NBC Announces Schedule: New Wednesday Comedy Block, 'Smash' Saved for Midseason

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NBC will bow six of its 12 new series this fall as new entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt attempts to rebuild the ratings-challenged network. If it’s a lot of new programming to throw at the audience, the pressure is on for the network to at least begin to climb out of its slump.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do and we had to make some significant changes,” Greenblatt told The Hollywood Reporter.

The network will establish a new night of comedy on Wednesdays with the Christina Applegate single-camera comedy Up All Night in the 8 p.m. lead-off slot followed by the Hank Azaria rom-com Free Agents.

Greenblatt characterized the need for comedy outside of NBC’s traditional Thursday night lineup as “vital.” The network’s new comedies will compete against ABC's weaker sitcom fare and not Emmy-winner Modern Family, which anchors at 9 p.m. 

"When you're looking at Wednesday you want to stay away from 9 o'clock, obviously," he said.

And while ABC’s 8 p.m. comedy The Middle has seen its ratings improve (it’s up 9 percent in the 18-49 demo this season), 8:30 p.m. comedy Better with You has been canceled.

“We’re taking two of our best pilots with arguably our strongest leads and trying to establish a foothold there,” said Greenblatt. “We have no illusions about how difficult that’s going to be and how much we’re going to have to commit to it and have patience with it. But we knew that if we didn’t try it would never happen.”

For its part, ABC is expected to use the Tim Allen sitcom Last Man Standing to launch a new comedy block on Tuesdays this fall.

The sophomore season of David E. Kelley’s Harry’s Law will air Wednesdays at 9 p.m., followed by veteran crime procedural Law & Order: Special Victims Unit at 10 p.m. Series stars Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni will both be back next season. Greenblatt said Meloni’s deal is “nearly done.” And while he said the show is looking to add a strong female character next season, he would only say that Jennifer Love Hewitt is “one of the people we’re looking at.”

New comedy Whitney – a rom-com based on the comedy of Whitney Cummings -- will get the post-Office slot Thursdays at 9:30 p.m., where the axed Outsourced could not find an audience last fall. And while The Office remains NBC’s top-rated comedy, next year it will be completely without its star Steve Carrell, who exited the show last month. 30 Rock will be held for midseason due to star Tina Fey's pregnancy, while Parks and Recreation will shift back into the 8:30 p.m. slot.

Prime Suspect, with Maria Bello in the role originated by Oscar winner Helen Mirren in the original British drama, will get the competitive 10 p.m. slot on Thursday.

The Playboy Club will air Monday’s at 10 p.m. where CBS currently has Hawaii Five-0. Playboy, a frothy 1960s set soap, could definitely be considered counter-programming if CBS keeps Hawaii Five-0 in the same slot next season.

NBC will save musical drama Smash, starring Debra Messing and Katharine McPhee, for midseason where it will be paired with The Voice on Mondays.

Grimm – a detective drama with fantasy elements inspired by the classic Grimm’s Fairy Tales – will air Fridays at 9 p.m. after Chuck, which will head into its final season in September.

Meanwhile, Greenblatt passed on Kelley’s Wonder Woman reboot, which had generated plenty of attention from fans and purists alike.

“There was more excitement about the costume than anything else, which frankly surprises me,” he said. “You look at the needs of the schedule. You try to figure out what the best flow is. And at the end of the day it didn’t quite fit with anything else we were trying to do.”

Much of the network’s lineup seems to skew female, a constituency that ABC has traditionally played to with aging nighttime soaps including Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy.

“We know that it’s easier to get women to watch television,” said Greenblatt, but he added that Prime Suspect and Whitney tested very well with men as well as women.

“We do have a lot of female stars. But I don’t think that means that men are going to turn away. I think we’ve got a lot of balance in spite of what it may look like.” 

At this point, the network only announced two midseason premieres: Smash and The Firm, which will airs Sundays at 10 p.m. after the conclusion of Sunday Night Football (although the NFL and its player’s association are still locked in battle).

Greenblatt said that consultations with NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol left him optimistic that an NFL season would proceed characterizing a delay as the "worst case scenario." The network has contingency plans in the hopper -- "several high-quality, live-event reality shows" -- to fill Sunday nights in the fall in the event of a delay or cancelation. Greenblatt declined to be specific about that programming but added that if it is not needed on Sunday nights it would air elsewhere.

Celebrity Apprentice will be back Sunday nights in midseason with or without Donald Trump, who has been flirting with a presidential run which would preclude him from hosting a TV show due to FCC equal time rules. If Trump does decide to run, and the likelihood of that looks slimmer every day, NBC will find a new boardroom heavy.

“It’s such a strong franchise, not to minimize his presence in it because we love him,” said Greenblatt. “But I really do think it’s all about the casting of that show and the challenges and if he’s not available to us, we’re going to have someone really interesting sitting at the head of that boardroom.”

In a conference call with reporters on Sunday, Greenblatt denied that Trump's polarizing statements about President Obama were causing the network "headaches."

Celebrity Apprentice, he said, "is a big success for us and a lot of that is due in part to [Trump]. He's a fascinating, interesting, direct-shooter kind of guy. There are no real headaches; there are nothing but ratings [gains] at the moment and we couldn't be happier."

NBC FALL 2011-12 SCHEDULE

*New programs in UPPER CASE; all times ET

 MONDAY
8-10 p.m. – The Sing-Off
10-11 p.m. – THE PLAYBOY CLUB
 
TUESDAY
8-10 p.m. – The Biggest Loser
10-11 p.m. – Parenthood
 
WEDNESDAY
8-8:30 p.m. – UP ALL NIGHT
8:30-9 p.m. – FREE AGENTS
9-10 p.m. -- Harry’s Law
10-11 p.m. -- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
 
THURSDAY
8-8:30 p.m. – Community
8:30-9 p.m. -- Parks and Recreation
9-9:30 p.m. – The Office
9:30-10 p.m. – WHITNEY
10-11 p.m. – PRIME SUSPECT
 
FRIDAY
8-9 p.m. – Chuck
9-10 p.m. – GRIMM
10-11 p.m. – Dateline NBC
 
SATURDAY
Encore programming
 
SUNDAY
7- 8:15 p.m. -- Football Night in America
8:15-11:30 p.m. -- NBC Sunday Night Football
 
NBC 2012 MID-SEASON HIGHLIGHTS
*New programs in UPPER CASE; all times ET
 
SUNDAY
7-8 p.m. – Dateline NBC
8-10 p.m. – The Celebrity Apprentice
10-11 p.m. – THE FIRM
 
MONDAY
8-10 p.m. – The Voice
10-11 p.m. – SMASH

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