Every May at this time TV taketh away, and then TV giveth more to take away
Imagine some barbaric tribe living deep in a jungle, far from what we like to think of as western civilization.
This tribe follows a bizarre and bloody annual ritual. Each year, as spring brings blooms and birds sing, about a third of its members are slaughtered — babies, children and adults. Then, over the course of the following week, an equal number of new babies are born and welcomed into the world with great applause and fanfare.
A year later, the vast majority of those babies will also be slaughtered. And the birthing of the following year's slaughter will begin anew.
What sick minds could even conceive of such a ritual?
The minds behind broadcast television.
For decades now this basic scenario has played out in May as the major TV networks cancel dozens of shows — the majority of which were introduced within the past year — and then try to convince advertisers that the new babies (shows) they have this year are bound to make it past the following year's reckoning.
And so two weeks ago confirmed cancellations started trickling in. Some involved veterans which had already planned their suicide ("Parks and Recreation," "Two and a Half Men," "The Mentalist," "Glee" and "Parenthood.")
Others were more surprising, most notably Fox's "American Idol," which is being milked for one more good-bye season, and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," which feels like it debuted during the Nixon administration (it will also get to say goodbye next year with a very special movie event).
If you were a show creator trying to read TV tea leaves as to the future, a few things would be pretty clear. Don't bring a comedy to NBC; every new comedy the network premiered last year has been canceled. In fact, you might not want to bring anything to NBC, as it had this year's highest overall kill rate, canceling eight of the 10 new shows it premiered. Ouch.
Not that things were a whole lot better over at Fox, which debuted the year's biggest hit in "Empire," but still managed to kill off six of its nine new shows, along with one of the most critically respected sitcoms on the dial, "The Mindy Project" (although that show, along with others that got the ax, is being peddled to other networks and streaming services).
So what's new and exciting for next year? Uh, not all that much (surprise). Creator Shonda Rhimes ("Scandal," "Grey's Anatomy") will further her march toward complete medium conquest with "The Catch," starring the estimable Mireille Enos, on ABC, as a woman caught up in a con.
Familiar characters will also be showing up: "Supergirl" and a "Rush Hour" comedy will be on CBS, "The Muppets" (please protect them, television Gods) come to ABC, while "Lucifer" and "The Frankenstein Code" will surface at Fox, and "Heroes Reborn" on NBC will, indeed, try to revive that frazzled franchise. Meanwhile over at the tiny CW, which already has DC Comic shows "Arrow" and "The Flash," they're upping the comics connection with "DC's Legends of Tomorrow." Marvel must be shaking in its platinum-lined boots.
The key, of course, is not to get too attached to any of these new shows (which is obviously precisely the opposite reaction that networks want, but hey, it's their crazy system). Because next year, the grim ritual will repeat itself again and most will be gone. There will be blood, as there always is.