When it comes to a body count, Game of Thrones has nothing on the May "upfronts," gatherings held by network execs for advertisers and press where the bloodletting that kicks so many corpses to the curb to make room for fresh meat happens. To date, no fewer than 34 series have been canceled this year, and another 25 shows have announced this is their last season. That's nothing, though, compared to the network TV shows waiting for the executioner's call. Critical darlings such as American Crime Story, Castle, The Muppets, Nashville, Quantico, The X Files reboot, and Boise-based The Grinder are all still "on the bubble." News of their fate is expected to trickle out as the networks prepare to unveil their 2016-2017 schedules later this month during their so-called "upfront" presentations to affiliates.
Making matters worse, the space on network schedules will shrink even further during the next TV season. NBC has already announced it will fill another primetime slot with pro football on Thursday nights—this is in addition to NBC's hugely successful Sunday Night Football, which is still the highest rated weekly broadcast on network television. This commitment to Thursday night football means no room for as many as three to five primetime comedies or dramas.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of how network executives gauge the success of a television show is no longer the Nielsen ratings. Instead, networks now rely on something called "Same-Day Plus DVR" metrics, which means a TV show might be able to make significant audience gains when adding the number of people watching the show three- and as many as seven-days later via a DVR. Here are some examples of how some shows benefit or lose out when factoring in DVR viewing:
Quantico, the "is-she or isn't she a terrorist" drama, more than doubles its audience share when DVR+7 ratings are added in, vaulting the show three spots into the network's top 10.
The Muppets, conversely, drops a whopping four positions out of ABC's top 10 due to how few people watch the program via DVR.
The Big Bang Theory is even bigger than first thought, nearly doubling its audience share when DVR+7 ratings are tacked on (the show is already, by far, the network's highest rated show).
Scream Queens is an out-of-gate major success, doubling its audience with DVR+7 ratings added in, propelling the show four full slots into the network's top 10.
The Blacklist is usually the network's seventh highest rated show, but when its significant DVR+7 numbers are added, the show jumps to the No. 2 slot.
The future of traditional broadcast networks is quite literally up in the air. With cable-cutting now a full-tilt national pastime, network executives are banking more of their futures on reality or live (i.e. sports) programming—but even the savviest programmer knows that there are only so many stars to dance with, so many songs to sing and not enough islands on which one can be a survivor.