As I write this on Tuesday morning, the big news in the entertainment racket is that Amazon is in talks to purchase Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for about US$9-billion. MGM has a vast movie library that includes the James Bond franchise and the Rocky movies. But it also has a big and thriving television wing. When I see advance screeners of The Handmaid’s Tale, they come from MGM, not Hulu, which streams the series in the U.S., or CTV, which has the Canadian rights.
This news comes a day after AT&T announced a deal in which WarnerMedia (which includes HBO and CNN) will be spun off and combined with Discovery in a new stand-alone media company that will instantly become a streaming giant.
All this action puts network TV in its place and that place is near-redundancy. This period of mid-May has been, for decades, a huge event in entertainment: The U.S. networks unveil their new fall schedules at the Upfront Presentations and, by tradition, there’s big interest in what’s new, returning or cancelled. On the evidence so far, this year’s theme is cancellation. It is a fact of life that cancel culture has been thriving in the TV racket since forever. Now it appears that the tiny amount of attention to the Upfronts sounds more like a death rattle, a noise more final than cancellation.
In an extraordinary move, NBC will have no new comedies this fall. None. The network best known for the beloved sitcoms Parks and Recreation, The Office, Friends and Seinfeld says comedy doesn’t work in the fall. At some point in 2022, it will bring back comedies nobody cares about, such as Kenan, Mr. Mayor and Young Rock. Mind you, NBC is pleased to announce that The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon has been renewed for five more years.
A standout example of the shambles that is network TV is ABC’s abrupt cancellation of Rebel, which airs on CTV in Canada. The heavily promoted drama-comedy, inspired by Erin Brockovich’s life, follows outlier-lawyer Annie (Rebel) Bello (Katey Sagal) as she fights for justice against corporations and those in power. Well-reviewed and doing reasonably well in the ratings, it was cancelled after just five episodes. Sagal is furious – as is Erin Brockovich – and on social media Sagal is encouraging fans of the show to protest the decision.
Meanwhile ABC will forge ahead with a new slate of shows. They include Maggie, a comedy about “a young woman trying to cope with life as a psychic.” And Queens, a drama about “four women in their 40s who reunite for a chance to recapture their fame and regain the swagger they had as the Nasty Bitches – their 1990s group that made them legends in the hip-hop world.” Also, inevitably, there’s a reboot of The Wonder Years. If network TV was still the main game in the business, as a critic, I’d be saying, “Kill me now.”
Over at the Fox network, the CEO of Fox Entertainment Charlie Collier, said at his Upfront, “We’re focused. We believe in broadcast and advertising. Instead of being all things to all people, Fox is doing fewer things and doing them better.” The network’s big-ticket new series is The Big Leap, which revolves around a group of “down-on-their-luck characters” who participate in a possibly life-changing reality dance show. When in doubt, do TV about TV. Cancelled at Fox is one of the best-acted dramas on network TV, Prodigal Son, which features Michael Sheen as a notorious, imprisoned serial killer.
CBS has cancelled NCIS: New Orleans after seven seasons; Mom (eight seasons); MacGyver (five seasons); All Rise (two seasons); and The Unicorn (two seasons). It’s sticking with most of its slate including Blue Bloods, Bob Hearts Abishola, Bull, Young Sheldon, Magnum P.I., NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles. It is, however, moving several of its top dramas from network to streaming: SEAL Team, Clarice and Evil are moving to the ViacomCBS-owned Paramount+ next season.
Add in the fact that Ellen DeGeneres essentially cancelled herself and NBC has cancelled the Golden Globes for 2022 and you’ve got a cancel frenzy going on. Call in the medical examiner, as they still do on CBS cop shows, because network TV is near-dead and redundancy – nay, despair – is a huge factor.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.