Quick Take: Tim Goodman on NBC's Upfront
A look at the network's new fall shows and its programming strategies - plus positive and negative signs.
First, the obligatory disclaimer: As a TV critic, I’m not going to comment definitively on any of NBC’s trailers. Because that’s all they are -- trailers. It’s hard enough to judge a series (particularly a comedy) based on a pilot episode, much less a cut-down trailer.
At best, whatever I say is a shrug. And don’t hold me to that.
Also, to understand how I feel about the upfront dog-and-pony show and the inability of networks to learn from the mistakes of the current industry model, you might want to read this.
Seth Meyers takes over Late Night as Jimmy Fallon takes over Tonight and Jay Leno rides off into the sunset (only to return somewhere, at some point, would be the logical guess). I’m not sure how Fallon will do on Tonight, but he’ll probably lower the demo. And it’s doubtful he’ll reach Leno numbers when all the hoopla is over, at least in the early going, but NBC needed to counter Jimmy Kimmel. That said, I’d watch Kimmel first every night, since he’s the new king of late night, quality-wise.
Giving up on Smash probably was hard for NBC’s Bob Greenblatt, who championed the series, but it had to be done. In the process of remaking itself, at least NBC realized that incremental changes wouldn’t work, so it canceled a ton of series and moved out of the niche comedy market in favor of shows that look to be broader and is going with the tried-and-true “family” route with shows.
That doesn’t mean they’ll be any good. It doesn’t mean NBC will turn things around. But Greenblatt clearly is not tired of running a network and is attempting a turnaround the old fashioned way.
Well, as a critic I would prefer he didn’t do it the old fashioned way, given that rarely works. Only CBS is dominant as a network. Everybody else is basically a slightly more successful cable channel (or a failed network). It's just how they choose to look at it, if they had any kind of self-examining instinct to begin with. Which is why I would have enjoyed seeing Greenblatt program like a cable channel -- eschewing broadcast’s ridiculously high budgets and low-brow premises for something more daring. This makes me think he’ll also eventually pass on Hannibal, a truly creative series that came out of nowhere partly because NBC either didn’t know what it had or didn’t want it.
As for trying to win in the fall, one look at Thursday nights gives some pause. One of my favorite network comedies, Parks and Recreation, is expected to launch the night at 8 p.m. and drive viewers to three new comedies, each vastly different. Plus, three freshman series leading into Parenthood, a fantastic series that needs all the help it can get? Unless Thursday nights are NBC’s way of admitting that schedules don’t really matter and time-shifted viewing is the new normal (oops, sorry), then I don’t see this night going well.
The last negative here likely will appear on every network's quick take: conceding Saturday nights. Can’t anyone figure out a way to program this night in some unique way? Apparently not. Apparently nobody even wants the challenge.
The new shows (you can check them out here):
Even though Blacklist looks overly familiar, I’d watch that. At least in the beginning. Ironside is recycled and looks like it will play that way as well. A blended family sitcom, Welcome to the Family has one element that immediately hooked me: Mike O’Malley. He’s the real deal. And he might even be enough to keep on watching, though my initial shoulder shrug is probably not. Sean Saves the World makes me immediately not want to watch it, but I had the exact opposite reaction to The Michael J. Fox Show, which I would very much want to see the pilot of as soon as possible. And Dracula -- sure, why not. It almost looks like a cable show. Does that mean it will never air?