This week is basically like Christmas for television nerds like myself. Frankly, it is better. Of course, I am talking about Upfronts, the time of the year where the networks bring new fall schedules (and sometimes winter/spring schedules that do not end up sticking) to advertisers. Thanks to the glorious nature of the internet and Twitter, we basically already know what has been picked up and what has been canceled. But discussing brand-new schedules is still damn fun. All this week, I will be providing some thoughts on each network’s pilot orders (though I obviously have not seen anything), schedules and more. Today, we kick things off with everyone’s favorite “network,” NBC. The Peacock likes to announce its schedule a day early to avoid sharing the press with FOX, who also has an Upfront presentation tomorrow.
Primary needs: This is NBC, so, well, basically everything. The fall was more or less a disaster and although the spring slate worked better thanks to The Voice starting off very strong, NBC still has an otherworldly amount of holes to fill. The Voice’s ratings have been sinking, Smash is not the success the network hoped it would be, the Thursday comedy block is dying and Tuesdays and Wednesdays are basically craters.
I have said for a while now that NBC needed to blow up the Thursday comedy block – especially if CBS makes a move for a two-hour stable of its own – and I still believe that. But perhaps even more importantly, I think NBC needs a solid drama hit. Prime Suspect and Awake failed on Thursdays, SVU is old and Parenthood, while awesome, is not it. Whatever NBC wants to do with its comedies is one thing, but at least those are still creatively and somewhat commercially solid. The same cannot be said for the drama side of things.
Pilot orders: Do No Harm, Hannibal, Mocking Bird Lane, Chicago Fire, Revolution, Infamous (Drama); The New Normal, Go On, Animal Practice, Guys With Kids, Next Caller, Save Me, 1600 Penn (Comedy)
Obviously, it is impossible for me to make solid, or even partially fluid comments about these pilot pick-ups without having read a script or having seen more than just a few minutes of poorly-edited clips. That is always the case when no one pays you to write about television. But, I like to try to make some judgments anyway, because that is what the internet is for. More seriously, these orders are…interesting. I noted that NBC’s struggling on the drama front and then it went on to order just six drama pilots, two of which (Hannibal and Mocking Bird Lane) that were already on the books (and are also both based on previous material, something I suggested NBC get away from).
I love Eric Kripke just about as much as anyone can, but Revolution is A.) high concept and B.) the kind of series that fails miserably on television, especially NBC, in 2012. Do No Harm seems like a mess as well. Chicago Fire is from the Dick Wolf warehouse, features a solid cast and is in a friendly timeslot, so it appears to be primed to be the best chance NBC has for new drama success. Still though, these six make an odd, cold bunch.
On the comedy side, things are unsurprisingly better. All the projects but the one starring the immortal Dane Cook have quality people working on them in front of or behind the camera. Go On is going to get an Olympic-related push and I hope it works out for Matthew Perry. Longtime readers know how I feel about Ryan Murphy, but The New Normal has a solid cast and an intriguing premise. It will at least be compelling in some way or another. Animal Practice, 1600 Penn and Save Me have appealing leads and easily consumable premises.
The New Normal
Guys With Kids
Law & Order: SVU
Up All Night
Parks and Recreation
Rock Center with Brian Williams
Whatever, it’s Saturday
Spring: Dateline, Fashion Star, Celebrity Apprentice, Do No Harm
The big news here for most us is that Community is moving to Friday nights (GASP) where it will be paired with the internet’s favorite series Whitney (GASP GASP) and might be developed under the guise of someone who is not creator Dan Harmon (SOMEONE BURN DOWN THE INTERNET). Before you jump off that ledge my friend, let me be far from the first person to tell you that this is not the worst news in the world. Here’s why:
#1: Community is still on the air. Despite our love for it, the ratings are not good. If it was on a network not named NBC, it would not have made it through season one. More Community is good news.
#2: Fridays are no longer a death slot, especially for series with a niche appeal. Fringe will have eventually survived two and a half seasons there. Supernatural does fine, and will continue to do so. Smallville did as well. Grimm is doing very well, relatively speaking.
#3: Fridays, though no longer a death slot, do come with lower expectations than the prestigious Thursday night comedy block. Community will not have to lead off the night, and although you hate Whitney to death, it had solid ratings and could be an okay lead-in for Greendale’s finest. I’m guessing Community’s ratings will inch down towards the low 1’s in the demo, but that will be fine.
#4: The audience is the audience. NBC has the data. Bob Greenblatt and company know how devoted Community fans are. Most fans are going to watch online anyway, and heck, maybe a less-cluttered Friday (away from the apparently overlapping Big Bang Theory) will free Community up to garner more live viewers. Probably not, but even still: the fans will follow.
In short: This does not bother me at all. Community needed to be moved away from that Thursday 8 p.m. timeslot, and various folks and I have discussed Friday as an option since at least this fall. I know that the series’ fans want to make everything into an underdog fight, and that is okay. But we are moving into a fourth season. Community is now a veteran. It still exists. We should be happy – very happy.
In other, and in the grand scheme of things more important, news, NBC unsurprisingly decided to bring The Voice right back in the fall, meaning there will be two cycles next season (likely with different judges). Listen, NBC is a sink hole right now and The Voice is more or less all it has to hang its hat on. And Greenblatt talked about some of the precedent with Dancing With The Stars working twice a year. However, this feels like a massive mistake. We already saw how X Factor drained Idol’s juice over at FOX, and those are at least marketed as different properties.
NBC is basically screwed here. It needs to bring The Voice back for any of its new scripted projects to possibly succeeded, but in doing so, it is going to drive The Voice into the ground so much faster. It wouldn’t surprise me if The Voice is already drained of any momentum by this time next year, or by January 2014 at the latest.
On a night-by-night basis, this is not a terrible schedule, but very little stands out either. Like I said, using The Voice to help Revolution on Mondays and Go On and The New Normal makes a lot of sense in theory. Mondays at 10 is a winnable timeslot, especially if ABC moves Castle, but it is hard to see that Revolution and The Voice are that compatible – or that audiences care about Revolution at all. I project that this plan will work much better on Tuesday. The Voice can probably handle itself against either Glee or whatever comedies FOX puts there and the Olympic bump could give those two new comedies a leg-up over New Girl and The Mindy Project. Tuesday is the place that NBC needs to be strides.
That Wednesday line-up does little for me. Animal Practice looks fun, but I’m not sure how it pairs with Guys With Kids. The good news is that NBC had a little success with comedies on Wednesdays, but that was with Whitney leading the charge. It seemed that we were headed for a Whitney/Guys With Kids block, if only because of the format similarities, but here we are. I will be intrigued to see if Animal Practice can self-start. I would have flipped Chicago Fire and SVU. How many times does NBC have to try SVU at 9 p.m. and watch it fail before moving the veteran series back to 10 p.m. again? Apparently at least five. I get the logic behind having SVU be the lead-in, but if it struggles at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. timeslots suck anyway, what is the point?
Despite my wishes, I am not shocked that NBC kept Thursdays pretty much intact. The network is still convinced that the Thursday real estate means the same thing in 2012 as it did in 1997, and until NBC stops obsessing over its own history, it will just revel in wheel-spinning mediocrity. NBC already knows 30 Rock cannot lead off a night, but there it is, where it will not only get slaughtered but also hurt Up All Night. The Office, apparently, will never die. Greenblatt said that he is working under no assumption that any comedy is in its final season, not even 30 Rock. So expect NBC Thursdays to look the same until 2015. I guess that means way more Parks!
And hey, at least NBC recognized the devalued nature of Thursdays at 10 p.m. Rock Center!
NBC has a slew of stuff held for mid-season, which is great news because most of the new programs airing in the fall will likely fail. Smash is coming back at some point to terrorize us all and both of Bryan Fuller’s high-concept projects (Hannibal and Mockingbird Lane) will see the light of day at some point as well. The comedies held for midseason make sense, and they will likely fill in on Thursday when 30 Rock finishes its short season (1600 Penn seems like the best bet there) and on Wednesday when Guys With Kids and/or Animal Practice fail. Dane Cook’s Next Caller will hopefully get the Bent treatment.
Initial analysis: NBC is in so much trouble that any one decision is not going to change much. The scheduling approach makes sense for the most part, despite random choices like the Whitney–Community pairing that was apparently made just to troll the internet, but it is unclear if said approach will pay off. The Voice is going to walk out of next season weaker. The Thursday comedy block is only going to fall further. Those are the big tentpoles of the network. It seems to me NBC struggled more on the development side, which has been a trend. None of these pilots look like they will light the world on fire, or even stabilize a timeslot. I know there is fear in blowing things up only to rebuild on the rubble, but at this point, that is what NBC needs to do. This feels like more of the same, which will only bring similar results.