Monday, April 02, 2007

Super TV Preview: NBC

(Over the last few days, SDD has been offering up its thoughts on what the networks may do with their lineups next fall as they enter the time period when they consider what to cancel and what to pick up. This is only based on unverified gossip and a little guesswork based on what networks have done in the past. We'll go alphabetically by network. Check out our predictions for ABC, CBS, The CW and Fox. And here's last year's NBC prediction. Don't consider any of this official news. It's just our predictions.)

by Todd and Jon

NBC has fallen hard and fallen fast. Its descent from first to fourth, based almost entirely on their loss of ONE SHOW (Friends) happened insanely rapidly (over the course of a few months, actually), and the network has been clawing tooth and nail to get back even to third place. As Jeff Zucker moved on up within the NBC-Universal corporation, he had to cede power of the NBC schedule (which many claim he messed up by prolonging Friends but not using it to develop new hits and by trying all sorts of wacky scheduling tricks), and that brought in Kevin Reilly, who is currently in charge of the NBC schedule -- somewhat (NBC's revised schedule -- dropped last summer after ABC surprised everyone by moving Grey's Anatomy to Thursdays, endangering Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip -- had Zucker written all over it).

Reilly has made some good moves. Last year's development slate was full of good series -- and Twenty Good Years. Now, only Heroes really took off, and Studio 60 and Kidnapped both turned into duds, but 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights earned critical hosannas and a surprising amount of faith from their networks, even though their ratings probably didn't merit that faith. Fortunately, NBC is still so far down that it can take chances on some solid series catching on in season two.

But, thanks to Heroes, things look rosier over at NBC. The show was an out-of-the-box hit, unexpectedly, and its success has given the network some breathing room. Law and Order: SVU continues to perform well, even if it's down slightly. Deal or No Deal is solid almost wherever you put it. 1 Vs. 100 isn't quite Deal or No Deal, but it does well enough on Friday. And My Name Is Earl and The Office hold their own in a tough, tough timeslot. Indeed, NBC has already given 2007-08 seasons to Heroes, The Office, My Name Is Earl, Las Vegas and SVU. Based on these building blocks and Sunday Night Football (which wasn't as big of a hit as NBC had hoped but did well enough to pull the network up slightly overall), NBC can concentrate on zeroing in on its goal of putting quality shows in most of its slots and propping them up with Deal or No Deal. It's not the best mission statement in the world (CBS' "We've got crime!" and ABC's "We like women!" are both more consistent, but NBC is at least more consistent than Fox or The CW), but it's something you can build on, and if you get serious TV fans convinced that your network is the one for quality, you can draw them in in bulk.

But the problem with THIS theory is that serious TV fans are abandoning the network model -- they watch on TiVos or wait for the DVD or check stuff out online. Now, all of these methods are revenue streams of one form or another, but they're not the optimum revenue stream for a TV network. NBC has to somehow convince everyone else that they're the quality network -- but not intimidatingly so -- plus survive the inevitable Heroes backlash (reports that the second season will focus on the ancestors and descendants of the Heroes have me worried -- will people complain about not getting to see their favorite characters as much?) that will come in that show's second or third season. But, hey, the network did this in the 1980s, so there's nothing saying it can't do it again. That's one of the nice things about being one of the big three networks -- you're never so far down that you can't get back up again.

None of this should diminish that NBC is a network with serious problems. The expensive pilots from last year (most notably Studio 60) have led to cost-cutting measures throughout the company, and while Friday Night Lights and 30 Rock are both awesome, they're both also very, VERY low-rated. There's nothing here to say that there's any way these shows turn into another Office (a real rarity in that it had an abysmal first season but grew into a minor hit) instead of another Veronica Mars or Arrested Development -- critically acclaimed shows a larger audience decides it's not interested in. In short, there are a lot of holes on this schedule -- more than on any other network not named The CW -- and it will take a concentrated effort to fix them.

But let's take a look at those holes, night by night.

Sunday: In the fall, football performed well enough to boost the network as a whole here. The game was never as big as Monday Night Football was in the past, but it did well enough, especially in the weeks when NBC got to choose which game it wanted to broadcast (coming in the latter third of the season). Winter and spring's reality showcase, featuring, among other things, the latest season of the quickly fading Apprentice (once seen as the network's savior!) and Grease: You're the One That I Want, hasn't done nearly as well, but it's a pretty cheap way to keep a shingle up on the night.

Monday: Heroes changed this night for the network. It doesn't appear it'll ever ascend to the heights Lost did in early season two, but it's going to stay a pretty consistent, 15 million viewer sized hit for a while to come at least (though, as Lost has shown this year, a serial can drop further and faster than anything else). Deal or No Deal does a good job of leading off the night. But Studio 60 and The Black Donnellys have both flopped at 10, and The Real Wedding Crashers is more Band-Aid than serious solution.

Tuesday: Dateline continues to do what it does. Friday Night Lights once opened this night, but it couldn't ever establish any traction. The two-punch of Law and Order: Criminal Intent and SVU isn't quite working either. This night might need some new shows.

Wednesday: Friday Night Lights couldn't find any traction on this night either. It's kind of a precious little show, and it needs protection, something NBC doesn't have a lot of. 30 Rock and Twenty Good Years started out here, and both did poorly, as did Kidnapped, which was an instant flop (somewhat surprisingly, given the amount of hype). Crossing Jordan and Medium are doing all right, but I don't expect both to survive to next year. The Biggest Loser had troubles here as well, but may be back.

Thursday: As a long term strategy, re-establishing the Thursday night comedy bloc is a good one for NBC. As a short-term strategy, it's not as strong as Deal or No Deal at 9 was at the start of the year. Indeed, the Scrubs/30 Rock pairing at 9 has led to lower ratings for ER, though that's not a huge tragedy. Earl and Office do pretty well at 8 and border on doing quite well from time to time. By shuffling the shows around, perhaps NBC can make this night flow a little better. A wild card here is Andy Barker: PI. It probably won't get a pick-up, but you never know. I wouldn't bet on it.

Friday: Raines has done all right, but probably not well enough for another season. Las Vegas has already gotten a pickup, and I wouldn't be surprised by a similar pickup for 1 Vs. 100 very soon. Law & Order is on its last legs, though it doesn't do horribly here.

Saturday: Mostly repeats, but the network experimented with burning off the rest of Kidnapped here. That failed.

So, hey, what about the lineup for next year? Check out the NBC pilots here.


7 p.m. -- Football Night in America
8 p.m. -- Sunday Night Football

7 p.m. -- Dateline NBC
8 p.m. -- Deal or No Deal
9 p.m. -- Age of Love (new series)
10 p.m. -- Lipstick Jungle (new series)

Like NBC would change football! (Well, contractually, it can't.) And Dateline and Deal will continue to hold down the fort, though Age of Love sounds like a low-cost alternative to Desperate Housewives. Lipstick Jungle would be a blatant attempt to get those ladies to change the channel. Would they? NBC might be willing to find out.

(Note: NBC has technically ordered a new season of The Apprentice, but they may go out of their way to back out of that order. If not, it could easily go at 10 or 9.)


8 p.m. -- Deal or No Deal
9 p.m. -- Heroes
10 p.m. -- The Bionic Woman (new series)

Who better to figure out what to put after Heroes than one of the producers of Battlestar Galactica? We're betting that hot chicks who fight crime (or somesuch) will do pretty well after superheroes who battle evil. And Deal or No Deal is a good leadoff hitter.


8 p.m. -- 1 Vs. 100 (new night)
9 p.m. -- Fort Pit (new series)
10 p.m. -- Law and Order: SVU

Game shows are working well enough for NBC on other nights, so why not here? Perhaps the network will go with Dateline here again, but Fort Pit, sure to be the prestige project in NBC's lineup (from Denis Leary, after all), will require a hefty leadin. And Law and Order: SVU closes out the night in winning style, as always.


8 p.m. -- Deal or No Deal (new night)
9 p.m. -- Friday Night Lights (new time)
10 p.m. -- Law & Order (new night)

Jon seems frustrated with NBC's lack of running Deal or No Deal into the ground, so I'm putting it here to placate him more than anything. I'm not sure they'll do this (they may go with 1 Vs. 100 instead), but it would fit with their desire to put cheaper programming on at 8. Friday Night Lights would work better at 9, and Deal or No Deal, with its family audience, may be the ideal lead-in. And NBC should announce this as the last season of Law & Order and promote it thusly. They may get some viewers back. Expect Medium back at midseason.


8 p.m. -- The Office (new time)
8:30 p.m. -- 30 Rock (new time)
9 p.m. -- My Name Is Earl (new time)
9:30 p.m. -- Lipshitz Saves the World (new series)
10 p.m. -- ER

Jon proposed this schedule (though he went with Kath and Kim at 9:30), and I rather like it. It gets 30 Rock out of the way of the 9 p.m. car wreck and puts it after a show that more logically leads in to it. Earl has a loyal audience that should follow it to 9, and Lipshitz is a similarly high concept comedy. NBC should also introduce next season as the last for ER, which may boost that show too. And expect Scrubs to return at midseason.


8 p.m. -- 1 Vs. 100 (or Identity)
9 p.m. -- Las Vegas
10 p.m. -- Journeyman (new series)

Game shows and Vegas escapism lead off the night, then lead into the high-concept drama, Journeyman (which seems like Quantum Leap Redux). I don't know how this night flows at all, but they'll need to put something in the 10 p.m. hour, and this supposedly has a good script.


8 p.m. -- reruns

And there you go.

What's odd about this is that I think I've had NBC picking up the fewest new series of any network, even though they probably need the most. Blame that on game show multiplication. If Deal or No Deal starts to flop, look out, NBC!

For midseason, there are a lot of options, but we don't think they'll pick up everything. Area 57 sounds just odd enough, as does Wildlife. And M.O.N.Y. seems like a good bet on the drama side. And the Web site for the group has me intrigued by Improv Everywhere (though NBC seems to be oddly interested in improv and sketch comedy this season, so they may go even further).

NBC is in dire straits, make no mistake, but by aiming at picking up quality projects and bolstering them with cheap game shows, they may find a way to claw their way further up the network ladder.

That's all for this year's Super TV Preview. We hope you enjoyed it and keep checking out the other great content here at SDD.


benaiah said...

NBC while struggling to get the general public has several shows that have devoted followings and are hits with the tastemakers. For example, The Office isn't a smash hit by any standard, but it gets an inordinate amount of publicity because it is seemingly everyone in the media's favorite show (people like Dan Patrick and Dr. Drew). Or perhaps I just have my antenna up because it is my favorite show. It is staggering to me that Steve Carrell could be maybe the biggest comic actor going right now (certainly top 3-4) and yet his show doesn't kill in the ratings. Maybe America isn't smarter than a fifth grader (as evidenced by the hit ratings of "2 and a Half Men).

These have been great reads, thanks for doing them. Go quality, boo CBS.

calvierude said...

NBC PRIME TIME SCHEDULE FOR Sunday is mind blowing. because there is my favorite TV Show at 8-11 p.m. i.e. Sunday Night Football. Its really a great show because it has better writing, storyline and better characters. All over its Awesome...