NBC Emphasizes Stability, Not New Shows, in Reviving Its "Must-See TV" Pitch

Will And Grace - Presidential - Screenshot - H - 2016

Ahead of its formal upfront presentation to ad buyers, NBC executives touted stability and the return of its "Must-See TV" Thursday night brand during a conference call with reporters Sunday. 

NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt noted his network, which finished first among the key adults 18-49 demographic and total viewers (down a modest 6 percent), is bringing back the most returning shows in years. That meant fewer needs for new dramas and comedies, with the network adding only seven total as overall volume is down year-over-year across the five broadcasters.

"We're coming off a very successful year and feeling really bullish about next season," said Greenblatt, noting the network's "stability and strength of our schedule" means more returning shows and fewer new series launching in the competitive start to a season that sets up what he hopes would be a strong midseason. The hope is for a "52-week season" that has more originals than ever and fewer repeats.

To that end, he's moving the season's No. 1 new show — Dan Fogelman's breakout family drama This Is Us — to Thursdays at 9 p.m. as the cornerstone of a revived "Must-See TV" lineup that opens with the highly anticipated Will & Grace revival, which could return beyond its 12 episodes. (This Is Us also landed the coveted post-Super Bowl slot and has a Christmas special in the works to help bridge the gap during its hiatus.) All told, the new Thursday features Tina Fey with a greater on-screen role in sophomore comedy Great News and Dick Wolf's Menendez brothers limited series at 10 p.m.

"We wanted to go after Thursday in a big way, which opened up opportunities elsewhere on the schedule," Greenblatt said. To that end, The Voice will be used to launch an hour comedy block at 9 p.m. "Given Will & Grace, This Is Us, Tina Fey and Dick Wolf of it all, it's as close to Must-See TV as we've ever had in our history. We want to lead the audience and hopefully not force them to deny it. We feel really comfortable about that."

As expected, Greenblatt — who was joined by alternative president Paul Telegdy and NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke on the call — fielded a lot of questions about their decision to cancel — and then renew — time-travel drama Timeless. The series from Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke will return for a shortened 10-episode season with a likely spring or summer 2018 return. To hear Greenblatt tell it, the main issue was scheduling. 

"There was a moment earlier in the week where we thought, 'We have all these shows coming back and new shows and maybe there wasn't room for Timeless,'" he said. "We decided to move on from it and woke up the next morning and heard from fans and thought, 'Let's figure out how to bring it back.' … Nothing would make us happier than seeing the audience grow."

Greenblatt also noted that scripted would play a bigger role than ever on next summer's schedule. Meanwhile, a decision on The Carmichael Show, Marlon and Midnight, Texas as well as bubble shows Chicago Justice and Trial and Error are still to be determined. (And buzzy comedy pilot The Sackett Sisters is still in contention, too.)

"[Timeless] could be late in the season or it could be summer," said the exec, with highly anticipated Jason Katims drama Rise potentially launching after the Winter Olympics. "Summer is going to be a big deal for us. … We always win summer, but scripted-wise, it's going to be healthier this summer than it's ever been."

Brief talk of American Idol, which NBC was at one point in talks to bring back before ABC landed the revival, did not lead to much fruitful conversation. "We recognize that the franchise is great," said Greenblatt, reinforcing that The Voice is still priority No. 1 on his network's reality front. "We're going to stick with our hand."

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