Why networks really renew TV shows so early

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Starz’s “Ash vs Evil Dead” was renewed before it premiered.
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Starz

When networks order another season of a TV show after one, two, or even no episodes have aired, they’re taking a risk. Yet it’s become a surprisingly popular practice recently.

Starz, for example, just renewed “Ash vs Evil Dead” for a second season ahead of the series’ premiere. The pay network is probably hoping that the renewal will be seen as a vote of confidence for the show based on cult favorite “Evil Dead,” and that viewers will tune in as a result. With the premiere coming up this weekend, its also seems like a last-minute (and free) marketing push.

And surely the network’s executives are hoping that the decision won’t come back to haunt them later. Because sometimes, it does. Anyone remember Fox’s multiple-season renewal for “Glee”?

Here’s what networks are really saying when they give early renewals:


Don’t be afraid to watch our new show! Look, it will be back next year!

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USA’s “Mr. Robot” was renewed after USA got a strong response to an early preview of the pilot episode.
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USA Network

There is a huge mistrust of TV networks currently. Once upon a time, shows were given more time to find their legs. How many times have you gotten into a new show only for it to suddenly be canceled?

Networks know that fans feel burned and are wary of adopting new shows, especially ones that have big storylines at their core. So, networks will give a show an early renewal in order to give viewers some security about getting into it.

“They could be sending out a message that, hey, we think this is a hit show, and this is worth our investment,” Horizon Media’s senior vice president of research, Brad Adgate, told Adweek. “You should watch this show because other people are watching it.”


We have a very expensive production-related reason for locking this show down for another season.

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Jack Black’s “The Brink” was renewed after just five episodes.
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HBO

Ratings are central to renewal decisions, but so are production costs and contracts.

On Tuesday, HBO took back the season 2 renewal it previously gave to “The Brink.” Back in July, it renewed the comedy just a day shy of the cast’s contracts to return expired and just five episodes in. The Jack Black-Tim Robbins comedy had just reached a respectful 1.06 million viewers.

Other productions may find that the costs of building an elaborate set or the need to create specific machines or technology will only be recuperated if used over several seasons. Of course, if the show is tanking, then it’ll be canceled no matter the price (see: Fox’s “Utopia”).


Sure, no one’s watching it live but it’s doing really well online, On Demand, and elsewhere.

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Constance Zimmer plays the executive producer of “Unreal’s” dating show “Everlasting.”
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James Dittiger/Lifetime

After just five episodes, Lifetime renewed its scripted “Bachelor” parody, “Unreal.” The show wasn’t even close to matching what “Devious Maids” rated in the same time slot, but its first three episodes would end up picking up 4.1 million viewers in delayed viewing across all platforms. It also didn’t hurt that “Unreal” was Lifetime’s youngest-skewing show.


This show is a hit and renewing it early allows us to show off a bit.

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Fox

Sometimes a show is a real hit and the network knows it’ll end up renewing the show anyway. Case in point: Fox renewed “Empire” after just two episodes. The show was a juggernaut out of the gate, but it also pulled off something that very few shows can: It improved on its premiere ratings.