upfronts 2012

With Its New Schedule, NBC Is No Longer Playing It Safe

Photo: NBC

Remember that classic scene in Risky Business, when Miles tells Tom Cruise’s Joel, “Sometimes you just have to say, ‘What the fuck’! Make your move“? This, apparently, is the guiding philosophy NBC executives used in putting together their just- announced new fall schedule.

Having played things relative safe last year, the network’s still relatively new management team has now decided to take some very…interesting steps to get viewers back: Comedies on four nights! The failing newsmag Rock Center in the same timeslot which once housed ER and LA LawWhitney and Community paired together in the same Friday night timeline! At first (and even second and third) blush, the Peacock’s moves seem just plain weird. But two things are worth keeping in mind. First, the network is actually adding just four hours’ worth of new programming in the fall, which means it will be able to focus its marketing on just a handful of timeslots. And second, we’re willing to bet that the schedule NBC announced today is nothing more than a first draft, with significant shifts still to come before new programming begins rolling out in August after the Olympics.

Until NBC makes such tweaks, however, all we have to go on is what’s been announced. Let’s start with those things which make sense, such as giving a new drama (Revolution) a chance to capitalize on a lead-in from The Voicerather than simply keeping Smash there. The latter can use the time to reboot itself, while we’re assuming the Peacock thinks Revolution is one of its better pilots and thus is deserving of a good lead-in. (The dystopian thriller does seem a bit male-skewing, however, to pair with the female-friendly Voice).

Also not the worst idea ever: Comedies on Wednesday at 8: After all, Up All Night was actually doing decent business in the slot last fall, before shifting to Thursdays (where it strangely lost viewers). And the network has kept the lights on in the hour all season long with a mix of other sitcoms and Betty White. What’s surprising, however, is that NBC would choose two brand new comedies for the hour, rather than shifting an existing series into the slot to help buoy a newcomer. One obvious suggestion: Move Up back to Wednesdays and pair it with KidsNBC could then fill the hole left by Up with some SNL Weekend Update election specials (one of the few good ideas Jeff Zucker ever had for primetime).

And while we’re on Thursdays, let’s talk about what has to be the most head-scratching decision made by NBC. Despite quiet talk for months coming from inside the network about how desperately it needs to reboot Thursdays, NBC instead decides to pretty much return the night intact, with only Community banished from the night. Sure, we love all NBC’s Thursday shows, but why the network wouldn’t attempt to add at least some new starpower to a key evening is genuinely perplexing. Or why not attempt an ABC-style start-from-scratch comedy reboot, introducing it as The New Generation of Must-See TV? Moreover, how does NBC justify killing the higher-rated Harry’s Law while not only renewing Rock Center but also giving it an amazing 10 p.m. Thursday timeslot? NBC chief Bob Greenblatt tried to tell us how much he believed in the show and hoped it would make enough tweaks during a summer of original broadcasts to boost fall numbers. If Williams decides to sex up Rock Center, maybe this works. Otherwise, we’re actually pretty certain Rock will be moved to a new slot before the TV season officially begins.

Another hard-to-understand move by NBC is putting female-skewing comedies on Tuesdays at 9, where Fox already has a player with New Girl and ABC may very well decide to attack with comedies of its own. Assuming CBS shifts NCIS: LA to 10 p.m. Tuesdays, the 9 p.m. Tuesday slot could be a great place to put a big new drama, using The Voice as a lead-in. Why try to promote yet another batch of comedies? NBC chief Bob Greenblatt told us he simply believes the time is right to try as many half-hours as possible. Heading into development season, “Comedy was a real mandate for us,” he says. “I have a new comedy team and I said to them, “Outdo yourselves.’ And they did. Plus, comedy is a thing at the moment.” We agree, and more comedy is likely to be a hallmark of other nets’ new schedules. There’s a comedy land rush going on, and NBC is wise to stake out its territory. But it would make much more sense for the network to spread its assets around and target them — comedy on two nights, with a mix of veteran and new shows.

Finally, there’s the matter of Friday nights, where Whitney and Community are currently paired together from 8-9 p.m. It’s almost as if NBC decided to go for karmic balance here, putting one of the worst-reviewed half-hours of this season next to a critical darling. Greenblatt’s comments about why he made this move are telling: He explained to us as simply a means of helping out Grimm at 9 p.m., supplying it with a more male-skewing lead-in. This is probably true. What’s more, as Fringe has proven, it’s possible for a DVR-friendly show to survive for quite a while in the Friday night desert. But by admitting that he shifted Community to Fridays to boost Grimm, Greenblatt also concedes what most of us have long expected: He has little faith in the show, or its ability to ever reach a bigger audience. This may be disheartening, but at this point, Community fans can at least celebrate the fact that the show will be back and in a much less competitive timeslot.

Last year, Greenblatt told reporters he had three big goals for the season ahead: Relaunch The Voice, get Smash off the ground and make Wednesday nights safe for comedy. He accomplished the first two, and by putting comedy back on Wednesdays, Greenblatt is making the case that he at least planted some comedy seeds on the night. A year later, NBC has made some modest progress and just might beat ABC to end up third for the year with viewers under 50. His latest schedule seems once again to embrace the idea of go-slow rebuilding, and this is a good thing. What’s not so good is that NBC appears to be trying to do so this year with a schedule that’s desperately lacking in internal logic. 

NBC Is No Longer Playing It Safe