NBC: What to Expect at the Upfront


THR analyzes which series are likely to return in the fall, the new pilots generating heat, and what the ad buyers are whispering.

As the upfronts loom ever closer (starting Monday in New York) and the broadcast networks salivate in anticipation of an improved ad market, THR is running a network-by-network breakdown--updating the news as it breaks. As always, nothing is set until the networks unveil their schedules and really, not even then.  

May 16
11 A.M.

The upfront will mark NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt’s debut as the face of the troubled network. Look for him to acknowledge the Peacock’s ratings struggles (might we suggest a Paul Reiser Show joke?) and push a “rebuilding” theme while stars including Community’s Joel McHale and Parks and Recreation’s Amy Poehler provide comic relief.

NBC can be forgiven for singing the praises of The Voice — without the red-hot competition series, Greenblatt wouldn’t have much to tout as he takes the Hilton stage to kick off the week. Despite high-profile attempts from Jerry Bruckheimer (Chase) and J.J. Abrams (Undercovers) to reboot a network that has spent half a decade in the ratings basement, NBC is poised to finish another season in fourth place. Similarly troubling, comedy staples 30 Rock and The Office are aging, and the latter lost its star (Steve Carell). (Both shows, along with Parks and Recreation and Community, already have been renewed.) Also not getting any younger are the Biggest Loser, Apprentice and Law & Order franchises. (L&O: Los Angeles is probably doomed.) Without the Olympics to lift its ratings, NBC is down 15 percent in the 18 to 49 demo this season.

Greenblatt gets a free pass this year: If there’s a big hit among his offerings, he’ll get credit; if nothing works, he can blame the previous regime. He’s been pushing the rebuilding theme in his meetings with Madison Avenue, and buyers seem to have confidence in him. Ted Harbert, former Comcast Entertainment Group head and current chairman of NBC Broadcasting, also has cultivated deep relationships in the ad community. Still, the duo has little to push outside of The Voice. “It only takes one hit sometimes to get a network back on track,” notes an ad buyer. But while most of the broadcasters can claim success in unscripted fare, the priority is the higher ad rates that scripted shows deliver. And fortunately for the bean counters at NBC, the latter is Greenblatt’s forte (he’s said to be leaving unscripted to reality chief Paul Telegdy).

Working in NBC’s favor is a new boss who is alluring to talent and producers, which hasn’t been the case since Kevin Reilly left four years ago. Greenblatt is expected to add to the schedule the Steven Spielberg-produced musical Smash, which he developed while at Showtime, as well as Maria Bello’s Prime Suspect reboot, the Inception-style thriller Awake (formerly REM) and the internationally financed TV adaptation of John Grisham’s The Firm. Safe bets on the comedy side are the Whitney Cummings project, Chelsea Handler’s Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea and Emily Spivey’s Alpha Mom, starring Will Arnett and Christina Applegate. Meanwhile, Bent and the dramas Reconstruction, The Playboy Club and Stephen Gaghan’s Metro (formerly S.I.L.A.) — which a source described as potentially “too smart” — are all still in play. Parenthood and Harry’s Law will likely stay while The Event and Outsourced fall off. But the biggest question mark is the NFL lockout, which could strip the net of its Sunday Night Football juggernaut as well as its Super Bowl boost.

Send upfront tips to Lacey.Rose@thr.comand Kim.Masters@thr.com.