The strike-hobbled TV season has one bright spot for producers: The fewest yet are enduring nail-biting weeks of uncertainty, waiting to see if their shows will come back for another season.
Just 11 series are left in limbo, half as many as last year's candidates, in USA TODAY's 11th annual Save Our Shows poll.
Five others considered "on the bubble" between renewal and cancellation were renewed just as the strike ended in February: ABC's "Pushing Daisies," "Private Practice" and "Dirty Sexy Money," and NBC's "Chuck" and "Life." The theory: They weren't given enough of a chance to prove themselves, producing just nine to 13 episodes, which ran out by January.
NBC's early schedule announcement last week sealed the fate of three other maybes, "Friday Night Lights," "Medium" and "Lipstick Jungle": All will be back next season.
Fan favorite "How I Met Your Mother" has virtually secured its return, thanks to improved performance in a new time slot -- and a well-timed appearance by Britney Spears. Perennial SOS candidate "Scrubs" has been canceled by NBC, but ABC, which produces the series, is poised to make good on its two-year promise to pick up the comedy.
For others, the bubble burst earlier -- though no less surprisingly -- because of the strike, with ABC's "Big Shots" and NBC's "Journeyman" making quiet exits. That leaves the poll short on such cult favorites as last year's "Jericho," which was canceled, resurrected and now is gone for good.
And there are no aging former hits such as "Law & Order," which earned longevity because of budget cuts and NBC's worse problems elsewhere. The same strategy rescued "ER" for a 15th and final season, and a lucrative deal with DirecTV allows "Lights" to stay on, but only after a three-month wait while the satellite-dish provider gets first crack at 13 new episodes.
What's left? A few fall newcomers -- ABC's "Women's Murder Club," Fox's "Back to You," CBS' "Moonlight" and CW's "Reaper" -- each of which will have to prove itself with a handful of episodes resuming later this month. It leaves newer midseason dramas, ABC's "Eli Stone" and Fox's "Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles." And it leaves a handful of longer-running series that have had their ups and downs: CBS' "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and "The Unit" and ABC's "Boston Legal."
Their chances are improved by a shortened development season that offers networks fewer replacement series from which to pick. But with TV viewers increasingly flocking to cable, the bar for network success has been lowered. Ratings that just a year or two ago were grounds for cancellation are now considered acceptable.