Friday, September 27, 2013

2013-14 Network Preview, pt. II - A False Start for NBC

This is the second in a series of five articles previewing the 2013-14 network season.  I’ll be giving some overall thoughts on the state of each network and breaking down each schedule to tell you the shows I watch and give recommendations for shows you might want to watch.  Now up: NBC.

On January 6th of this year, NBC Chairman Robert Greenblatt gave a mic-dropping speech at Press Tour, in which he attempted to declare the network’s fall surge as a revolution of sorts.  And he had every reason to crow.  NBC was up almost 25% year-to-year while every other network was down.  Of course, the elephant in the room was that NBC’s growth came largely on the backs of Sunday Night Football, The Voice, and Revolution, three shows that weren’t going to be on the air in January, February, and most of March.  The ensuing crash was predictable, even if its severity wasn’t. 

Without its top three shows to anchor the schedule in the winter and spring, NBC went into a tailspin.  The Biggest Loser did okay in The Voice’s place but couldn’t replicate its highs.  Both of the dramas they debuted pulled in horrible ratings.  Every comedy not named Community, Parks and Recreation, or The Office cratered so badly that none of them would be renewed.  The network fell so hard that not even the returns of The Voice and Revolution could do anything more than just salvage the season.  When the smoke cleared, Greenblatt was forced to sheepishly return to the Press Tour stage in July and try to spin the season’s results by declaring that “flat is the new up.”

Maybe Greenblatt has a point.  Maybe flat is the new up.  Over the last two seasons, NBC is the only network to not see its A18-49 rating decline (they’re barely up by 0.1).  And there are few things for the peacock network to be genuinely happy about.  Obviously, Sunday Night Football and The Voice were huge hits.  Ideally they wouldn’t have to run the latter into June, but I’m assuming that was a scheduling issue for the judges last year.  They finished second for the year in the Same-Day ratings (which most closely correlate to the ratings advertisers pay most for).  They also saw a relative resurgence in the drama department.  It wasn’t a huge resurgence, but Chicago Fire and Revolution were both relative hits, while Grimm, Parenthood, and Law & Order: SVU remained solid. 

Where NBC really struggled was in the comedy department.  Greenblatt’s strategy was to eschew the critically adored, low-rated comedies like Community and Parks and Rec in favor of broader, presumably more popular shows like Go On and The New Normal.  Unfortunately, that strategy failed miserably.  The aforementioned comedies performed admirably after The Voice on Tuesdays, but once their lead-in was replaced with Betty White's Off Their Rockers, they tanked.  The Wednesday comedies crashed pretty quickly as well (Animal Practice was the first show canceled in 2012) and, at the end of the year, only critically adored, low-rated comedies Community and Parks and Rec were left standing.

Coming in to the 2013-14 season, NBC has three goals:
1)      Maintain the ratings for Sunday Night Football, The Voice, and their returning dramas.
2)      Find one new hit drama.
3)      Get something out of their new comedies.
The first point is important because basically all of NBC’s gains the last two years have come from football and The Voice.  Those two shows have to hold.  Additionally, they’re now anchoring Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday nights with returning dramas and they can’t afford to lose ground there.  Additionally, if they can get one new hit out of their four new dramas, they’ll be solid on all five weeknights.  Dramas aside, though, they need a new comedy hit.  Community is in its fifth season with Parks and Rec in its sixth.  They’ve invested a lot in the new Sean Hayes and Michael J Fox sitcoms and they really need one of them to hit.

If NBC accomplishes those three objectives, they should easily find themselves at least in third place again with a chance for second, depending on how far Fox falls.  It will also leave them in a very strong position to build for 2014 and beyond.

The Voice is NBC's anchor, without which the network would be dead.
With that all done, let’s look at NBC’s 2013 fall schedule.  Unlike with the Fox article, I’m not going to dig too terribly deep into the returning shows, unless there’s something I really think you should watch.

Monday –
The Voice (7:00pm CST)
Do you watch it?
As I said in my Fox preview, I don’t really watch singing competitions anymore, and have only a seen a few hours of The Voice.

Will it last?
The Voice is NBC’s biggest show outside of Sunday Night Football.  They are sure to run it into the ground long before canceling it.

The Blacklist (9:00pm CST)
Do you watch it?
Yep.  Judging only by the pilot, The Blacklist should be a wonderfully cheesetastic production.  James Spader is at his James Spaderiest, here serving as a super-criminal who turns himself in to help the FBI catch other super-criminals.  It’s fun, though perhaps limited in its ceiling.  It’s unlikely to be a great show, but is probably never going to be a bad show.

Will it last?
The Blacklist debuted to a monster 3.8 A18-49 and more than 12.5 million viewers for its opening episode, easily winning its timeslot and instantly making it NBC’s top scripted show.  I wouldn’t be surprised to get a full-season pickup announcement on Tuesday.

Tuesday –
The Biggest Loser (7:00pm CST)
Do you watch it?

Will it last?
Now in its 15th cycle, The Biggest Loser has been shrunk from two hours per week to just one.  The ratings have been okay the past few years and, if NBC can keep the cost down, there’s no reason the show couldn’t keep chugging along like Survivor or The Amazing Race

The Voice (8:00pm CST)
See Above

Chicago Fire (9:00pm CST)
Do you watch it?
No.  The show does have its fans, but it’s just not for me.

Will it last?
Chicago Fire started slowly last year, debuting to mixed reviews and mediocre ratings.  As the season went along, however, the ratings steadily picked up and the show turned out to be, while not exactly adventurous, at least capable of “embracing what it did best: action and friendships.”  The improved ratings lead to NBC ordering a police station spinoff and giving Chicago Fire its second-best timeslot, fitting it in on Tuesday nights after The Voice.  We saw last year what kind of boost that show can give to the shows that follow (both Revolution and Go On were hugely popular in the fall), but we also saw that viewers aren’t guaranteed to stick around if the shows aren’t any good (both Revolution and Go On collapsed in the spring).  Chicago Fire is in a good position, but they’re going to have to earn it this year.  So far, they’ve done just that, debuting to a 2.7 rating after The Voice  on Tuesday. 

Wednesday –
Revolution (7:00pm CST)
Do you watch it?
Yes, but I’m wavering.

Will it last?
Revolution was NBC’s biggest success last fall (other than The Voice maintaining its numbers in the fall cycle) but the series gradually lost steam, not to mention half its audience, until its final weeks were only drawing a 1.9 or 2.0 rating, even behind The Voice.  The show is on its own this fall, leading off Wednesday nights.  It was a slow start in premiere week, with just under 7 million viewers and a 1.8 rating, on par with where the show ended last spring and up from where the timeslot was a year ago, but probably underwhelming for what NBC hoped for.  If Revolution stays where it is now, it should get renewed.  But it can’t afford to drop much.

Law & Order: SVU (8:00pm CST)
Do you watch it?
I had a college roommate who loved all of the Law & Order shows, so I’ve seen many of the early seasons, but I haven’t watched a full episode in probably five years.

Will it last?
SVU is the last remaining Law & Order despite debuting before Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury, and Los Angeles.  It’s not nearly the anchor it was for NBC during the network’s leanest years, but all of NBC’s renewed dramas were sitting in the same high-1s, low-2s area by the end of last year and, of all the dramas they renewed, I’d put SVU behind only Chicago Fire in terms of long-term security.

Ironside (9:00pm CST)
Do you watch it?
Probably not.

Will it last?
Ironside is getting a late debut, owing to NBC's decision to run a two-hour premiere of SVU this week.  It’s difficult to predict ratings in advance, but given that it’s a remake of a 70s show, I don’t hold real high hopes.  I just don’t know what audience is clamoring for a remake of Ironside, though I guess Hawaii Five-0 has done well enough.

Thursday –
Parks and Recreation (7:00pm CST)
Do you watch it?
Parks and Recreation is the best comedy on network television.  Of course I watch it.

Will it last?
I think NBC would love to have canceled this show by now, but it just keeps plugging along while every other comedy fails.  Its ratings in week one were pretty dreadful, though.  Parks and Recreation was usually the highest-rated of the low-rated but critically acclaimed NBC triumvirate (along with Community and 30 Rock), but it dropped to a 1.3 rating in its one-hour premiere last night.  Barring a significant recovery or yet another collapse of NBC’s comedy line-up, this could well be the last year for Leslie Knope and company.  Catch this wonderful show while you can.

Welcome to the Family (7:30pm CST)
Do you watch it?
Maybe.  I like Mike O’Malley, but I’ve never really taken to NBC’s recent attempts at “broad comedy.”  I might watch a few episodes and then check back in later in the year.

Will it last?
Welcome to the Family, like Sean Saves the World was held back a week so that Parks and Rec and The Michael J Fox Show could launch with hour-long premieres.  I don’t anticipate good ratings for this show but, then again, good ratings aren’t really necessary for an NBC comedy anymore, only mediocre ratings.

Sean Saves the World (8:00pm CST)
Do you watch it?
Probably not.  I don’t really care for Sean Hayes and I doubt this will change my mind.

Will it last?
See above, re: Welcome to the Family.

The Michael J Fox Show (8:30pm CST)
Do you watch it?
For now.  I love Michael J Fox.  The show isn’t laugh-out-loud funny so far through two episodes, but it’s sweet, endearing, and entertainment.  I’ll give it some time to find its feet.

Will it last?
The Michael J Fox Show debuted to a 2.1 rating for its hour-long premiere, definitely not what NBC was hoping for, but far better than any other comedy outside of the The Office has down without a leading from The Voice.  It already has a full-season order and it’s tough to see NBC bailing on a second unless the show absolutely tanks.

Parenthood (9:00pm CST)
Do you watch it?
Not yet, though I really want to.  By all accounts, Parenthood is pretty fantastic, it’s just one of those shows that’s always been on my list of things to watch, I’ve just never gotten around to it. 

Will it last?
Parenthood has a made a reputation as the low-rated stalwart on NBC’s schedule.  The show debuted to a 1.6 rating on Thursday, down from its finale in the spring, but more than doubling the network’s previous debut in the timeslot, Rock Center. As I mentioned earlier, NBC has experienced something of a drama renaissance in the last year, so Parenthood now finds itself at the bottom of the totem pole.  It will need better ratings than that to get a sixth season, especially since it’s already reached the 88 episode plateau needed for syndication.

Friday –
Grimm (8:00pm CST)
Do you watch it?
Yep.  Grimm is, at the very least, a fun show.

Will it last?
There has long been fear among fans of Grimm that the show is destined for cancelation owing to its location on Friday nights.  But the show draws perfectly fine ratings for where it’s scheduled and, by the end of this season, it will be only one season away from syndication, making it a virtual lock for a fourth season.  NBC has also shown a lot of faith in the show by giving it good timeslots following the Olympics last summer and The Voice in the spring.  Barring a complete collapse, Grimm is safe.

Dracula (9:00pm CST)
Do you watch it?
I’m planning on it.

Will it last?
Honestly, at this point it’s impossible to say.  If its ratings are on par with Grimm, or perhaps even a little lower (owing to Dracula’s foreign co-production), it should be okay.

Sunday –
Sunday Night Football (7:00pm CST)
Do you watch it?
It’s Sunday Night Football.  Does anybody not watch it?

Will it last?
Television’s highest-rated program is back for another year and not going anywhere any time soon.

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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