesn’t serve as a good lead-in for new programs (both Lone Star and Chicago Code followed it with bad results) and there are questions about whether or not Bones can fill that role either. So you have two old drama series, neither of which can help anything else. Bringing back The Chicago Code won’t reinvent your schedule, but it is a young series that critics seem to like. I know the program was given a lot of love during the Super Bowl, but it appears FOX can only build series off of its singing competitions. Maybe give Code a chance after one of the night of X-Factor?
3.) You clearly want to be in the Shawn Ryan business
Obviously, FOX could cancel Code and still work with Shawn Ryan. But FOX the network, FX and 20th Century Fox have all proven that they want to work with Ryan. And they should, he’s one of the best storytellers in the industry today. From The Shield and Terriers to The Unit and Lie to Me, Ryan’s done most of his recent television work for networks and companies under the News Corp umbrella. This is the first series that Ryan has personally created for broadcast television and although the series has struggled a bit with consistency, there are easy fixes to be made — and Ryan can make them. He is a savvy writer, producer and showrunner who understands how this business works and perhaps most importantly, how it’s changing. He’s experienced big successes and disappointing failures both and that should allow him to fix the small issues with The Chicago Code. Having a Shawn Ryan-led drama series adds a little bit of additional cache to your schedule, especially with critics and presumably advertisers. For better or for worse, showrunners are becoming more and more known and acknowledged, even by the general viewer, and having one of the best and most visible is a damn good move, for both creative and business reasons.
FOX, I know it’s a long shot and you don’t have a lot of room. But there are some good reasons why you should keep The Chicago Code around. Take notice.