Take Me To The Upfronts: NBC

In All, Television by David

Welcome back Take Me To The Upfronts. I have already taken a look at ABC’s,  CBS’The CW’s, and Fox’s offerings, and now I am ready to take a look at Fox. Also, before we start, you can still see my thoughts on the pilots that vied for spots this season here and here. Let’s get to it.

NBC is gunning for CBS’s throne.

NBC’s Complete 2016-17 Fall Schedule

Monday
8 p.m. — The Voice
10 p.m.  — TIMELESS

Tuesday
8 p.m. — The Voice
9 p.m. — THIS IS US
10 p.m. — Chicago Fire

Wednesday
8 p.m. — Blindspot
9 p.m.  — Law & Order: SVU
10 p.m.  — Chicago P.D.

Thursday
8 p.m. — Superstore
8:30 p.m. — THE GOOD PLACE
9 p.m. — Chicago Med
10 p.m. — The Blacklist

Friday
8 p.m. — Caught on Camera With Nick Cannon
9 p.m. — Grimm
10 p.m. — Dateline NBC

Saturday
8 p.m. — Saturday Dateline Mysteries
10 p.m. — Saturday Night Live (encores)

Sunday
7 p.m.  — Football Night in America
8:20 p.m. — Sunday Night Football

Not Scheduled (NBC sucks so there are no trailers for any of these): BLACKLIST: REDEMPTION, CHICAGO LAW, TAKEN, MIDNIGHT, TEXAS, EMERALD CITY, GREAT NEWS, TRIAL & ERROR, POWERLESS, and MARLON.

Initial Analysis:

  • NBC’s schedule leaves me both excited and perplexed. So many smart moves in terms of scheduling have been made, but at the same time virtually every new show is off the schedule as of now. This just seems odd. This also shows that NBC is in a position of strength, which is something I would have laughed you out of the room for suggesting to me five years ago, when NBC was doing its best Fox impression (get better soon, Fox, I am just as tired as you are of using you as a punching bag). The three new shows NBC did put on its schedule all look quite strong. Timeless should be awesome, This Is Us looks like it could be the a more popular Parenthood and along with The Pitch establish Dan Fogelman as a power player in television, and while The Good Place doesn’t necessarily look like my cup of tea, it is by Michael Schur and has Kristen Bell and Ted Danson in it, so the show’s pedigree is off the charts. If only Fridays didn’t feel so wasted. I mean, Grimm and Dateline NBC are fine, but really wouldn’t something like Midnight, Texas or even Emerald City make way more sense than Caught on Camera With Nick Cannon? But NBC is actually in a really strong place, and honestly, I probably have the least quibbles with their schedule of any of the networks in this series, other than maybe The CW, and that is only because NBC hasn’t made it clear that it is going to be as willing as The CW to experiment with the ways it airs its shows.

Decisions that made me happy and/or excited:

Timeless Getting The Coveted Monday Post The Voice Slot

  • Not only did NBC pick up Timeless, which comes from Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan and thus has potential to be all kinds of awesome, but the network also made an even more daring move: it put it after The Voice on Mondays. The Voice has been the backbone of NBC’s schedule since it first aired in 2011, when everyone thought NBC was crazy for basing their entire schedule around it. Well, looks like NBC has gotten the last laugh, because while not a perfect antidote for everything (nothing can stop a network from making dumb decisions like destroying their entire comedy block) it has proven to be a solid spine for the network, one that has boosted ratings for other shows in recent years. The Blacklist originally aired after The Voice and used the eyeballs gained from that to become a hit that could stand on its own. Last year NBC did the same thing with Blindspot, and now Timeless looks to be getting the Voice shine. The fact that NBC is confident enough in this show to make such a move is telling, and means that NBC is fully invested in making this sci-fi show a success, which is crucial for genre material. Too be fair, no one can ever say NBC doesn’t at least try to put its shows in a position to succeed. NBC did everything it could to make Revolution work, and Heroes Reborn was paired with The Blacklist on Thursdays to give it a chance to be as big as possible. It is nice to see that the ultimate failure of both of those shows didn’t make NBC gun shy about supporting high concept genre programming and instead go with a so-called safer option in say, Taken, or even Chicago Law. Timeless is by far the most interesting new show NBC has to offer, and could really help with building NBC’s brand, so seeing the network acknowledge that and go all out to ensure that Timeless is given every chance to succeed is fantastic and could really pay off for the network down the line.

Moving Blindspot to Wednesday

The real question is how many more ways will the show find to not make Jaimie Alexander wear the tattoo make-up next season.

  • As part of placing Timeless in the Monday slot, Blindspot moved away from the safe confines of The Voice to a spot along side the Dick Wolf cop procedurals of the world, which is a pretty strong place for it to be. The best way for a network to utilize a show like The Voice is to continually use it to launch and establish new shows, and then move those shows to their own night where the show can help carry another night instead of consolidating all your strength into one evening. The key, though, is that you have to do it quickly or you’ll never be able to. Both Blindspot and The Blacklist were moved away from The Voice before people became too accustomed to the show always being in the post-Voice slot. Compare this to ABC, which made the mistake of leaving Castle after Dancing With The Stars during DWTS’s peak because the network was seduced by the comfort level that Castle‘s ratings brought. At its peak, DWTS could have really been useful in launching shows for ABC (in fact, it helped launch Castle), but too much of that was wasted leaving Castle on Mondays and never being willing enough to experiment with other shows in that time slot–especially after Castle stabilized into a solid, but exactly world beating ratings. NBC has never made that mistake with The Voice, and have constantly used that to try and get as many shows as possible the massive boost that The Voice can provide (hell, they air the show twice, so This Is Us is also getting a version of this boost, presumably). That doesn’t mean this is always the perfect strategy, as nothing can make a show like Game of Silence work when the show is just not good, and it is possible Blindspot might collapse completely without The Voice as a lead-in, but The Blacklist certainly didn’t and NBC is wise to keep rolling the dice to get as many hits on the network as possible.

Picking Up Powerless

  • Back when NBC was in tatters in the late 2000s and early 2010s, the one thing it still had was a strong and unique comedy block that slowly built until at one point NBC hosted The Office, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, and Community, arguably four of greatest comedies ever made. The problem, of course, is that outside of The Office, none of these were exactly ratings juggernauts, with 30 Rock doing okay, and Parks and Recreation and Community being ratings disasters for much of their runs. When NBC was struggling, the network wisely just let all of these comedies run, because at least it gave the network critical recognition, but as things began to turn around the network began looking beyond these shows. Now three of these (The Office, 30 Rock, and Parks and Rec) the network let finish more or less on their own terms, so it’s not as if the network actively killed the shows off for the most part. (Community is a different story, after NBC fired showrunner Dan Harmon and ultimately sent the show off to murder Yahoo Screen.) But the network did strive to start making broader and broader comedies, such as the disastrous Michael J. Fox sitcom, and as a result, NBC is basically left without the Thursday comedy block that had long been a staple for the network. It barely has any real comedies left, in fact. The network finally found some success again with The Carmichael Show, Undateable (which is now gone), and Superstore, but it is hard to give the network much credit for any of these when each aired in the midseason or during the summer and seemed to succeed despite NBC’s best efforts. So NBC has been in a comedy quagmire for quite some time, which is why it was nice to see the show pick up Powerless. Realizing it should try to take advantage of the current popularity of super heroes with a comedy was a smart choice, and even smarter was picking a show that is not simply trying to be as broad as possible. Especially now, comedies need to have a voice to be successful (even most CBS ones), and for the most part when networks ignore this and just go with the simplest and broadest comedy possible, viewers don’t show up. So hopefully, with NBC picking up Powerless and maybe even The Good Place (Michael Schur is back!), it shows that the network has started to learn its lesson. Then again, the network did pick up Marlon, so who the hell knows.

Decisions that made me sad and/or confused:

NBC Shrugging And Shifting Most of Its New Shows To I Guess The Midseason

  • NBC has a lot of new shows this year. Too bad almost none of them will be showing up in the fall. To be somewhat fair (because I just can’t help myself), part of this is that NBC is doing rather well, so there aren’t exactly a lot of free spots on the schedule, especially considering during the fall the network does have access to Sunday Night Football. The NFL is the single most valuable property in all of television, so that takes Sundays out of play. Plus there is a thing called the Olympics this year that will throw everything off. Still, I feel like NBC could have done more. Just because NBC has allowed itself to partially become the Dick Wolf network once again doesn’t mean that four of the shows have to air at once (all of which seem to be getting full episode orders). Sure, procedurals can actually support 21-24 sized episode orders, but when you have as many shows NBC does to work with, you don’t actually need them to. This would especially be useful for Law & Order: SVU, which should really be put out of its misery, but is being allowed to stay around just so it can break the record for longest running live-action scripted show on television. Maybe if NBC at least released its plans for the midseason, like Fox, this would be less of an issue, but right now it feels like the network is just throwing all of these new shows up into the air and hoping they can figure out what to do with them before gravity brings them back down. For a network that is willing to roll the dice in other areas, it is disappointing that it is so unwilling to inject more new blood into its schedule, especially on Fridays, where Grimm is probably on its last legs (not creatively, but possibly ratings-wise).

What The Hell Are They Doing With Emerald City?

One day you will air. Right? …Right!?

  • Seriously NBC, what the hell are you doing with Emerald City? This show was originally greenlit in 2014 (with rumblings even before that) as part of the network trying to jump into the whole fairy tale craze a couple of years too late. Then it was canceled, and then it was picked up again last year. Tarsem Singh was brought in to direct the the entire season, and a palpable buzz existed for what could now be a visually innovative and stunning show. So where the hell is it? I mean, wouldn’t this show have been a perfect pairing with Grimm? I guess it could be said that at this point the show needs to be deployed properly after so much time and effort has been put into getting it made, but at this point this so doesn’t feel like like a show that is supposed to span multiple seasons, but instead a ten episode limited series that should just be awesome to watch. NBC has handled this show so poorly that it is hard to trust that the network isn’t going to screw all of this up. Then again, considering this show is supposed to be a dark reimagining of The Wizard of Oz in the mode of Game of Thrones, maybe the show never had a shot to begin with. This is definitely a show that could have benefited from NBC announcing its midseason schedule, because it would have allowed for a proper buzz to build, and more importantly would have finally made this show feel a lot less like we’re all waiting for Godot.

Seriously, Why Taken?

  • Look, I know I already yelled about this in my pilot piece, but just why? NBC doesn’t need this show. It doesn’t need the crutch of trying to make the television version of a known IP. Taken feels like such a low ambition move from the network, one that once again is coming way too late to have any real relevance. NBC at times allows itself to get too caught up in the past, which is one of the reasons the network has struggled to figure out its voice. You could argue that NBC did finally find its voice, and the answer is action shows like The Blacklist combined with Dick Wolf procedurals, but that feels like such a backwards looking focus. Especially in a year in which the network is also making a spinoff to The Blacklist, this Taken show just feels like such a waste of a move that retracts instead of expanding the network’s brand. At least the network realized that Taken can’t be a show with 20+ episodes, and thus is actually one of the smart shows to hold for the midseason, but that doesn’t change that it represents a bad look for NBC, which should have been more focused on figuring out how to make its comedies once again, instead of looking for shows that are simply the same ideas and style of The Blacklist or Blindspot, but with a recognizable IP attached in order to distract anyone from noticing.

Failed Pilots:

Comedy

Drama

Pilots I Wished Would Have Been Picked Up: Umm, I guess Cruel Intentions, if it isn’t actually picked up, especially because it would be quite a good summer show.

Overall Thoughts:

  • NBC really is rock solid at this point. I worry a little bit that NBC is taking too many lessons from CBS, which would just leave the network as irrelevant as CBS will one day be when the world finally moves beyond traditional television, but that is a small worry, as NBC seems more like it is simply doing a good job of straddling the line of what works now and what will still work in the future. It’s a delicate line to walk, but so far NBC is doing a decent job with it. I doubt anyone will actually overtake CBS in most overall numbers, because CBS has that on lock down, but NBC might be the best equipped to do so if everything falls right for the network and it does launch its slew of new shows successfully in the midseason. Honestly, there is not much else to say: the state of NBC is strong and looks to get stronger, especially when Taken is a massive success because my hatred for it is only going to make the show stronger.

And with that, Take Me To The Upfronts comes to an end. I hope you have enjoyed this winding journey into the state of each major network’s fall schedules. Now if you’ll excuse me, the TV Roulette wheel is still in need of repair, and there is a lot of work to do.