Update 5-12: Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been saved. Season 6 will air on NBC. Huzzah!
TV shows get canceled. Fans get upset. That’s just, like, the law. Sometimes, however, those upset fans cry out in such numbers that their outrage becomes the #1 trending topic on Twitter.
Actually, that last part is new. Normally, fans organize letter writing/mass email campaigns or do something cutesy, like send bags of peanuts to CBS to protest Jericho’s cancellation or buy untold number of Subway subs to support Chuck. The trick is to convince the higher-ups they underestimated just how passionate a certain’s show fanbase is.
At this point, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s fans have already made that point clear without having to do anything other than simply send out a bunch of tweets. As Deadline pointed out, “Three hours after news broke of Fox not picking up Brooklyn Nine-Nine for Season 6, the cop comedy was the #1 trending topic on Twitter, going head-to-head with the biggest TV event in the world, Eurovision.”
It was enough to turn plenty of heads in the industry, and now Hulu, NBC, TBS, and Netflix are all said to be in talks to rescue Brooklyn Nine-Nine. They all would have likely been engaging in such talks anyway since Fox just canceled a beloved critical darling with steady ratings (always hovering just under 2 million viewers), a combination any network or streamer would normally kill for these days. The Twitter thing simply put the icing on top of his proverbial cake.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine will almost definitely be back. But why are we even in this position? What in the world was Fox thinking?
The temptation is to simply write this off as yet another classic Fox mistake. This is, after all, the same network which canceled Firefly and countless other promising shows with devoted fanbases. But the people currently in charge weren’t around back then, or at least they weren’t quite as high up in the food chain. Beyond that, the economics of the TV industry have changed rapidly in the past couple of years. The calculus used to make renewal/cancellation decisions has had to change to keep up with the times.
So, this can’t just be the action of a quirky network known for making stupid decisions. After all, they stuck with Brooklyn Nine-Nine for 5 seasons. That’s a better run than most shows ever get. Walking away from the show now was most likely determined by one of the three following factors or perhaps all of them combined:
1. Vertical Integration
“The first thing that sets a show apart at a network is, honestly, does it come from our in-house production studio? That’s becoming more and more and more the top, most important thing for networks.”
That’s Daniel Feinberg, The Hollywood Reporter’s TV critic, answering The Frame’s recent question about the leading factors in cancellation and renewal decisions at the networks these days. In the bygone era of, um, literally just fifteen years ago, here’s how TV worked: Everyone got super rich and did so, so much coke they all looked like this:
To be, um, a bit more specific, the networks picked up whichever shows they liked and/or thought they could market to death. The TV studios making the shows went wherever they could and would make as many concessions possible on the gravy train to reaching the 100 episode threshold needed for a rich syndication deal. At the end of such a cycle, the network enjoyed the benefit of selling a ton of ads for a hit show, and the studio which produced the show made millions in syndication deals all around the world. If the network and studio happened to share a common owner, then all the better, but that wasn’t a deal breaker. Something made by NBC Universal TV could air on Fox, and something made by 20th Century Fox Television could end up on ABC.
Then everything changed because of the explosion of cable and streaming. A splintering audience led to eroding profit margins and ad sales (still in the billions, industry-wide, but not as many billions as it used to be). Now, a network has to be extra motivated to want to waste years promoting a show it does not actually own. Naturally, if you can both benefit from a hit show’s ratings and ad sales AND the big syndication deal down the road that’s the better economic move.
As Feinberg continued, “If you’re NBC, is the [show] coming from NBC Universal? If you’re ABC, does it come from ABC-Disney? More and more and more the decision-making process is starting with, ‘Do we own it?’ It’s just about keeping the money in your pocket. And then it’s going to things like, ‘Do we think it can be a hit? Or is it something that was a hit before? Are we chasing the new This Is Us?”
Brooklyn Nine-Nine, not surprisingly, is not owned by 20th Century Fox TV. It is an NBCUniversal Television product which Fox has simply been airing for the past half decade. Hulu is partially considered a natural new home for Nine-Nine because it is co-owned by NBCUniversal, which previously moved its own The Mindy Project to Hulu after Fox gave up on it.
Also, among Fox’s 12 confirmed renewals and new show pickups only 1 is for a show the network doesn’t own: Marvel TV’s The Gifted.
Nine-Nine has already reached the 100-episode mark, meaning both sides could now walk away happy. However, the more episodes it adds the better NBCUniversal will be in syndication; Fox has just the ad sales to think of. After 5 seasons, they generally know what they can get out of Nine-Nine, and they likely have their eye on a bigger bounty.
2. Last Man Standing
Thanks to Roseanne, the TV industry is suddenly preoccupied with finding ways to appeal to Trump’s America. ABC, however, had already been doing that well before Trump was elected. For 6 seasons, Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing charted the trials and tribulations of a conservative man’s man budding heads with his more liberal-leaning wife and three daughters. By the end of its run, it was the second most-watched sitcom on the network, but ABC decided to walk away.
Allen has played the victim card ever since, claiming he was discriminated against for being a conservative Trump-supporter in a liberal Obama-loving town. ABC Entertainment president Channing Tungy argued otherwise, explaining the cancellation was partially due to the network’s decision to rebrand its Friday night programming and abandon its return to a TGIF lineup of sitcoms. It was also simple economics: ABC doesn’t own the show, Fox does, and after 6 seasons Allen’s contract was going to need to be renegotiated. Last Man Standing was about to become too expensive to deal with, and with the move toward making Friday night a genre night led by Agents of Shield the show no longer had a home on the network.
Of course, ABC has a new conservative-leaning sitcom in Roseanne, and the rest of the networks want in on that business. Even though Roseanne’s ratings have almost halved since its monumental debut, the series is still being watched by nearly double the amount of people who tuned in on, on average, for Last Man Standing’s final season.
Fox would gladly take those numbers, though. Last Man Standing’s final season averaged five times more viewers than Nine-Nine’s most recent effort. Considering Fox actually owns Last Man Standing and Allen is still rallying his social media following to support bringing the show back the signs are certainly there that Fox is simply clearing space on its schedule (and in its budget) for a big announcement next week at its Upfronts.
To be clear: there’s been no official word Fox is actually reviving Last Man Standing. However, the cancellation of not just Nine-Nine but also Last Man on Earth and The Mick certainly has Vanity Fair’s Spidey senses in overdrive.
Update: They were right. The Last Man Standing revival is officially a go at Fox.
3. Disney-related craziness
Comcast and Disney are currently duking it out for 21st Century Fox, and regardless of who wins that heavyweight battle Fox, the network, is going to end up looking very, very different. Since Comcast already has NBC and Disney has ABC neither can legally add Fox to their portfolio. Federal rules prevent any single company from owning more than one broadcast network. As such, the film studio, cable channels, and TV production studio will all go to the winning bidder, but Fox will stay with the Murdochs, who reportedly intend to turn the network into a home for more sports and live event programming.
That means neither Gary Newman nor Dana Walden have any idea where they will be working a year from now. They’ve rallied the troops and given marching orders to proceed as if nothing has changed. After all, until we know what happens with the AT&T/Time Warner antitrust lawsuit we can’t be certain the Justice Department will approve either of the proposed 21st Century Fox sales. However, given the Murdochs access to and favorable relationship with Trump it’s generally assumed their deal will go through even if AT&T and Time Warner’s doesn’t, and all the shows currently on Fox will simply migrate to Hulu, FX, or somewhere else in their new corporate parent’s portfolio.
Still, given that instability it’s unclear what is really happening at Fox right now. It’s certainly possible Walden and Newman are pushing so incredibly hard on prioritizing only 20th Century Fox Television content because it positions one or both of them to potentially follow those shows to wherever they’ll end up in the Comcast or Disney family, post-sale. But if that was true then why did they also cancel Last Man on Earth and The Mick, both of which are also 20th Century Fox Television products? Might they instead be looking toward launching more broadly-appealing, vertically integrated shows as a kind of final job interview for their potential future employers?
Whatever. In truth, I don’t even watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Fox anymore. I always binge it on Hulu. If that’s where the next season ends up not much will change for me, as a viewer. Everything is changing at Fox, though. Who knows what it will look like in a year or where exactly the people who just canceled Brooklyn Nine-Nine will end up.