On the broadcast networks, there is a certain mark that shows reach which pretty much assures they will get renewed for another year whether they are pulling good ratings or not. That is when they have completed three seasons of twenty-two episodes each (give or take a few eps). This is what I call making it past the “syndication stretch” because at that point one more season gets them to the magical 88-episode mark which makes them much more attractive to the syndication market (and that is where shows really start to turn a profit). So if a show will reach 66 episodes by the end of the current season, it is pretty much guaranteed a fourth year renewal despite its ratings. Because the eventual syndication sale makes it worth footing the bill for at least one more year even if the show is falling short on current viewership levels. It also helps if the network owns the show because they will reap the profits, but even if they do not, the show’s studio will likely cut the licensing fee to next to nothing in order to make it attractive for renewal. This definitely worked for Agents of SHIELD (ABC) and The Originals (CW) last season, both of which saw their ratings drop but which received fourth year pickups. Note that this applies only to the broadcast networks as cable shows (which tend to have ten to thirteen episode seasons) seem to be shooting for binge-worthy runs of around five seasons and fifty episodes these days. Here are the two shows that head into the Fall 2016 (you can see the schedule at this link) which have been pretty much rubber-stamped for a fourth year.
The Flash (CW) – This has been the most successful show on The CW’s schedule the last few years and has performed better than many shows on the Big Four broadcast networks (including ABC’s Agents of SHIELD last season). So its viewership pretty much assures that it will return anyway, but if the ratings were to take an unlikely turn for the worst this year, it would still be guaranteed a fourth season return because that will get it through the syndication stretch.
Gotham (FOX) – Another DC Comics related show, another network, but this one has been pretty polarizing for fans through its first two seasons. Still, it has performed well enough on struggling FOX to get to a third year and should continue to muddle its way through to a fourth because that gets it to the syndication friendly episode count. One caveat for this show is that it is not produced by FOX studios, so the network does not reap the profits of the syndication run. But WB will likely make the licensing fee very attractive for the show’s fourth season to assure that it gets to the syndication preferred episode count.
Then there are those shows that seem like they should be in the syndication stretch but aren’t quite there because they didn’t get a full 22 episodes in each of their seasons thus far. Here’s a look at their chances.
The 100 (CW) – This show is heading into its fourth season and will have 58 episodes at the end of the year which will have it well short of the 88-ep threshold. If it got a full 22 order for its fifth year, that would put it close but that seems unlikely because it has never had that many in a single season. If its numbers remain low this year, then it could be done by season end, though you never know for certain with The CW which likes to be the “happy net” and renew most of its shows.
iZombie (CW) – Another CW entry, this fan favorite is heading into a third season despite perennial low ratings (and regularly losing over half the lead-in audience from flagship series The Flash this last year). It will be at 45 episodes by the end of the current season which only has it at about the halfway mark. But then this show continues to receive good buzz and has a following that is very vocal on the social nets. Plus it is certainly less expensive to produce than the other DC tie-in shows on The CW. So the fifth place network could still keep it going, though they should consider folding it into the Arrow-verse to help give it a ratings boost.
The Last Man on Earth (FOX) – This show survived to a third season because FOX had room on its schedule with American Idol departing and because sitcoms are less expensive to produce (I also believe the net wanted to keep high profile executive producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller happy). It will have 49 episodes at the end of the season which puts it much more than a sprint away from the 88-ep goal. If its numbers hold, the network may keep it around because it is likely not too expensive, but I wouldn’t put any guarantees on that.
Sleepy Hollow (FOX) – This once beloved series fell on hard times when it shook up its format last season and then killed off a major character in the finale. Its ratings fell to all-time lows, but FOX claims that it plays well internationally. It will be at 62 episodes at the end of its upcoming fourth season, so that gets it close to ballpark range and international syndication does not look for as many episodes as the American market prefers. But if nobody is watching it in the States this season (fans were not happy at all with the show’s third season), can FOX really justify keeping it around?
Catch up on Last Season’s Sci Fi & Fantasy Shows on Blu-ray and DVD: