For TV shows riding the ratings fence, late spring is a nail-biter. It's time for network execs to play Machiavelli. The end they have in mind? Make more money! By what means will they do it? Cut shows not making money!
Sadly, the future's not looking too bright for many of the fence riders. Despite a valiant, grassroots publicity effort by creator Bill Lawrence, Cougar Town has only slipped in the ratings. The once-promising Pan Am (both critically and ratings-wise) limped out of its first season with low viewership in its finale. Everyone seems to hate I Hate My Teenage Daughter. Ditto for Are You There, Chelsea?
But there's also a clutch of bubble shows that may benefit from loyal fan bases, or positive critical support, or just the plain good will of a second chance. So let's focus on the positive, shall we? Here are some shows that are looking good for renewal:
30 Rock (Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC): Amid NBC's Thursday night comedy block, Tina Fey's brainchild is the second-lowest-rated sitcom. But six seasons in, it remains consistently funny! No doubt it's in the network's best interest to hold on to this smart show while it searches for new sitcoms that its viewers will consider must sees.
Parenthood (Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC): Every season TV pundits debate whether the show will return despite its ratings -- which are respectable but never out of the ballpark. But this heartfelt family drama just gets better at setting its viewers on an emotional roller coaster, and that's a big plus in this genre! Its fan base would go nuts if the network canceled it.
Scandal (Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC): Shonda Rhimes' Capitol Hill sudser about a crisis-management consultant is vulnerable, but mostly because it's still new. Once the show has a few aired episodes under its belt, network execs will choose whether or not to support Rhimes -- who's already made them a lot of money with Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice.
Up All Night (Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC): Viewers aren't exactly besotted with Will Arnett, Christina Applegate and their adorable baby; their show is the lowest-rated on NBC's Thursday night lineup. But sharp writing and actually quite likeable actors (including the hilarious Maya Rudolph) have fueled the network's attempts to keep the show alive. It's a safe bet they'll get a second shot at wooing us.
Rob (Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS): You'd be hard-pressed to find a positive review on Rob Schneider's low-brow sitcom. And yet it averages a respectable 11 million viewers an episode.
Alcatraz (Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX): This mystery/drama from J.J. Abrams had a rough go of it in the ratings. But it's worth noting that it was up against The Voice, which really took off this season. And those viewers who have consistently tuned in to this prison-based thriller are passionate about it. FOX could consider a time slot change before giving it the axe.
The good news? Nervous TV producers and fans won't have long to wait before they know the fate of their favorite shows. The networks should be making the big decisions within the next month!