UPFRONTS: In the first of five exclusive reports from the presentations in New York, programming insider Marc Berman gives C21 his take on NBC’s comedy-laden line-up for next season.
One look at NBC’s fall 2012 primetime schedule and the word that immediately comes to mind is comedy. With Tuesday through Friday populated with sitcoms, NBC’s aggressive – albeit often misguided – line-up will feature the most new comedies to open a season in 12 years.
But back in 2000, the Peacock network was home to then top-rated favourites Friends, Frasier and Will & Grace. At present, NBC’s highest rated sitcom, The Office, is trending downward, as are Community, Parks & Recreation and 30 Rock. Other than The Voice on Tuesday, there is nothing to support these new entries.
Comedy is good – just ask any network (CBS, in particular) that happens to be in the successful sitcom business. But four new half-hours coupled with six low-rated returnees (including re-positioned Whitney and Community in the Friday 20.00 hour) are too many on still low-rated NBC. Why introduce another four when the current six are all lacking?
By the Nielsen ratings (September 19, 2011 through May 6, 2012), the positive news for NBC is minor growth, with 5.24 million viewers and a 2.5 rating/7 share among adults 18-49, on average, up three and nine percent, respectively, from one year earlier. There are also minor increases among adults 25-54 and adults 18-34, and NBC has even managed to inch past ABC (by one tenth of a rating point) for third place among adults 18-49.
So, the network has finally bottomed-out and is trending slowly upwards (thanks, in great part, to The Voice). Regardless, the biggest obstacle NBC faces, and this has been its sore spot for years, is the lack of hit product to support the new entries. It is never easy for a new series to stand on its own.
The Voice, of course, was expected to join NBC’s fall line-up because of the lack of other hit product. And positioning new drama Revolution in the Monday 22.00 time period (in place of Smash, which returns in mid-season) does give it lead-in support. As do new comedies Go On (with Matthew Perry) and The New Normal in the Tuesday 21.00 hour out of the relocated The Voice live results show.
But two editions of The Voice in one season do, of course, risk overkill. And sluggish returnee Parenthood is not expected to benefit out of The Voice on Tuesday. While you cannot populate a fall line-up entirely with new product, NBC has been way too generous handing out renewals. More established series should have been cancelled.
Wednesday was in need of a complete fix, so it made sense for NBC to do a total revamp. But new comedies Animal Practice and Guys With Kids are isolated in the 20.00 hour (as were Up All Night and short-lived Free Agents last fall); and relocated Law & Order: SVU at 21.00 is just plain tired. If creator Dick Wolf can finally find a hit series outside of the Law & Order umbrella, upcoming Chicago Fire at 22.00, which focuses on life at a Chicago-based fire department, is the new fall NBC series with the greatest shot of survival. And if Revenge on ABC and CSI on CBS remain intact, there could be room for Chicago Fire in that time period.
Thursday, once again, will house a quartet of low-rated sitcoms and there is no reason to believe any of the four will suddenly resonate with a mass audience. And populating the Thursday 22.00 hour with returning news magazine Rock Center With Brian Williams sends out the message that NBC has just plain given up. Remember when mega hit ER aired in the time period for 15 years? Times have changed and not for the better.
The Friday 20.00 slot on NBC is interesting because the last time the network opened a season with sitcoms in that hour was in 1983 (with classic clinkers Mr Smith and Jennifer Slept Here). While you can’t blame a network for trying, you can’t force an audience to watch either (particularly when both relocated Whitney and Community have a limited audience to begin with). A better option for NBC would have been something non-scripted like Fear Factor, perhaps. Grimm at 21.00 makes sense; it does have a small young adult cult following, after all. But Dateline at 22.00 is just plain time filler (as is another evening of encores on wasted Saturday).
Thankfully, NBC does have top-rated Sunday Night Football to cap off the week. Too bad, though, that the season concludes by first quarter. Just NBC’s luck, unfortunately.
NBC fall 2012-13 schedule (new shows in caps)
20.00-22.00 The Voice
20.00-21.00 The Voice
21.00-21.30 GO ON
21.30-22.00 THE NEW NORMAL
20.00-20.30 ANIMAL PRACTICE
20.30-21.00 GUYS WITH KIDS
21.00-22.00 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
22.00-23.00 CHICAGO FIRE
20.00-20.30 30 Rock
20.30-21.00 Up All Night
21.00-21.30 The Office
21.30-22.00 Parks & Recreation
22.00-23.00 Rock Center with Brian Williams
22.00-23.00 Dateline NBC
Sunday (Fall 2012)
19.00-20.15 Football Night in America
20.15-23.30 NBC Sunday Night Football
Sunday (Winter 2013)
19.00-20.00 Dateline NBC
20.00-21.00 Fashion Star
21.00-22.00 The Celebrity Apprentice
22.00-23.00 DO NO HARM