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On the bubble, and likely gone

Monday marks the season finale of both Chuck and Heroes. Could they also be series finales?
Promotional photo for TV series Heroes: Monday’s episode might also be the series finale

Monday marks the season finale of both Chuck and Heroes. Could they also be series finales?

This is the time of year when the fates of shows that are “on the bubble” — low rated and thus close to cancellation — are determined. By the middle of May, U.S. broadcasters will announce which shows have made the cut, as well as which new shows will premiere next fall.

In Canada, CBC has already announced that both Sophie and Wild Roses are cancelled. Corner Gas has already exited for good at CTV, where a sharp drop in ratings threatens long-running Degrassi: The Next Generation.

Some low-rated shows might get a reprieve this season due to the downturn in the economy. It costs less to keep an existing show on the air than to try and launch a new one.

NBC has already worked out a deal with U.S. satellite provider DirecTV to co-produce two more seasons of acclaimed but low-rated drama Friday Night Lights.

Other NBC hour-long shows won’t be so lucky now that the Peacock network has decided to replace its 10 p.m. lineup with five hours of the new Jay Leno Show. That will bump at least one current NBC drama — Law & Order SVU, which has been renewed for an 11th season — to an earlier hour, threatening a show or two there.

The original Law & Order, which needs a renewal to break the 20 season record set by Gunsmoke, might not get it due to declining ratings and a lack of drama space at NBC.

ER is history, but what about the new John Wells cop drama Southland, which is holding its own in the old ER time slot?

Other shows likely gone for good at NBC are Life, Knight Rider and Kings. There is some speculation that NBC might toss one of its low-rated dramas, Lipstick Jungle, over to one of its sister cable networks, Bravo or Lifetime. Even if this happens, the smaller economies of scale mean few episodes, reduced budgets and bye-bye to a few cast regulars.

Shows on the bubble at NBC include Chuck, Medium and My Name is Earl.

Heroes is down but probably not out thanks to favourable demographics.

A show like Chuck might also be saved due to the downturn in the economy. There is a definite swing toward lighter, more escapist fare next season. Grim shows like Without a Trace may be deemed too scary for scary times. The hero of Chuck (played by Zachary Levi) is easy to root for, a nerd working at a big box store who is a secret spy hero.

A visit to the set of Chuck on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif., also provides clues to how it stays on the air despite low ratings. The main set is a replica of a big box retail outlet filled with plasma screens, Guitar Hero games and other consumer electronics. The embedded marketing opportunities are endless, something all networks are seeking as viewers grow more resistant to traditional advertising.

A fan effort to save the show is gaining traction on Twitter, where viewers are urged to go to Subway — a sandwich shop featured on a recent episode — and buy a footlong before the Monday finale in an effort to save the show. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.

Some of the recent mid-season shows are already iffy for renewal. Motherhood unloved, Castle crumbling, Better Off Ted Dead went one “Save Our Shows” website heading.

Cupid has already been pulled from ABC’s lineup, although Surviving Suburbia, a traditional sitcom headlined by Bob Saget, has shown surprising strength — another indicator that audiences are looking for comfort viewing in tough times. Amy Poehler’s new comedy Parks & Recreation is also off to a strong start.

ABC says Ugly Betty is definitely back, but Life on Mars is cancelled. Samantha Who? and Private Practice are on the bubble.

In danger of cancellation at CBS are The New Adventures of Old Christine, Gary Unmarried, The Unit, Cold Case Eleventh Hour and newcomer Harper’s Island, which will likely bow out after its current 13-episode run.

Fans of Dollhouse and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles may be in for some disappointment in mid-May when Fox announces its fall schedule.

Gone for sure are Prison Break and long-running King of the Hill. Also teetering is the new animated effort Sit Down, Shut Up. At The CW, odds are against low-rated, Vancouver-based dramedy Reaper. Privileged is a goner, with a new version of Melrose Place likely joining 90210 on the network’s recycled schedule next season.

Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.