TV Cancellation Watch: Which Shows Are on the Bubble?

  • Publish Date: February 17, 2011
  • Comments: ↓ 109 user comments

The experts weigh in

ImageInsert obligatory "Chuck is on the bubble" comment here

Though we are still three months away from each network's official fall schedule announcement, it's not too early to take a look at which of their current shows will be coming back for another season. While some shows are certain to be renewed, and other clearly struggling programs are obviously not returning, there are many shows in limbo, their fates uncertain. These bubble shows include some usual suspects like Chuck, Fringe, and V, as well as some first-year programs like $#*! My Dad Says and The Chicago Code.

What is the likelihood that these bubble shows will return next season? To answer that question, we have compiled the latest renew/cancel predictions (all posted within the last two weeks) from six different sources:


ImageIs the sunshine fading?

ABC has actually given early renewals to more shows than any other network. But many of the shows that haven't been renewed yet are in trouble. It will take a federal government bailout to save freshman drama Detroit 187, while fellow newcomer No Ordinary Family also looks doomed. The recently debuted medical drama Off the Map has also been struggling in its short run, with ratings for its most recent episode last night its lowest yet, indicating that it, too, is likely headed for cancellation. Another brand-new show, the Matthew Perry-starring Mr. Sunshine, looked like a hit out of the gate, but last night's second episode fell significantly in the ratings; the program should be safe for now, but further drops could place it on the bubble. And fellow freshman Wednesday sitcom Better With You has also been trending downward; at the moment, its fate could go either way, but if its ratings slide continues -- and if Mr. Sunshine and the upcoming Happy Endings are stronger -- it will quickly become a cancellation target.

The network's remaining two bubble shows are long-running drama Brothers & Sisters, and second year sci-fi show V. The experts offer mixed forecasts for the former, which is hurt by its relatively large production budget. And the struggling V, which barely earned a limited renewal after scoring low ratings in its debut season, could, in theory, pull off the same trick this year; its ratings, though still miniscule, have been ticking upward ever so slightly. But if ABC cancels most of its other hourlong programs, one or even both of these bubble shows could survive to the next season.

ABC ABC Primetime Programs, 2010-2011 Season
Status/Show Expert Predictions
Uncertain AFV 5 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Uncertain The Bachelor 5 n/a n/a n/a 4 n/a
Uncertain Better with You 4 3 3 3 2 3
Uncertain Body of Proof Show has yet to premiere (starts Mar. 29)
Uncertain Brothers & Sisters 3 4 3 3 2 2
Renewed Castle Renewed through 2011-12 season
Renewed Cougar Town Renewed through 2011-12 season
Uncertain Dancing with the Stars 5 n/a n/a n/a 4 n/a
Uncertain Desperate Housewives 4 5 5 5 4 n/a
Uncertain Detroit 187 2 2 1 1 2 2
Uncertain Extr. Makeover: Home Ed. 5 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Renewed Grey's Anatomy Renewed through 2011-12 season
Uncertain Happy Endings Show has yet to premiere (starts Apr. 13)
Renewed The Middle Renewed through 2011-12 season
Uncertain Mr. Sunshine 4 4 4 5 n/a n/a
Renewed Modern Family Renewed through 2011-12 season
Canceled My Generation CANCELED: 2 episodes aired; 6 remaining episodes will not air
Uncertain No Ordinary Family 2 4 1 1 2 1
Uncertain Off the Map 3 3 2 2 2 n/a
Renewed Private Practice Renewed through 2011-12 season
Uncertain V 2 3 2 2 2 2
Canceled The Whole Truth CANCELED: 6 episodes aired; 7 remaining episodes unlikely to air
Uncertain Wipeout 5 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Key to show status:
Renewed = Officially renewed for 2011-12 season
Uncertain = In limbo; no official announcement yet
Canceled = Officially canceled or series ending this year
Key to predictions:
5 = Very likely renewal
4 = Possible renewal
3 = On the bubble; could go either way
2 = Possible cancellation
1 = Very likely cancellation


ImageThere's no defending these ratings

Though the network's ratings are down compared to the 2009-10 season, CBS still leads all networks in overall viewers. And with so many successful shows in its lineup, CBS has fewer shows in danger of cancellation than its competitors do. Still, there are a few shows on the bubble, and none is more endangered than first-year program The Defenders, which no expert found to be safe for next season; don't expect to see it back next year. As Bill Gorman of TV by the Numbers also points out, a few additional CBS shows will also have to go to make way for next fall's new programs. One strong possibility is the suddenly vulnerable CSI: New York, which, though always the lowest rated CSI hour, has had the luxury (until now) of watching even lower rated programs get the ax instead each year. It looks like that lucky streak might finally be over.

Other shows that have a chance -- though much slighter -- of ending this year are The Good Wife and newcomer Blue Bloods. The latter was looking very strong until CBS moved shifted it from Fridays to Wednesdays, but a move back to Fridays could restore its appeal. And the former's critical acclaim could be enough to secure a third season, unless CBS really wants to clear another hour in its schedule -- in which case The Good Wife's numbers (it's the network's lowest-rated non-Friday drama) could make it a target. CBS' crop of new shows this year are mainly successes, with programs like Mike & Molly and Hawaii Five-0 all but guaranteed to return. The news is less rosy for another first-year program, however. As Gorman also notices, CBS always cancels its lowest rated sitcom to make room for a new one. This year, that title falls to $#*! My Dad Says, which may be posting its final tweet tonight.

CBS CBS Primetime Programs, 2010-2011 Season
Status/Show Expert Predictions
Uncertain The Amazing Race 5 n/a n/a n/a 4 n/a
Renewed The Big Bang Theory Renewed through 2013-14 season
Uncertain Blue Bloods 5 4 3 3 4 4
Uncertain Chaos Show has yet to premiere (starts Apr. 1)
Uncertain Criminal Minds 5 5 5 5 4 n/a
Uncertain C.M.: Suspect Behavior Criminal Minds spinoff debuted last night to fairly strong ratings, winning its timeslot
Uncertain CSI 5 5 5 5 4 n/a
Uncertain CSI: Miami 5 4 3 3 4 4
Uncertain CSI: New York 4 3 3 3 2 3
Uncertain The Defenders 3 3 1 1 2 2
Uncertain The Good Wife 5 3 3 3 4 5
Uncertain Hawaii Five-0 5 4 4 4 4 5
Uncertain How I Met Your Mother 5 5 5 5 4 n/a
Uncertain Live to Dance 2 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Uncertain Mad Love 3 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Canceled Medium CANCELED: All episodes have aired
Uncertain The Mentalist 5 5 5 5 4 n/a
Uncertain Mike & Molly 5 4 5 5 4 5
Renewed NCIS Renewed through 2011-12 season
Uncertain NCIS: Los Angeles 5 5 5 5 4 n/a
Uncertain Rules of Engagement 5 4 4 5 2 5
Uncertain $#*! My Dad Says 4 4 2 2 2 3
Uncertain Survivor 5 n/a n/a n/a 4 n/a
Renewed Two and a Half Men Renewed through 2011-12 season
Uncertain Undercover Boss 4 n/a n/a n/a 4 n/a

The CW

Having already given the ax to its worst performing show -- Life Unexpected -- The CW may not need to take any further action. True, looking at the network's raw numbers, no CW show appears to be performing well when compared to programs on other networks. But when compared to each other, The CW's current scripted programs really aren't far apart from each other, meaning that none stands out as needing to be canceled.

CW CW Primetime Programs, 2010-2011 Season
Status/Show Expert Predictions
Uncertain 90210 4 3 4 4 4 n/a
Uncertain America's Next Top Model 4 n/a n/a n/a 4 n/a
Uncertain Gossip Girl 4 4 4 4 4 n/a
Uncertain Hellcats 4 4 4 4 4 n/a
Canceled Life Unexpected CANCELED: All episodes have aired
Uncertain Nikita 4 4 4 4 2 n/a
Uncertain One Tree Hill 2 4 4 4 2 n/a
Canceled Smallville ENDING: Show is in its final season; series finale airs May 13
Uncertain Supernatural 3 4 5 5 4 n/a
Uncertain The Vampire Diaries 5 5 5 5 4 n/a


ImageTargeted for cancellation

House, Bones, American Idol. Among the Fox shows not yet officially renewed or canceled, those are the only three that are absolutely safe at this point. Consider everything else to be on the bubble.

Of course, a few shows are so likely to be canceled that calling them "on the bubble" is misleading. Consider both Human Target and Lie to Me to be in this category, as both long-struggling shows are extremely unlikely to be back next year. The brand new sitcom Traffic Light is also floundering, debuting to terrible ratings last week and falling even further in its second week; at this rate, it may not even survive the month.

That leaves three interesting programs with uncertain fates: long-running sci-fi series Fringe, new animated series Bob's Burgers, and the brand new cop drama The Chicago Code. The fate of each of these programs is hard to predict at this stage. As you know, Fringe was recently shifted from Thursdays to Fridays, which could have been a blessing (lower expectations) or a curse (lower viewership). After holding up fairly well in its first few Friday airings, the show's ratings have been slipping noticeably in recent weeks -- even given those lowered expectations -- meaning that Fringe isn't quite as safe as once thought. Though Vulture's Josef Adalian remains confident, stating, "There's no reason not to renew Fringe for at least a limited run next season," both TV by the Numbers analysts suggest that if the show doesn't rebound from last week's nadir, cancellation is certain.

As for the other two programs, Bob's Burgers started strongly and has weakened in recent weeks, while The Chicago Code had a decent but disappointing debut (given that it was heavily promoted during the Super Bowl and had a high-rated House as its lead-in) and fell considerably this week in its second episode. Bob's Burgers could potentially survive as long as it doesn't slip any more, while Code will actually need an increase in ratings to earn a renewal -- not a likely proposition, by any means.

Fox Fox Primetime Programs, 2010-2011 Season
Status/Show Expert Predictions
Renewed American Dad Has enough finished episodes to at least air a partial season in 2011-12
Uncertain American Idol 5 n/a n/a n/a 4 n/a
Uncertain Bob's Burgers 4 4 3 3 2 n/a
Uncertain Bones 5 4 5 5 4 n/a
Uncertain Breaking In Show has yet to premiere (starts Apr. 6)
Uncertain The Chicago Code 4 4 3 3 n/a n/a
Renewed The Cleveland Show Renewed through 2011-12 season
Renewed Family Guy Renewed through 2011-12 season
Uncertain Fringe 3 3 3 3 4 5
Renewed Glee Renewed through 2011-12 season
Canceled The Good Guys CANCELED: All 20 episodes have already aired
Uncertain Hell's Kitchen 5 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Uncertain House 5 5 5 5 4 n/a
Uncertain Human Target 2 3 2 2 2 1
Uncertain Kitchen Nightmares 4 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Uncertain Lie to Me 2 3 2 2 2 2
Canceled Lone Star CANCELED: 2 episodes aired; 4 remaining episodes will not air
Renewed Raising Hope Renewed through 2011-12 season
Canceled Running Wilde CANCELED: 9 episodes aired; 4 remaining episodes unlikely to air
Renewed The Simpsons Renewed through 2011-12 season
Uncertain Traffic Light 2 3 2 2 n/a n/a


ImageThe Cape's crusade is over

No Cancellation Watch would be complete without mentioning that Chuck is on the bubble -- in recent years, the word Chuck has become synonymous with "bubble show" -- and NBC indeed faces another difficult decision after the program's strong early-season ratings have faded as the season progressed. Vulture's Adalian thinks the series is certain to come back for at least a half season; the other experts think the decision will go down to the wire.

It's a little easier to predict the fates of newcomers The Cape and Perfect Couples; both are goners. Fellow freshman shows Law and Order: Los Angeles, The Event and Outsourced are also on the bubble at this stage. While the latter has been hampered by its recent timeslot change (Outsourced performed well enough to merit renewal when it followed The Office but is hurting at 10:30), the other two shows are temporarily off NBC's schedule, so it will be impossible to gauge either's status until they return next month. Still, if The Event doesn't improve dramatically from its disappointing fall ratings, it won't be renewed; LOLA may have a bit more breathing room, but it, too, didn't have stellar numbers last fall. The lone bright spot among NBC's new shows is Harry's Law, which is safe at the moment, but if a recent ratings slide continues then even that program could be on the bubble soon.

NBC NBC Primetime Programs, 2010-2011 Season
Status/Show Expert Predictions
Renewed 30 Rock Renewed through 2011-12 season
Uncertain America's Next Great Rest. Show has yet to premiere (starts Mar. 6)
Uncertain The Apprentice 4 n/a n/a n/a 4 n/a
Uncertain The Biggest Loser 5 n/a n/a n/a 4 n/a
Uncertain The Cape 1 4 1 1 2 1
Canceled Chase EFFECTIVELY CANCELED: Series pulled from schedule with no return date
Uncertain Chuck 3 3 3 3 2 5
Uncertain Community 4 3 3 4 4 5
Uncertain The Event 2 3 2 n/a 2 2
Canceled Friday Night Lights ENDING: Show has completed final season on DirecTV; NBC run concludes Jul. 8
Uncertain Harry's Law 4 4 4 4 n/a 4
Uncertain Law & Order: Los Angeles 3 n/a 3 n/a 4 3
Uncertain Law & Order: SVU 5 5 5 5 4 n/a
Uncertain Minute to Win It 4 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Uncertain The Office 5 4 5 5 4 n/a
Canceled Outlaw CANCELED: All 8 episodes have already aired
Uncertain Outsourced 3 4 3 3 2 2
Uncertain Parenthood 4 3 4 4 4 5
Uncertain Parks & Recreation 4 4 4 5 4 5
Uncertain Perfect Couples 2 3 1 1 2 1
Canceled Undercovers CANCELED: 11 episodes aired; 2 remaining episodes unlikely to air

What do you think?

What bubble shows would you like to see return, and which deserve to be canceled? Let us know in the comments section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (109)



    In the last 25 years or more, I have been pretty good at picking out the best shows. I recognized the synergy of MASH, the brilliance, and speed of wit of SEINFELD.

    $#*! MY DAD SAYS is like M*A*S*H*, destined to become a classic. I can only hope CBS will recognize a classic when it sees it. The setting is somewhat small (size of house and not showing outside the house itself very much), but the comedy is as good as SEINFELD was when it first started.

    Expand it somewhat, work with the writers and creators, and, for goodness, sake, let it do what it is destined to do.

    Please notice what the audiences (well, me) are noticing. You can ask me about other subjects as well, CBS. I am not here to promote myself, but I have just been able to recognize winning shows over the years. Just email me.

  • tracie  

    Brothers n sisters is THE best family show out there!!! Great family values n lots of laughs, if this show gets cancelled it will be a huge mistake.

  • Tom  

    You are making a case for me to increase my reading. Most of the shows I liked are gone. The ones remaining are about to go as well. All that's left are lame reality, game and soaps left. The CSI's, NCIS's, Lie To Me, House, Castle, The Unit, Human Target are or were great shows...What's left? lame comedies and reality TV. Hello Library!

  • Lynn  

    I've been watching Parenthood for the last 2 seasons and it's a great show!!!Another one of my favourites is NO Ordinary Family. I hope I don't lose either one of these, it would be a shame to lose them !!! Just when you get interested in a regular program, they go and pull the plug on it...Please keep them on???

  • Jan  

    I have to say Pme Tree Hill, Supernatual and even thou it has already been cancelled and in the last season Smallville need 2 and should be renewed....

  • AJ93  

    TCVAN +1, both the Event and No Ordinary Family were slow starts, but I hung in there and they're starting to pay off. There's too much instant gratification in TV, which doesn't leave enough time for longer story arcs. They're running out of cities to put another L&O and / or CSI, so maybe we can open up our imaginations a little. I'm happy to see 30 Rock back again, but for the life of me, I think Community is one of the most smugly predictable 'comedies' on TV. Joel McHale doesn't strike me as playing a character. I think he's just as self involved and narcissistic as his 'character'. He' s just playing himself.

  • TCVAN  

    Keep Fringe, Chuck, the Event, and No Ordinary Family. Both The Event and No Ordinary Family are just now significantly progressing in their overall storie lines and are at their best. The deserve at least a second season. Enough of all the reality crap!

  • m  

    Fringe and Community are both renewed. You can stop the campaigning.

  • SgtDetritus007  

    Human Target needs to return, awesome action/comedy wrapped up in spy thriller clothing -- Guerrero (Jackie Earl Haley) is one of the best characters on TV in years. Spy/action drama Undercovers was never given a decent chance, airing in the 7pm slot, too bad, this show had potential. RIP The Good Guys, great buddy-cop actioner in the vein of Lethal Weapon films. Running Wilde was good for the Arrested Development crowd. Alias fans, be sure to catch Covert Affairs when it returns this summer. ...and Bob's Burgers should be given more time. >>> Reality TV totally blows, it has killed network television, who watches this cr@p??? Go dance with your weight-losing potential fiance on a tropical island on your own time, just don't make me see it.

  • Carl England  

    I can't believe that my favourite TV shows have been cancelled, based on the completely flawed accounts of Nielsen. Only 12,000 households have Nielsen boxes... for 308 million people. How is that even justifiable? Proof!

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