Sunday, May 11, 2014

NBC 2014-15 Schedule Preview - Reasonable Change

NBC is making a big bet on James Spader's "The Blacklist"

With NBC’s upfront presentation tomorrow morning, the network released its fall schedule today.  NBC will finish the season at the top of the ratings standings thanks to Sunday Night Football, The Voice, and the Winter Olympics, but problems in other areas left them while quite a few holes to fill.  On the face, not much has changed from this spring’s schedule, but they’ve made one big change that they pretty clearly hope will bring the return of Must See TV, just not the Must See TV we’re used to. 

NBC’s 2014-15 Schedule (New shows in BOLD)
Monday –
7:00pm – The Voice
9:00pm – The BlacklistState of Affairs (Beginning Nov. 17th)

In my upfront preview for NBC I asked whether the network would let The Blacklist anchor its own night and what they were going to do with Thursdays.  The answer to the first question is, apparently, both “yes” and “no,” while the answer to the second is “put The Blacklist there, eventually.”  I speculated that NBC would hesitate to put its number one scripted series up against the juggernaut that is the NFL and it appears I was right there, as they will keep it behind The Voice for two months at the beginning of the season before making way for the new Katherine Heigl drama, State of Affairs, which basically sounds like “Scandal with white people.”

It seems like the right play.  Keep The Voice stable in its traditional timeslot, keep The Blacklist from having to go up against football, and then give your most promising new drama the cushy Voice lead-in.  I see only three potential problems.  First, ratings for The Voice are usually about 25% higher at the beginning of the season than at the end, so State of Affairs won’t enjoy the huge premiere numbers that The Blacklist and Revolution received.  Secondly, premiering in mid-November means that the new series will air, at most, five episodes before going on hiatus for at least three weeks over Christmas.  Lastly, The Voice will likely debut in mid-February at the earliest, so what does NBC do with State of Affairs for the first six weeks of 2015?  They aired The Blacklist in January after back-to-back episodes of Hollywood Game Night, but those episodes lost almost a full ratings point from the post-Voice counterparts.  NBC doesn’t have the Winter Olympics sucking up two weeks’ worth of scheduling this year, either.  But those are problems to worry about in January, not in May.  Today, this seems like the best solution for NBC.

Tuesday –
7:00pm – The Voice
8:00pm – Marry Me/About a Boy
9:00pm – Chicago Fire

Chicago Fire and The Voice are doing great here, so there’s no reason to fix what isn’t broken, but I’m a little surprised by the decision to continue with comedies in the 8:00 slot.  About a Boy and Growing up Fisher have been good, but not great, this spring and I saw no indication that their ratings would have been much better than what Parks and Recreation and Community were drawing had they been airing on Thursday nights instead.  The good news here is that the premium timeslot is going to Marry Me, which employs a lot of people I like including Happy Endings creator David Caspe, Happy Endings co-star Casey Wilson, and Party Down co-star Ken Marino.  I like when funny people get good breaks and this is a bunch of funny people getting the second-best timeslot on NBC’s schedule.

Wednesday –
7:00pm – The Mysteries of Laura
8:00pm – Law & Order: SVU
9:00pm – Chicago PD

In another example of not fixing what isn’t broken, SVU and Chicago PD stay put for another year.  Replacing the late Revolution is The Mysteries of Laura, starring Debra Messing as “a brilliant NYPD homicide detective who balances her ‘Columbo’ day job with a crazy family life.  Look, I’m extremely impressed and pleased that NBC is launching four shows this fall that feature strong female leads.  But this sounds just dreadful.  I don’t know why NBC felt the need to put “hot mess” and “working mom” in scare quotes in their press release, but they did, so make of that what you will.

Thursday –
7:00pm – The Biggest Loser
8:00pm – Bad Judge/A to ZThe Blacklist (Beginning Feb. 5th)
9:00pm – ParenthoodAllegiance (Beginning Feb. 5th)

Thursday was the biggest problem for NBC this past season and it was most in need of retooling.  The network apparently hopes that they can revive the culture of Must See TV with dramas, rather than comedies.  The Blacklist will get the coveted post-Super Bowl timeslot on February 1st before moving to Thursday later that week, leading into Allegiance, which the AV Club’s Todd Vanderwerff derisively described as “what if The Americans, but present day.”

The fall schedule is a little more predictable with Parenthood returning for a shortened sixth and final season and a pair of new comedies at 8:00 for the second straight year.  The big surprise here is the moving of The Biggest Loser to 7:00, a timeslot in which NBC has been airing sitcoms since the year after I was born, literally.  The last time NBC regularly aired something other than sitcoms at 7:00 on a Thursday was in the fall of 1982, when a television adaptation of Fame led into Cheers and Taxi (and Hill Street Blues at 9:00).  It’s especially surprising to see the network abandon comedy at 7:00 when this seems to be the perfect time to capitalize, with The Big Bang Theory off the schedule until November thanks to Thursday Night Football. 

Comedy isn’t off the schedule altogether, with the Kate Walsh-helmed Bad Judge in the 8:00 hour leading into A to Z, starring the eminently likeable Crristin Milioti.  And the network does still have four new comedies waiting for timeslots along with the final season of Parks and Recreation, so we might see more comedy in the spring, perhaps even on Sunday nights, where there are currently zero hours of live-action comedy scheduled on any of the four networks.

Friday –
7:00pm – Dateline NBC
8:00pm – Grimm
9:00pm – Constantine

It appears that NBC is still interested in creating a supernatural night on Fridays with the stalwart Grimm leading into the new adaptation of the DC comic book Hellblazer.  Constantine is a traditional network production, as opposed to last year’s Dracula and Hannibal, which are both international co-productions (and thus much less expensive), so NBC will be expecting better ratings from Constantine than its predecessors.  This could lead either to a very successful Friday night schedule or a quick cancelation.

Saturday –
7:00 – Repeats, all repeats

NBC doesn’t care about Saturday nights, so I don’t either.

Sunday –
7:00pm – Sunday Night Football

Sunday Night Football is Sunday Night Football.  It’s going to be the highest-rated and most-viewed primetime series on television next year.  There’s nothing else really to say about it.  What there is something to talk about is the announcement that Mark Burnett’s follow-up to The Bible, A.D., will be debuting on Easter Sunday, April 5th.  The Bible drew massive numbers when it debuted two years ago, including more than 13 million viewers for its premiere.  I mentioned in my upfront preview that  they needed some kind of event programming for Sundays in the spring and I can’t think of much better.  They’ll still need to find something to air for the first few months of 2015 (and there are still three “event series” on the shelf to be debuted somewhere), but airing a dozen episodes of A.D. back-to-back for six weeks in April and May is a good place to start. 

That’s NBC’s schedule, one big move to try and revitalize Thursday nights along with several attempts to keep stable what was working before.  Not all of it will work (as is the case with any television season) but NBC is still the favorite to win next season (thanks in part to the Super Bowl) and they’ll need every show to count.

Tyler Williams is a professional librarian and amateur television critic.  You can reach him at tytalkstv AT gmail DOT com or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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