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On the Bubble 2021: Which Broadcast TV Shows Will Be Canceled and Which Will Be Renewed?

With (virtual) upfronts on the horizon, there are still several coin-flips 

After getting back to a certain level of normalcy a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, there is one thing more certain now than ever for broadcast networks: April TV ratings bring May cancellations and last-minute renewals, too. But in the “new normal” that the coronavirus has delivered us over the 2020-2021 season, there’s more uncertainty about which broadcast shows will stay and which will go than in years past.

Fox, CBS, ABC, NBC and The CW all still have several decisions to make before their upfront presentations to advertisers later this month, events that will once again be virtual, and some networks have many more tough calls to make than others. And the comedies and dramas that are real coin-flips at this point are considered “bubble shows.”

Setting aside the pandemic’s effects on broadcast network’s 2021-2022 slate choices for a moment, these bubble shows’ fates come down to lots of hard-to-quantify factors: momentum, reviews, how much they cost to make, how much money the people who watch them make, syndication situations, diversity and what networks have to replace them. And then there are executives’ personal tastes. It’s part science, part crapshoot.

TheWrap is here to help make sense of it all, charting below what scripted series have yet to be renewed or canceled at each of the English-language broadcast networks and which way each of the many remaining decisions will likely lean.

All ratings in this story come from the advertiser-sought 18-49 demographic, and count a week’s worth of delayed viewing where available.

And to see all of the shows that have already been renewed or canceled for the 2021-2022 season, head over here.

Fox

Even though Fox has six scripted series left to make decisions on, you’ll notice there are only four charted below. That’s because the highly rated first responder drama “9-1-1” and its spinoff “9-1-1: Lone Star” are really not in danger of not being renewed, they just haven’t been yet.

Meanwhile, Mayim Bialik’s freshman comedy “Call Me Kat” has a good shot at a Season 2 pickup, seeing as it has solid ratings and Fox needs to fill the hole Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing” will leave behind. But we’re thinking the sitcom “The Moodys,” which is very low on the Nielsen charts these days, isn’t going to be so lucky.

The real bubbles for Fox are dramas “Prodigal Son” and “The Resident.” Those two could go either way, but TheWrap thinks it’s likely only one will make it to next season.

ABC

ABC has more shows awaiting decision than its competitors, but most of them fit pretty safely in the “Probably Returning” category.

As per usual, “Grey’s Anatomy” is basically entirely up to Ellen Pompeo — but ABC sure wants it back for what would likely be an 18th and final season. And with or without more “Grey’s,” spinoff “Station 19” is safe. “The Conners” renewal is really a formality, newbies “Home Economics” and “Rebel” are new enough to justify a second try, and staples like “A Million Little Things,” “The Goldbergs” and “The Rookie” should each get another year apiece.

The coin-flips for ABC come down to three shows: “American Housewife,” “Mixed-ish” and “For Life.” “American Housewife” has seemingly occupied every night of the week. It does … OK … but Carly Hughes recently left due to accusations of a “toxic” on-set environment. While the ratings for “Black-ish” continue to decline, that show is core enough to come back. Its lower-rated spinoff, “Mixed-ish,” is much less likely to return. And the Nicholas Pinnock legal drama “For Life” probably won’t get pardoned this time around — but it still has a shot, albeit a small one.

The ABC show most likely to get canceled right around Mother’s Day 2021 is “Call Your Mother.”

NBC

Out of the five currently airing shows that NBC has to make to calls on, only one of them is a safe bet to return: The Christopher Meloni-led “Law & Order: SVU” spinoff series, “Law & Order: Organized Crime.” The police procedural’s solid Nielsen ranking all but guarantees it a second season.

However, things are really up in the air for four more dramas, one of which is the freshman “Debris,” with the other three being “Manifest,” “Good Girls” and “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.” “Debris” might be thrown out due to its low ratings, but a strong case could be made for bringing back “Manifest,” “Good Girls” and “Zoey’s” due to their large fanbases and how well the latter two shows do on streaming platforms.

Because NBC clearly has more shows truly on the bubble this year than some of its competition, and it is still ordering pilots, so there’s a chance several of these decisions aren’t made before upfronts.

CBS

CBS has half a dozen shows waiting to hear their fates ahead of the network announcing its fall schedule and more of those series are coin-flips than leaning towards a “yes” or “no.” Those three series are legal drama “All Rise,” the David Boreanaz-led “SEAL Team,” and Walton Goggins comedy “The Unicorn.” Network execs at the ViacomCBS broadcaster could go either way on that trio.

In the case of “All Rise,” the consensus on star Simone Missick continues to be positive, but the vehicle itself has never really worked. Add in the recent firing of creator Greg Spottiswood, and things aren’t looking great. “SEAL Team” has the best rating of the bunch, but the renewal of “S.W.A.T.” and silence on “SEAL Team” is not an overwhelmingly positive sign. CBS loves the cast of “The Unicorn,” but the creative doesn’t appear to be as strong.

In terms of more sure things, it’s likely that “Silence of the Lambs” sequel series “Clarice” and freshman comedy “United States of Al” will get picked up for second seasons, but Chuck Lorre’s other-other CBS sitcom, “B Positive” starring the controversy-embroiled Thomas Middleditch, won’t be coming back.

The CW

The youngest-skewing broadcast network has just four shows awaiting decision: summer series “The Outpost” and “Pandora,” and international acquisitions “Bulletproof” and “Devils.”

For the first two shows, “The Outpost” is the one that has a better shot at another installment. For the latter two, The CW’s choices are first dictated by what the home channels of the British and Italian series, respectively, decide to do with those dramas.

“Bulletproof” stars Noel Clarke, who is facing sexual misconduct accusations by 20 women. Sky One, which airs the show in the U.K., has halted production on the fourth season in light of the claims made against Clarke, and it is unlikely they’ll proceed with a version of the show that still includes him. That makes it pretty unlikely that The CW — which pulled “Bulletproof” from its streaming platforms last week — would want to air Season 4 at all. As for the Patrick Dempsey-led “Devils,” the thriller has received a second season renewal from Sky Atlantic, but The CW could go either way on a chance to re-broadcast those episodes whenever they get made.