Upfront Roundup: NBC

Before beginning, let’s review what I said in my previous post.

  • NBC is coming off an embarrasing season. It’s the only Big Four network whose season-to-date rating (as of 4/29) is under 6. That’s despite the fact it’s the only Big Four network to have non-postseason football in prime time. NBC did have “Sunday Night Football” but couldn’t use it to propel hits elsewhere in the week. “Deal or No Deal” is the only other really bright spot on NBC’s schedule, and ABC (“Dancing with the Stars”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Desperate Housewives”), CBS (“CSI” and “CSI Miami”, plus “Without a Trace” was bigger than “DonD”), and Fox (“American Idol” and “House”) all had multiple shows that were bigger than football, and football only gets you through a third of the season. You read that and you probably think I’m describing a network somewhere between the other three major networks and the CW, not one that’s only .5 behind the tie for second place. (At least it’s not the CW’s 2.1.)
  • NBC originally pinned its hopes for a resurgence this season on the hopes of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”. By hammocking it between the surging comedies “My Name is Earl” and “The Office” on one end, and “ER” on the other, NBC hoped to mold “Studio 60” into its franchise show of the future, and perhaps gain better ground against “CSI” than “The Apprentice” had gotten. Then ABC announced it was boldly pitting “Grey’s Anatomy” against “CSI”. Within a week after unveiling their plans, they lay in tatters, and “Studio 60” would have to be thrown into Mondays at 10 with another new show, “Heroes,” as a leadin. The presence of a show similar to “Lost” in its complexity wasn’t exactly compatible to something that was more of a comfort show, and “Heroes”‘ popularity only made “Studio 60” worse for the comparison. Then there’s the fact that critics soured on the show itself as it wore on and drew unfavorable comparisons to Aaron Sorkin’s previous show, “The West Wing”. Add it all together, and “Studio 60” seems DOA at the upfronts. NBC needs more buzz shows, as the closest thing it really has is “Heroes”, especially with “Law and Order” losing its luster and “L&O: Criminal Intent” suffering since moving to 9 PM. It also has a hole to fill on Monday nights. Properly promoted and nurtured, “Friday Night Lights,” assuming the critically-acclaimed show is renewed, could be the ticket.
  • Right now NBC’s only half-hour shows are “MNiE”, “Office”, “Scrubs”, and “30 Rock”, all currently on Thursday. Comedies are in a bit of a slump right now, but this is an embarrasment for a network that once prided itself in its comedies.
  • Strong nights: Sunday (during football season), Monday (double whammy of “Heroes” and “DonD”). Weak nights: Everything else.
  • Quick tip: Don’t be afraid to make radical moves. You don’t have much to lose.

Now, how did NBC carry that out?

Sun

7pm

7:30 pm

8pm

8:30 pm

9 pm

9:30 pm

10 pm

NBC
Football Night in America
Sunday Night Football


Well, it’s not as though we didn’t know this ahead of time.


Mon

8pm

8:30 pm

9 pm

9:30 pm

10 pm

NBC
Deal or No Deal
Heroes

Journeyman


Predictably, NBC tries to use “Heroes” to support a new show. They may have found a show to do it with that actually fits, which ABC has failed to do with “Lost”, but “Journeyman” will probably suffer in comparison to “Heroes”. NBC describes the show as follows:

“Dan Vassar thought he had it all: a loving wife, a great son and a steady job. But life suddenly throws him a curve ball. Dan finds himself traveling into the past with a purpose – impacting people’s lives for the better – and sometimes the worse. While doing so, Dan reconnects with Livia Beale, his ex-fiancée whom he lost in a mysterious plane crash. Now armed with the knowledge of the present, will he be able to save her? What would that mean to his own future? And how would it change a man who thought he had it all?”

I’m skeptical of its chances – “Tru Calling” flopped, after all – but if you like “Lost”-style complexity, it’s the show for you. But why do I have a feeling audiences aren’t looking for “Lost”-style complexity after “Heroes”?


Tue

8pm

8:30 pm

9 pm

9:30 pm

10 pm

NBC
The Biggest Loser
Chuck

L&O: SVU


Well, “The Biggest Loser” at 8 is better than nothing, and it probably looked inevitable that 9 would be the place to debut a new show after “Criminal Intent” sank. (That show will now spend its first run on USA and return at midseason. “Chuck”‘s tagline is “Computer geek by day. Government operative by night.” Sound intriguing? Wait until you read the full description:

“Chuck Bartowski is just your average computer-whiz-next-door. He spends his days working for Buy-More with his band of nerdy cohorts, longing to find a woman who can appreciate him. But when an old friend, who happens to be a CIA agent, sends Chuck a mysterious encoded email, the world’s greatest spy secrets are embedded into his brain. He never asked to become the government’s most powerful weapon, but the fate of the country suddenly lies in his unlikely hands. Hopefully, this won’t take away from his video game time! International terrorist plots, sexy spies and cold pizza – it’s all in a day’s work for our trusty hero…Chuck.”

Am I the only one who thinks this reads like a sitcom? Seriously, it sounds corny beyond belief. I’m thinking some focus group told NBC they wanted to see “computer nerds foiling crimes” and NBC heard “nerd fantasy: nerd becomes Sydney Bristow instead of “computer nerds foiling crimes with their computer skills. Then again, I think somebody already tried that and it flopped. And that’s exactly what this show will do. Not looking good so far, NBC.


Wed

8pm

8:30 pm

9 pm

9:30 pm

10 pm

NBC
Deal or No Deal
Bionic Woman

Life


Evidently NBC feels the need to junk Wednesdays and start over. Wednesdays rarely produce appointment nights but doing two new shows and a reality show is very risky. And yes, one of them is a remake of a 70’s show. Want a description?

“Struggling as a bartender and surrogate mom to her teen-aged sister, Jaime Sommers didn’t think life could get much harder. But when a devastating car accident leaves her at death’s door, Jaime’s only hope of survival is through a cutting-edge, top-secret technology that comes at a hefty price. With a whole new existence and a debt to repay, Jaime must figure out how to use her extraordinary abilities for good, while weighing the personal sacrifices she will have to make. Ultimately, it’s Jaime’s journey of self-discovery and inner strength that will help her embrace her new life as…The Bionic Woman.”

Do remakes ever work? Seriously, I’m asking. This one is guaranteed not to work if it has to tussle with “Lost”. But ABC is holding “Lost” to midseason and that leaves very little competition early on. That, plus a “DonD” lead-in, shows some promise for decent ratings. But I’ve got a gut feeling it won’t work. Especially if one of the other Big Four networks produces appointment viewing in the timeslot.

“Life” will be very dependent on “Bionic Woman”‘s success. Its description is very cryptic:

“Meet Detective Charlie Crews. Behind him sit tough years of hard prison time for a crime he didn’t commit. Ahead of him lie the challenges of a world that’s moved on without him. Now it’s time to walk through the painful cobwebs of his past and re-enter the scorn-filled halls of a job he loves. It’s no easy task, especially when his reluctant new partner is as jaded as Dani Reese. Charlie’s appreciation for life’s details not only offers up unique insights into each crime, it reminds us of all the little things we take for granted.”

That just sounds like your standard detective show… which means it’s probably groomed for success more than “Bionic Woman”. It has to go up against “CSI:NY” but that’s the “Criminal Intent” of the CSI franchise. Really, how different is it from “Kojak”, “Columbo”, or all manner of 70’s detective shows? Are Wednesdays “That 70’s Night”? So far, it looks like the strongest night for new shows.


Thu

8pm

8:30 pm

9 pm

9:30 pm

10 pm

NBC
Name/Earl
30 Rock
The Office
Scrubs

ER


NBC seems to think it’s found a golden nugget in Thursdays and does nothing more than shuffle the shows around a little. “ER” is a few years past its prime, though.


Fri

8pm

8:30 pm

9 pm

9:30 pm

10 pm

NBC
1 v. 100
Las Vegas

Fri. Nght Lghts


“1 V. 100” will later be replaced by “The Singing Bee” after six weeks, which says:

“The Singing Bee challenges contestants to accurately sing the lyrics to popular songs — when the band stops playing! Scored like a spelling bee, there is no middle ground for partially correct answers. Contestants must be perfect, or they’re out. Family-friendly, broad in appeal and conducive to playing (and singing) along at home, the show features popular, recognizable music that inspires hilarious wrong answers — and startling wonder from those pitch-perfect competitors who get every word right.”

Wonderful, Holmes. Another reality show for us to either watch swiftly fade away or lament its popularity. Not sure if “FNL” fans should like its move to Fridays, after “Las Vegas” which isn’t all that compatible or really popular, and Fridays are often used as a dumping ground for laggards, but at least it’s returning and its name makes a little more sense.


Sat

8pm

8:30 pm

9 pm

9:30 pm

10 pm

NBC
Dateline NBC
Drama Encore

SVU Repeats


Saturdays are the weakest night of the week; can’t really disagree with this. Of course a lot of you are probably wondering, “Where’s Law and Order?” Moved to midseason, my friend. As is “Criminal Intent”, “Baby Borrowers”, “The It Crowd”, “Lipstick Jungle”, “Medium”, and “World Moves”. (There will also be a short spin-off season of “Heroes” called “Heroes: Origins.”) “Borrowers” belongs in midseason:

“Baby Borrowers is a unique social experiment that takes five teenage couples on a rollercoaster ride of adult responsibility, allowing them to experience parenting firsthand. Desperate to have their own life and family, our lovebirds are thrown in at the deep end. They’re given real houses and real responsibilities — the most important of which is to look after children from a range of age groups. They’ll begin with an infant, followed by a toddler, pre-teen, young teenager, and lastly a senior citizen. In the end, will these couples be able to cope with the pressure of parenthood or will they break?”

The IT Crowd” finally adds a new comedy, but it’s basically a riff of “The Office”:

“You know those cool guys who charm the ladies, have tons of friends and get invited to the hottest parties? Roy and Moss are not those guys. A night of fun for these I.T. nerds means getting dressed to the nines for the latest iPhone webcast. But Jen, their new office manager, is going to change all that. Tech-savvy, she’s not, but she knows how to win people over and get ahead. After living for years in oblivion, Roy and Moss hope Jen can help them get the recognition they so desperately long for.”

Lipstick Jungle,” which will take over Sundays at 10 after football season, is basically a riff of “Sex and the City” (or “Desperate Housewives”), and is based on a book by someone from that show – and it has a legit shot at success:

“Based on the best-selling book by Candace Bushnell(Sex and the City), this enticing new dramedy follows three high-powered friends as they weather the ups and downs of lives lived at the top of their game. Nico, editor-in-chief of a hot fashion magazine, has her eye on becoming CEO. Movie exec Wendy does everything she can to balance career and family. And free-spirited designer Victory longs to make her dreams come true, and maybe find Mr. Right along the way. Armed with humor and strength, these three modern New York women support one another through the triumphs and tears that are all part of making it big in The Big Apple.”

World Moves” aims to replicate the success of “American Idol”:

“From executive producer Randy Jackson and the creators of the World Hip Hop Championship comes the most captivating performance competition to hit TV. From around the world, thousands of dance teams will audition for their shot to come to Los Angeles and compete for an international touring contract. Each dance team will consist of five to seven members who will perform their own inventive routines set to today’s hottest pop music. They will also be challenged to create routines choreographed to musical themes assigned by guest stars and our panel of experts. Viewers from around the globe will eliminate one team each week by texting, emailing or calling into the show. Ultimately,World Moves is not just about winning a competition, but changing lives and bringing the world together.”

So, how did NBC do on the points I laid out?

  • NBC is coming off an embarrasing season. Grade: D+. NBC couldn’t really do a whole lot here, but there are precious few shows with a strong chance at success. Wednesdays look hot now but will be at the mercy of other networks. The other two new shows that I think could succeed (“IT Crowd” and “Jungle”) are held for midseason. That’s wasting precious time to build momentum – and precious time to promote using football.
  • NBC needs more buzz shows, and has a hole to fill on Monday nights. Grade: D-. “Journeyman” just looks like another show trying to be the next “Lost”, most of which don’t succeed. The “Heroes” lead-in will inflate its ratings but also give it unreasonable expectations. And the show that might generate the most buzz after that, “Lipstick Jungle”, is being held for midseason. I can’t stress this enough.
  • NBC has only four comedies. Grade: C-. The Thursday comedy block just got a vote of confidence, but there’s only one new comedy in the pipeline and it’s being held for midseason.
  • Overall grade: D+. NBC doesn’t make radical moves and doesn’t provide any reasons for people to come back to the network. Maybe it was a weak development season, but it better improve soon, or NBC could pull dangerously close to CW territory.
  • Nights that improved: Wednesday, Sunday after football season. Nights that look better: Thursday. Nights that look like a train wreck: None, but only because just about the entire NBC lineup is already a train wreck. They are keeping “SNF” and aren’t messing with Mondays that much. Tuesday, Friday and Saturday look the worst, but there are no expectations for the latter two, and with “SVU” on Tuesdays it can’t be all bad. That’s the thing about NBC’s lineup: it doesn’t improve anything, but nothing actually trashes anything either. It’s kinda okay. But “kinda okay” isn’t good enough for the fourth-place network that’s losing more respect than that. Hence, why it gets a “D” and not a “C”.

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