NBC's Fall Schedule: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Robert Greenblatt seeks to turn around the fourth-place network, but he'll need time and luck.
Let's get this out of the way immediately: NBC will be in better shape next fall because Bob Greenblatt is not Jeff Zucker, nor any of Zucker's minions who bought into a woefully bad idea to listen to anything Zucker had to say about programming.
You can't overstate the importance of Greenblatt, who made Showtime into HBO's worst nightmare during his tenure there. Nor can you overstate how much damage the Zucker era caused to NBC. It went from first to fourth and has stayed there ever since, with terrible shows, lousy ideas and the exclamation point that was the flip-flopping of Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno and the dubious idea to kill scripted programming in the 10 p.m. hour across the week.
Is this Zucker bashing just piling on? No, it's essential to understand that Greenblatt's tenure ultimately can't be decided by what he puts on the air starting in September. The task is far greater than one season can fix. If he has, in fact, cleaned enough house within the Peacock to remove vestiges of Zucker's reign of error, then godspeed to the fall season. But my guess is that NBC is easily two seasons and some executive departures away from making any kind of serious run at the three networks in front of it.
But let's not get too far ahead. What of the fall schedule that NBC and Greenblatt unveiled over the past few days (and will officially announce Monday)? Well, as I said Sunday, you can't judge anything from a preview and probably little more from the full pilot of any of these new shows. Beyond that, the schedule looks risky in some areas, overly hopeful in others and structured more aggressively in the midseason. The initial take-away is that Greenblatt appears to be under no illusions that this task he's undertaken will be completed quickly or miraculously. That's refreshing. And he's thinking about the long haul -- something NBC hasn't done in, well, years -- by resisting the urge to throw The Voice back on the air in the fall when viewers wouldn't have missed it enough and necessary tweaks to it could be undertaken. So, credit Greenblatt with patience, a key attribute for any entertainment president.
If we can agree that nobody knows what will happen with any of these new shows, let's take a look at the actual scheduling:
Monday: Two hours of The Sing-Off to kick off the night? Wow. There's no proven track record there over the long haul, and it leads into The Playboy Club, a freshman series. This looks like it was built on hope entirely.
Tuesday: Two hours of The Biggest Loser leads into Parenthood, so at least you've got stability here. It's a shame that all the broadcast networks -- not just NBC -- pad these reality franchises to two hours. Looking back, this might be the trend that pushes DVR penetration rates into the 90th percentile. Still, it was nice to see Parenthood get reprieve, but expecting any new viewers is probably wishing for too much now.
Wednesday: Up All Night and Free Agents, two freshman comedies, are the beach head for NBC's comedy block assault on Wednesdays. Um, good luck with that. Was ABC insane to run a bunch of freshman comedies back-to-back a couple of season ago? Yes. The fact that it worked out for the most part doesn't mean history will repeat itself, especially since viewers are going to flock to ABC for their laughs on this night first. The dreadful Harry's Law is in the 9 p.m. slot and Law & Order: SVU follows at 10.
Thursday: 30 Rock won't return until midseason, but will then run uninterrupted, a trade-off that's worth it if NBC keeps its promise. Community kicks off the night again and is followed by Parks and Recreation in a new time slot, then The Office and newbie Whitney. What's the risk there? Well, will anyone want to watch The Office? And all that forced laughter on Whitney -- canned or "live" it makes no difference -- seems jarringly out of place. Then, at 10 p.m., there's the biggest risk-reward with the American version of Prime Suspect. An interesting night of gambles all around, but outside of Whitney, nothing outrageously unpredictable, and NBC might have some nice traction here if things break right.
Friday: Chuck moves to this new night at 8 p.m., followed by Grimm, which makes some stylistic sense. Dateline NBC closes the night.
Saturday: Normal graveyard activities.
Sunday: This night will be dominated by football, if there is a football season. If there's not, you can't blame Greenblatt for that. He'll patch holes as needed if the NFL is dumb enough to make its lockout mistake continue.
Again, hope is the operative word here. But every network at least hopes things (like people tuning in) will go their way. From a distance, the fall launch looks like it's going to need a miracle, but midseason seems far stronger. If that's the case, people will say NBC built something, like momentum, out of nothing. And that might be a nice change from the past. But realistically, the 2011-12 season for Greenblatt and NBC will be one massive effort to move the rock a little bit up the hill. Don't expect miracles, and maybe by the following season, NBC will be a bigger threat.
The most important thing to remember now is that NBC has finally, after years of incompetence, changed course. To expect anything more than minimal gains during the rebuild is perhaps foohardy.