Monday, May 9, 2011

Upfront Questions, NBC

Upfronts begin on May 16, one week from today! This week, I'm gonna add my voice to the slew of pre-upfront articles out there with "Upfront Questions," in which I break down each night of the current schedule. THIS IS NOT A PREDICTION. I'm just listing the potentially returning puzzle pieces each network's got on the nights they last aired, then laying out what I see as the issues the schedulers have to deal with on each night. Rather than commit to one possibility, I'll try to help with the range of possibilities and considerations. Since I'm not really that interested in development, I think that's about the best I can do. Next week I'll do "Upfront Answers" posts and take a look at how they addressed my questions.

Shows in green are already renewed for next season. The ones in BOLD are (in my opinion) very likely to return to their current timeslots. The ones with a question mark (?) have genuine doubt about their renewal.

Other Upfront Questions: Fox

8:00 - Chuck?
9:00 -
10:00 - Harry's Law? / Law & Order: LA?

Question: What's the next Monday centerpiece?

The last big Monday centerpiece for NBC was Heroes, which launched in 2006 and ran for four years. It was only really a big hit for the first two of those years, but it was still a very suitable anchor in the third year. For the last two, the network's had trouble getting anything going. The Event was the NBC Monday heir apparent last fall but has fizzled. Harry's Law seems fairly likely to return, Chuck's got a chance and I threw in LOLA, but that's a long shot. It's clear none of those will be the defining show on a competitive NBC Monday. They could also move something like Parenthood over, but that's not gonna be a game-changer either. If NBC wants any chance on this night, they've gotta shake it up.

8:00 - The Biggest Loser / The Voice
10:00 - Parenthood / The Voice

Question: An embarrassment of riches? On NBC?!

The strong finale from Parenthood and the enormous performance from the early weeks of The Voice mean that NBC legitimately has several different returning shows that will have last aired on Tuesday. They're probably not all gonna stay there. I suppose they could run The Biggest Loser in the fall and The Voice in the spring and Parenthood after both of them, but I just think this is too much stuff to keep on one night when there are such problems on Monday and Wednesday. The Voice may even take up two nights. Whenever The Voice comes back, I think I'd run it two hours on Tuesdays and an hour on Wednesday and put a promising new drama after it on Tuesday. The other two are nice little shows but not in the same ratings stratosphere, so the scheduling should start with what's best for The Voice and those shows will have to work around that. For Biggest Loser fans who have been pleading for NBC to shorten its bloated two-hour telecasts for years, the breakout of Voice may finally be the impetus.

8:00 - Minute to Win It
9:00 -
10:00 - Law & Order: SVU

Question: How to stay above water on Reality Wednesday?

About four months ago in my Midseason Matchups Wednesday post, I expressed fear that Minute to Win It would get "Power-of-10ed" against all the reality in that timeslot. It showed some promise before a lot of the reality players entered the mix, but it was hopeless against the full gamut. There won't be Idol in the fall, but there will still be incoming X Factor and Survivor and Top Model. Minute to Win It's coming back, but it certainly won't come back to this slot and beyond certainly not in the fall. Moving more reality like Biggest Loser over here could be similarly perilous. Unless there's a fall edition of The Voice, I think they'll try something scripted, but it's anybody's guess what. I morbidly hope NBC returns SVU to 9:00 just to see everyone's brains explode all over again because SVU is "a 10:00 show," but barring a perfect pairing, I think it just stays at 10.

8:00 - Community
8:30 -
9:00 - The Office
9:30 - Parks & Recreation
10:00 - 30 Rock
10:30 - Outsourced?

Question: Will NBC comedy cut its Thursday losses and seek new frontiers?

The three-hour NBC comedy experiment has not been much of a success, but that's not because "people don't want to watch comedy at 10:00." The 10:00 hour has actually done better than the 8:00 hour, with 30 Rock doing way better than the slumping Community plus Outsourced (which I still think has a shot at season 2, but not a very good one) easily outdoing all the 8:30 flops. The four veteran comedies on the evening have all been renewed, so it's not like they're getting out of the niche singlecam business. The question is whether there will be new comedies integrated into this lineup (like the Christina Applegate family comedy with a 30 Rock-esque tone) or whether they'll just cut it down to those four shows and start a new comedy "brand" elsewhere (perhaps with the Chelsea Handler and Whitney Cummings multicams). I wouldn't even rule out both, but even as a big fan of this "brand," I'd lean toward knocking the Thursday block back to two hours and seeing how it holds up in a full season without Steve Carell on The Office. Three hours may be stretching it a bit thin.

8:00 - Who Do You Think You Are?
9:00 - Dateline NBC

Question: Can NBC resist the two-hour Dateline?

Let's be clear on something: them resisting the two-hour Dateline at the upfront does not mean they won't resist it very soon into the fall season. Last year's upfront had Who Do You Think You Are? and School Pride at 8:00, just an hour of Dateline at 9:00 and then Outlaw at 10:00. All those shows did eventually air, but they never aired together, and Dateline was only ever reduced to one hour due to special programming. Bottom line is that Dateline is a cheap way to get an OK-for-Friday demo, and most attempts to do otherwise aren't even gonna measure up to that mediocre standard. WDYTYA? and perhaps something like Minute to Win It will make decent fill-ins for the third hour of the evening. I don't expect them to try something scripted on Friday, but I thought that last year and was wrong. (Though I guess its epic fail got me the last laugh in the end...)

7:00 - Football Night in America / Dateline NBC
8:00 (fall) - Sunday Night Football?
9:00 (spring) -  The Celebrity Apprentice?

Question: What if NBC loses both the NFL (to a labor dispute) and Donald Trump (to a presidential run)?

I'm trying to make most of these questions into things that will be answered at the upfront. This one won't. I'd expect them to name Sunday Night Football as their Sunday program and not say anything about The Celebrity Apprentice. If they lose the NFL but not Trump, I'd expect two cycles of Celebrity Apprentice next season. Losing Trump is a tougher proposition, but I believe NBC would probably find some inexpensive and unscripted way to get through whatever calendar space they have to get through.

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