Upfront Analysis: NBC
Next season will be interesting or perhaps unusual, but the full turnaround is still in the distance as NBC tries to smash the past.
The one thing NBC needs the most is patience. And when Robert Greenblatt took over the network after working some considerable magic at Showtime, it was the ingredient he said was the most important in resurrecting the former gold-standard broadcast network. This won’t be fast, he said. There are no miracle turnarounds.
That was all fine and good for about 48 hours after he took the job, and then the clock started ticking as it does for all entertainment presidents who still believe running a television network is the Big Job to have. And even though Greenblatt was willing to fall on the sword for some decidedly mediocre new series that weren't his, his stamp essentially got its first bits of ink in the midseason, primarily with Smash – which had a lot of good will for its first episode but has been the show people love to hate ever since (even though enough were still watching, in NBC’s estimation, to bring it back for next season).
Oh, right -- next season? The one we're all talking about right now? That’s on Chairman Greenblatt (and also on Jennifer Salke, NBC’s entertainment president/potential fall-person if it doesn’t work out). They crafted the schedule, and it’s ambitious, as it needs to be given how many holes there are to fill, but also seems crowded on the bench (a lack of faith in the fall or merely smart ass-covering if things don’t go right, which lately has been an NBC tradition?)
In any case, the soldiers are all set up. And honestly, NBC might have some continued great backside-coverage thanks to sports. Yes, sports. This past season, the Super Bowl gave the Peacock just enough boost to possibly tie ABC and claim some forward progress. In the fall, NBC will have ratings monster Sunday Night Football and before that the Summer Olympics to tout new shows (which works in theory, if not practice).
With that help, NBC could then be, um, creative in its approach to next season. It will bank heavily on comedy, even when most of its current comedies (a few of them the cream of the crop on TV) haven’t been lighting a fire ratings-wise. How big is the investment? Four nights. That’s either crazy or brilliant, and we’ll know pretty quickly once the season launches. Two new comedies on Tuesday, two other new ones on Wednesday, the Thursday lineup staying chock-full of familiar laughs and then Friday seeing the combination of Whitney and Community -- that’s something right there. What that something is, definitively, we’ll see.
Otherwise, NBC has taken The Voice and let it run. It also will come back in the spring, possibly with a different set of judges, which would be very smart indeed.
While it’s fantastic (emphasis on fan) of NBC to renew Community, Parks and Recreation, The Office, Up All Night and even Whitney when some nets might not have been so generous -- plus announcing the final 13 episodes of its best comedy, 30 Rock -- you have to wonder what the upside is here. Certainly not just stability. Parks is brilliant. But Up All Night needs work; The Office is completely played out; and pairing the wonderful, cultish Community with Whitney on Friday is not just oil and water personified, it’s oil and water and fire on top.
So, sure, you could ask some interesting scheduling questions. Like, will the male-skewing J.J. Abrams series Revolution work on Mondays after The Voice? Is odd the new in?
Why pair freshman comedies on Tuesday and Wednesday instead of mixing them up with the more established Thursday comedies? That would seem more customary and would repopulate Thursdays, which some viewers might believe is getting a little stale.
And Fridays? Whitney into Community -- that’s audience Tasering right there -- into Grimm into Dateline. That’s so anti-flow that its downright cable.
But maybe it’ll work. That’s the best any network can say until the gates open in the fall.
If it doesn’t, NBC has a couple of interesting escape routes in that sports could help the ratings long term, like they did this year. And most important, barring these new shows working, nobody in their right mind thought NBC could be turned around and salvaged in two seasons.