Several major shifts indicate that the network, currently at fourth place, is looking to rebuild from scratch.
By John Mitchell
Ahead of its upfront presentation on Monday (May 14), NBC has released its 2012-2013 primetime schedule, and it is heavy on shakeups as the struggling network attempts to refocus and make itself “Must-See TV” again. The biggest and strangest move is the shift of comedies “Whitney” and “Community” to Fridays at 8 and 8:30 p.m., respectively. NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, did not beat around the bush when addressing how industry pundits interpreted the move. “I know that most people in our industry think Friday is a graveyard but we don’t really believe that,” Greenblatt said about the move. “If you don’t build it they won’t come.”
Dramas and crime procedurals aimed at an older audience (think “Ghost Whisperer” and “Medium”) have historically been the only shows able to maintain an audience on the difficult night, and it’s telling that the network made this same move with another low-rated cult hit comedy, “Chuck,” on its fall schedule last year.
Beyond “Community,” there are several major moves on NBC’s lineup that indicate a long-term, full-scale programming overhaul that execs no doubt hope will help the network move out of fourth place and restore the Peacock to its former glory.
Below are some of the biggest changes and what they might mean for the future of your favorite shows.
“The Voice” returns in the fall to anchor Mondays and Tuesdays
“The Voice” has been one of the few true hits NBC has been able to launch in the last several years. Its overall ratings are strong and it is a leader in the 18-49 demographic that advertisers covet. NBC is banking on the show big time next year, airing two cycles (fall and spring) instead of just one, and pairing it with its three most buzzed-about new shows, hoping that its ratings lead-in will spell success across the board.
On Mondays, “The Voice” will toss to J.J. Abrams/Eric Kripke’s hotly anticipated thriller “Revolution” and on Tuesdays to comedies “Go On” and “The New Normal.” “Go On” marks Matthew Perry’s return to NBC after several well-liked but low-rated attempts (“Studio 60,” “Mr. Sunshine”) to rekindle his TV stardom and he’s not taking any chances — the show, a single-camera comedy about a struggling sportscaster, was written and created by his former “Friends” showrunner Scott Silveri specifically for him.
Like “Revolution” and “Go On,” “The New Normal” comes from the mind of another TV giant, “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy. About a gay couple (Andrew Rannells and “Hangover” star Justin Bartha) and their attempts to start a family with a surrogate (Georgia King), who herself is hoping to give her 8-year-old daughter a new start, “Normal” was considered such a sure thing based on its strong pilot and Murphy’s clout that the show began staffing before NBC had even officially announced its pickup.
“Go On” and “Normal” — along with new Wednesday comedies “Animal Practice” and “Guys with Kids” — represent NBC’s push to develop new comedies as it looks to find shows to replace those currently holding down its low-rated, award-winning Thursday lineup.
Thursdays stay the same … for now
NBC has already announced a shortened, 13-episode final season for “30 Rock,” though it pleased many by announcing it was sticking by “Up All Night” and “Parks and Recreation.” Neither show has ever been an all-out ratings winner, but both have been consistent performers, drawing better ratings on Thursdays than the aging “Rock.” While “The Office” is experiencing series-low numbers, it remains the top scripted comedy on the network (that’s how tough things are for NBC right now), and “Parks and Rec” held on to more of its “Office” lead-in audience than either “Rock” or “Night” did in the 9:30 timeslot, so it’s no surprise NBC is keeping the acclaimed comedies where they are.
But with ratings flagging across the board, NBC’s move to keep its Thursday lineup is probably an attempt to appease the very fans they will court for new shows. (“The New Normal” is aimed squarely at the same young adult-to-early-30s audience that got riled when the net didn’t announce an immediate pick-up for “Parks.”)
With so many new comedies in the works at NBC, fans of its Thursday shows would be silly to think that — unless they experience a major ratings turnaround next season — this won’t be the last season of both “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.” “Up All Night” could benefit in the long term if “The New Normal” or any of the family-centric sitcoms the net is launching on Wednesdays take off. NBC execs reportedly like the show, and it is new enough to thrive if paired with the right lead-in.
Say farewell to “Community” and “Whitney”
When it comes to “Community,” Greenblatt perhaps protests too much. The show enjoys a devoted cult audience, but it simply isn’t large enough to justify keeping the show on the air much longer, and it’s very unlikely the small audience it does have will follow it to Friday nights. That said, as with “Parks and Rec” and “The Office,” the net doesn’t want to alienate the show’s fans, so it will — just as it did with its cult-favorite “Chuck” last year — let the increasingly troubled comedy burn off its remaining episodes and go out with a planned-for conclusion.
Need more proof that the show is on its way to the graveyard? Consider its haphazard, ill-fitting lead-in, “Whitney.” The two shows are not only polar opposites on their own, they are aimed at entirely different audiences. (Interestingly, don’t be surprised if “Whitney,” which skews older, does better on Fridays than “Community.”)
After both shows inevitably bite the dust, we wouldn’t be surprised if NBC shifted “Law & Order: SVU” to Fridays to let the show, which has seen its own ratings fall dramatically since Christopher Meloni’s departure, either wind down or enjoy a small-scale resurgence. “SVU” is a more logical fit with the net’s current Friday procedural fantasy “Grimm” and the two shows could prop each other up.
What do you think of NBC’s programming changes? Let us know in the comments below