Monday, May 6, 2013

2013 Upfront Questions, NBC

Part two of the upfront preview is the SCHEDULE-centric portion, as I examine the big-picture scheduling questions each network faces on each night in the final week before its upfront. I've always favored laying out the possibilities rather than creating an actual mock schedule; this seems to set me up better to review the schedule next week without making it all about how my own prediction/recommendation did.

Last week's Power Rankings were the SHOW-centric portion, in which I drilled more into the merits of individual shows: NBC True Power Rankings

Other Upfront Questions: NBC | Fox | ABC | CBS | CW


2012-13 Schedule
8:00 - The Voice / The Biggest Loser
10:00 - Revolution / Deception

Question: Is standing pat with Revolution a necessary financial play?

As I said last week, NBC could potentially cut back their large order for season two of wild card Revolution, but now that they've announced 22 episodes, they will more likely try to avoid an early Happy Endings or Smash-esque meltdown right out of the gate. My guess? The 22-episode order means Revolution gets another half-season in a direct post-Voice slot. Beyond that, we'll have to re-evaluate, but at least it'll minimize the chances of trimming the order or burning off a massive chunk of the season.

If they don't leave Revolution in a really good slot? I'd send a note under the table to the producers, letting them know they'd better be prepared to end the series at almost any time during the back half of the order.


2012-13 Schedule
8:00 - The Voice / Off Their Rockers
9:00 - Go On / Ready for Love / The Voice
9:30 - The New Normal / Ready for Love / The Voice
10:00 - Parenthood / Smash / Ready for Love / Grimm

Question: Will a string of post-Voice mediocrity change the direction of the lead-outs?

Pretty much since The Voice premiered I've been wondering if/when NBC would use The Voice to try to launch a procedural franchise. Many a standalone drama on many a network has grown to legit success with the help of a huge reality franchise lead-in, from CSI (after Survivor) to House (after American Idol) to Castle (after Dancing with the Stars). (And The Biggest Loser no doubt helped Law and Order: SVU hold strong in the mid-aughts as the rest of NBC was collapsing.) An accompanying procedural is an important thing for NBC to pursue, because it's difficult to get into the procedural game these days without some kind of support system. Many a "next great cop show" effort like Prime Suspect can attest to that. Bigger concepts like Revolution have more potential to attract attention on their own.

In the post-Voice slot, those big concepts like Smash and Revolution haven't broken through, and comedy Go On and reality Ready for Love definitely didn't work. Yes, those shows themselves deserve much of the blame. It's not that those genres can't work. But at this point, why not? I wouldn't want them to wake up in a couple years and see their massive lead-in burning out before they ever tried.


2012-13 Schedule
8:00 - Animal Practice / Whitney / Dateline
8:30 - Guys with Kids / Dateline
9:00 - Law and Order: SVU
10:00 - Chicago Fire 

Question: Will NBC stand behind its rare glimmer of Wednesday hope?

As mentioned in last year's edition, NBC Wednesday was the only combo of network/night that had finished in fourth place for each of the last six years. The streak continued in 2012-13, but the SVU/Chicago Fire lineup was an unquestionable step in the right direction. Compare it to some of what cycled through the night last year, from Harry's Law to Rock Center to Bent. Though I've been in favor of SVU to Thursday, the more I think about this, the more I think NBC is going to leave SVU and Chicago Fire alone. It's not the best situation for SVU, but that's not the show NBC should be bending over for at this point. And we know NBC can do much worse in this hour.

Much like CBS, NBC will have plenty of things to promote on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday almost regardless of what they do on Wednesday. So a lineup that doesn't need to get promoted much would probably be welcome. I could still see a big Wednesday shake-up, but it probably only comes if the Thursday lineup is much less shaken up than most are expecting.


2012-13 Schedule
8:00 - 30 Rock / Community
8:30 - Up All Night / Parks and Recreation
9:00 - The Office
9:30 - Parks and Recreation / 1600 Penn
10:00 - Rock Center / Do No Harm / Hannibal

Question: What form does a revamped NBC Thursday take?

Last year I said: "I really do think we're now past the point where NBC can just throw on Community / 30 Rock / Office / Parks and pump their fist into the air." Well, oops. They basically did that, except they had Up All Night in the fall and Community at midseason. (And they threw in one final surrender for good measure at 10/9c with Rock Center.)  But NBC's a deeper network than a year ago; players like The Voice, Parenthood and Grimm feel more entrenched, while they added another OK player to the stable in Chicago Fire. So there's really no need for NBC to raise the white flag on an entire night this year.

But surrendering Thursday in 2012-13 means the network is essentially starting from scratch, as they've been doing on Wednesday for every year in recent memory. They could really go in any direction. They could maintain the comedy Thursday tradition with a two-hour block including two, three or even four new shows. Maybe their best comedy hope at this point is to explode back into the game the way ABC did with its four-newbie block in fall 2009. But unless you have a Middle and a Modern Family, that can really blow up. (See Fox's Tuesday last season.) Does Michael J. Fox's show actually have Modern Family potential? They could also swerve out of the comedy game entirely, perhaps a shrewd counterprogramming decision if it looks like CBS is adding a sitcom hour. A tri-drama night? Is a reality franchise like The Biggest Loser the best play? When the slate is so clean, it's hard to come up with a strong opinion in any direction... but I would guess yet another stab at comedy is probably most likely.


2012-13 Schedule
8:00 - Dateline / Fashion Star
9:00 - Grimm / Dateline
10:00 - Dateline / Rock Center

Question: Will NBC make a more definitive statement about its Friday scripted priorities?

It's become clear in the last two seasons that Grimm is something of an asset for NBC. But it's an asset that they still haven't figured out how to use. The filler/Grimm/filler lineup has never felt like a very good use of a decent-rated drama. Grimm's not exactly a huge launch-pad, but it should be a decent lead-in by Friday standards. And while Grimm has continued to hold up in its tough Friday spot, if/when the audience begins drifting away, that'll only be accelerated by the utter lack of support. NBC should either go with multiple scripted hours (filler/Grimm/Hannibal?) or zero scripted hours, using Grimm as a hole-filler on Wednesday or Thursday. I'd prefer a coherent plan of "cheap crap" to the incoherent, flow-free Friday of today.


2012-13 Schedule
7:00 - Football Night in America / Dateline
8:00 - Sunday Night Football / Dateline
9:00 - Sunday Night Football / Celebrity Apprentice
10:00 - Sunday Night Football / Celebrity Apprentice

Question: Is Celebrity Apprentice no longer big enough to be the midseason Sunday solution?

My guess is that it isn't; after all, NBC was already trying to phase it out at the upfront last year, but Ready for Love's move to Tuesday meant a return to two-hour Apprentice episodes. Celebrity Apprentice has continued to decline faster than the league average, and the face of the program continues to say embarrassing things on social media. It might eke out another season, but the Olympics break in February could actually give NBC more spring options in the slot than usual. (Like a post-Olympics launch of The Biggest Loser?)

Of course, the ratings are off the charts, so you never know...


Spot said...

I think you know some of us are going to churn out fantasy schedules anyway. So here's mine prefaced with the statement that I don't expect this (or any of my schedules) to really be announced, and mostly just built from renewed, already-announced, or shows I think are likely to be picked up.

8:00 - The Voice
10:00 - Revolution

8:00 - The Voice
9:00 - Chicago Fire Spinoff
10:00 - Parenthood

8:00 - Untitled Michael J Fox sitcom
8:30 - Parks & Recreation
9:00 - Law & Order: SVU
10:00 - Chicago Fire

8:00 - The Biggest Loser
10:00 - Grimm

8:00 - Off Their Rockers
9:00 - Dateline
10:00 - Rock Center

7:00 - Football Night in America
8:30 - Sunday Night Football

Midseason: Celebrity Apprentice, Community, Go On

If I'm NBC, I'd concentrate my firepower behind Michael J Fox's new sitcom in the fall. While the promos of "Michael J Fox returns to NBC Thursdays!" write themselves, it'd face either The Big Bang Theory or possibly an expanded comedy block from CBS. It'd have an easier time on Wednesdays against The Middle and Survivor. Meanwhile, the Chicago Fire spinoff would be a good candidate for the post-Voice Tuesday slot; the crossover potential could also help Chicago Fire. Fridays are a good place for cheap filler like Off Their Rockers and would at least make the night more consistent.

This schedule basically forces NBC to save a lot of its shows for midseason and a post-Olympics launch. That's the main reason I especially don't think NBC will use The Biggest Loser on Thursday and instead King Solomon the show on both sides of the Olympics for Mondays. Otherwise, January 2013 would be the good ol' days compared to January 2014. But the Olympics almost give NBC a Bye Year to concentrate on building anchors for 2014-2015 and shows to hammock between them.

Spot said...

Here are my answers to your questions:

I have been advocating a move to Tuesday at 10pm from Rev with Believe bridging it with the voice but it has fallen so much that I am no longer confident in that plan. When all is said and done, I believe NBC's best bet is to minimize the number of changed nights and leave Revolution here until midseason to later reevaluate.

I would say yes. I would go heavy on a drama here (and another one Mondays at 10pm, yes). I think that NBC really needs drama before they need comedies - a network when is in bad shape needs dramas to stabilize its schedule, not comedies. One caveat: since I am proposing for NBC to leave Revolution on Mondays and since I believe Parenthood is needed elsewhere (actually, in multiple elsewheres), I would move The Voice to 9pm and launch new dramas around it. The 8pm drama will have a hard time doing the job against NCIS, but I don't think it is impossible and in any case, they can put the voice on for 2 hours as they are doing now if there is need for it. Put the procedural thing at 10pm, away from the NCIS twins, and the high concept show, which should be able to self start at 8pm.

For a long time, I have argued against keeping SVU there. It just seems perfect to the 10pm slot on Thursday. Now I understand the argument for keeping it there, because the slot really is very tough so the raw numbers don't give it the credit it deserves (your True score does). The problem is that there is another side to this coin, which is what else do they put on the Thursday at 10pm slot? Unless they are willing to give up completely on Fridays and plug Grimm in there, I think there is only one other solution: Parenthood. In my dream schedule I have had Parenthood/New Drama/Chicago Fire for Wednesday. I now conceed that something like New Drama/SVU/Chicago Fire for Wednesdays, with Parenthood on Thursdays makes the most sense. But they need to make sure that they pick a drama that is capable of self start the night and that they strongly promote it.

I think they will keep chasing after comedies to be honest. If not for anything else, for the sole reason that I don't see them not having a 2 hours comedy block on the schedule and this is the only day where that is feasible (no, they won't go head to head with ABC on Wednesday IMO). I would pick only 2 new comedies for the fall, let Parks and Community continue on the 8pm hour and strongly promote the new things at 9pm. Parenthood, as disussed, takes over the 10pm hour.

I agree 100% with you that they need to make up their minds. I would move Grimm up an hour and launch Dracula at 9pm, with Dateline at 10pm. Give them hallowen launches so that they are helped by the themes and so that it avoids huge hiatus come midseason.

TBL can solve this problem easily. The Apprentice or The Sing Off can take over mondays in january and december. Depending on how everything else is going, maybe launch a new drama after it.

Spot said...

Monday - No Changes

8. The Voice
9. The Voice
10. Revolution

Tuesday - Two new Dramas [The Voice Halo Effect]
8. Believe or Blacklist or Crossbones or The Sixth Gun [High Concept Show]
9. The Voice
10. I am Viktor or Another New Procedural

Wednesday [New Drama, the rest stays the same]

8. New Drama [After Hours?]

9. Law and Order: SVU
10. Chicago Fire

Thursday [1 new comedy hour, Parenthood for the rescue of the 10pm hour]

8. Community
8h30 Parks and Recreation
9h New Comedy
9h30 New Comedy
10h Parenthood

8. Grimm
9. Dracula
10. Dateline

Sunday (midseason)
8. The Biggest Looser
9. The Biggest Looser
10. New Drama (to re-assess)

Spot said...

I don't dislike your schedule though:
- I think Off Their Rocker is better if saved as midseason filler, as it can quickly replace any holes they need.
- 1 new drama is too little to launch in the fall IMO. They can do more than that and they should (I have 3 new dramas, which you will probably say is a lot but at least 2 I think they should launch)
- I want them to cut their fall comedy hours to half, but you want them to have 1/4 of what they had, I think it is too little comedy too. Basically, even though I have toyed with the idea before, I don't think they will have TBL in the fall.

Spot said...

The Wednesday grab-bag should stop.

Spot said...

I think we all agree that NBC's current comedy slate is, ironically, a joke. Other than Parks & Recreation, everything else is a reach to renew. Amortizing the risk of new sitcoms gives NBC the time and advertising budget to laser-focus on whatever they are highest on.

I don't think that TBL should also be part of their midseason schedule; going unstated in my idea is that this schedule relies on NBC picking up a lot of midseason shows. I'd save an all-new 4-comedy-and-a-drama lineup for after the Olympics to run through May and take advantage of when CBS goes into reruns/preemptions for NCAA tournament coverage (though the Olympics may change their usual scheduling next year).

Spot said...

What NBC Should Do For Fall 2013-14

8:00 – The Voice
10:00 – New Procedural

The Voice has the potential to be a huge launching pad; it just needs the proper lead-out program. I think an interesting procedural would work best.

8:00 – The Voice
9:00 – Revolution
10:00 – Parenthood

In order to avoid another Smash-esque collapse, I think NBC needs to continue protecting Revolution. Tuesday at 9:00 would be the best slot for Revolution, because it will still get to take advantage of a large lead-in, but the more potent Monday edition of The Voice can be used to launch something new. Parenthood should continue to do well at 10:00, and it may even benefit from a potentially stronger lead-in.

8:00 – Community
8:30 – New Comedy
9:00 – Parks and Recreation
9:30 – New Comedy
10:00 – Chicago Fire

I think NBC's best night to build a comedy line-up is Wednesday, where the competition is not as stiff as Thursday. Community could probably do well at 8:00 against a collapsing American Idol and a modestly-rated The Middle. A promising new comedy should air at 8:30. Parks and Recreation is an established show, so I think it would hold up the best against Modern Family at 9:00. Then it could help launch a new comedy at 9:30. Chicago Fire has been doing well at 10:00, so I'd leave it.

8:00 – The Biggest Loser
10:00 – Law & Order: SVU

NBC needs to shake up Thursday, and I think the best way to start is by utilizing two established veterans. The Biggest Loser can definitely do decently from 8:00-10:00, and Law & Order: SVU should hold up at 10:00.

8:00 – Grimm
9:00 – New Drama
10:00 – Hannibal

I think NBC would do best with a drama line-up on Friday. Grimm would be able to lead-off the night with strong numbers, and help launch a compatible new drama. Hannibal has shown the ability to (a) build on its lead-in and (b) do well against minimized competition, so I think it could manage decent numbers at 10:00, even if the new 9:00 drama flops.

7:00 – Football Night in America
8:30 – Sunday Night Football

Why touch the highest rated show on television?

Spot said...

That sounds good to me. ABC will flail Thurs@8 as always, and guys will have an alternative to the soaps. FOX...who knows? I would prepare my schedule as if CBS went comedy 8-10

Spot said...

Monday: 8 The Voice, 10 Revolution
Personally, I'd have cancelled Revolution, but NBC think they can avoid The Smash Crash II, and the only way they can do that is to leave this night alone. At least Revolution created one (half?) season of Monday dominance (and probably did potentially terminal damage to Hawaii Five-0). And this way, the promotional fire from easily the biggest multi-hour shows on television is focused entirely on midweek.

Tuesday: 8 The Voice, 9 new procedural, 10 Parenthood

Part of me wants to put MJF here because it has the most upside. Part of me thinks that ought to not need the slot. Part of me wants to put Chicago Fire here because it could take a huge sophomore step up (and it will likely beat Revolution next season even if it doesn't have a Voice lead-in and Revolution does, it's becoming that much stronger a show). Part of me thinks you don't move a winning show.

The other option is to put the Chicago Fire spinoff here and have the mothership flip with Parenthood. However, you then surely have to move SVU to Thursdays.

Wednesday: 8 new drama, 9 SVU, 10 Chicago Fire

If it weren't for promotional considerations, I'd flip the returning dramas - Chicago Fire has more upside and SVU is a 10pm show - but again, save your promotion for the newbies. Also, it keeps Chicago Fire out of a timeslot that could devour it.

Thursday: 8 Community, 8:30 Parks, 9 MJF, 9:30 new comedy, 10 Grimm

Grimm earned a timeslot upgrade about a thousand times over, and NBC belatedly recognised that. Its post-Voice performance suggests it doesn't have massive upside potential, though - but its audience will be more stable in this slot, and maybe the writers can take a few more chances with content here? Community is the only non-Parks comedy I'd even consider renewing, and as a sacrificial lamb in the Thursday lead-off slot, I like it. Some of the fans actually make a point of picking it over TBBT ("real geeks watch Community"). Its audience is volatile, but I don't think TBBT is why - Community up weeks don't always correspond with TBBT down weeks at all.

Friday: 8 unscripted, 9 Dateline, 10 Rock Center.

That's your coherent plan of cheap crap!

Midseason Sundays: 8 filler, 9-11 TBL

Two-hour reality is a good solution for the 10pm hour. Ready For Love and Celebrity Apprentice... are not good solutions anywhere. And if TBL warrants one and only one cycle next season, where else to put it but here, with an obviously compatible promotional buildup?

Spot said...


8-10: The Voice
10: The Sixth Gun


8-9: The Voice
9-10: The Blacklist
10-11: Parenthood

8: Michael J. Fox
8:30: About A Boy
9: Parks & Recreation
9:30: Community
10: Chicago Fire

8: Believe
9: Revolution
10: Grimm


8: Reality
9: Dateline
10: Rock Center

Sunday (after football):

7-9: Dateline
9-11: The Biggest Loser

Even though I was just looking at the blurbs on Deadline, I just feel better about the dramas. The sitcoms are all about quirky singles (Friends) and balancing work and home life (Frasier). I wouldn't be surprised if all of NBC's comedies got thrown on Thursday, but I think it would be a mistake because Big Bang is so strong and I think that between it and the still-strong 2 1/2 Men it would never get off the ground. CBS saw weakness in the sitcom field on Thursday and pounced. There is weakness on Wednesday now, and NBC needs to do the same.

Spot said...

CBS saw weakness, sure. But it also had an opportunity to do something about it, since it was obvious that Big Bang had a built-in audience (and this was even before two straight years of growth c/o syndication). I don't see an obvious game-changer for NBC out of their current or upcoming shows (since the Michael J Fox project seems like it could go the route of Last Man Standing or Cougar Town, w/ a big premiere due to the name, and a big flameout if it's no good in the long run). They'd also be going up against a much more entrenched comedy block than CBS was when Big Bang landed on Thursdays. Given all that, I'm not sure that NBC is really in position to pounce successfully.

Spot said...

I agree with One. I think people are crazy to think that a comedy block that has average a 2.6 (!!) this season is something to be taken on like that. If they couldn't even compete with the 8pm hour anchored by the middle, why would people think it could compete with the 9pm hour anchored by freaking modern family? Sure, big bang theory is no friendly competitor but it is not like a family block anchored by MF is some light competitor that is worth shifting two nights completely around to face it. Hell, even The Neighbors would be the highest rated comedy on NBC this season not called The Office - it is not some soft competition!

Spot said...

Monday and Tuesday: I don't dislike but I am not sure Mondays at 10pm is that much of a better slot to launch a new show than Tuesdays at 9pm. Sure, the voice is like 1 point higher, but viewership levels are lower at 10pm, and even competition wise, especially during fall with sports, I am not sure it is worth the extra move. You are better off saving on promotion and just let Revolution be, at least until midseason.

Wednesday/ Thursday: I have just published my views on moving the comedy block to Wednesday on the post above, so I will just copy it again: I think people are crazy to think that a comedy block that has averaged a
2.6 (!!) this season is something to be taken on like that. If they
couldn't even compete with the 8pm hour anchored by the middle, why
would people think it could compete with the 9pm hour anchored by
freaking modern family? Sure, big bang theory is no friendly competitor
but it is not like a family block anchored by MF is some light
competitor that is worth shifting two nights completely around to face
it. Hell, even The Neighbors would be the highest rated comedy on NBC
this season not called The Office - it is not some soft competition! Definetely not worth moving two nights around like that.

I would put Dateline at 10pm instead of Hannibal. Hannibal is at 1 levels on a Thursday - it would be sub 1 on Friday and Dateline does better.

Also, I understand your idea of using TBL to stabilize and I have toyed with the idea myself (although, as I have said, that should be Wednesdays, not Thursdays), but ultimately, I think only 2 new week hour (1 new drama on Mondays and 2 new comedies on Wednesday is too much) - NBC is not in such a good shape (by any means) that they don't need to launch more than that.

Spot said...

I think the Olympics are a great platform to launch new shows (certainly 2 times better than a typical midseason launch for a show). However, I think people are over-estimating its value as launching pad. I am not sure they would get much better results than during fall, when viewing levels are typically much higher and people are much more willing to try out new shows. Sure, they should have an abnormally high number of shows in midseason, but that does not mean, IMO, that they should go completely unbalanced and put all their eggs in the midseason basket, which is basically what your scheduling is doing it. If anything, look at it as a two chance within the same year - they should take advantage of both, not just the second one. I don't see any value in that.

Spot said...

OK, but if not Wednesday, then why Thursday? If anything, Big Bang, 2 1/2 Men and Mom will prove even stronger competition.

Spot said...

Because Monday and Tuesdays are not available because the voice is there and because Friday is not an option. So it is a question of Wednesday or Thursdays. Listen, if we were talking about a network that would start next year from scratch, then I can agree that Wednesdays are a more suitable night to launch a block than Thursdays (although still far from ideal). But we are talking about a network that is already operating. You don't destroy two nights like that in the hopes that two new completely revamped nights would work. They finally have some sort of thing going on Wednesdays - the marginal benefit they could have from moving the block around is really worth all the risk that destroying that entails? As nice as it sounds the idea of The Biggest Looser or dramas on Thursday, they will never do gangbusters in there. Sure, the comedy competition is fierce, but so is the drama competition. The risk-potential return trade-off just isn't appealing enough.

Ideally, what I think would maximize this would be two individual blocks on different nights (Wednesday and Thursday) but I don't see NBC giving up a 2 hour block anytime soon.

Spot said...

Whitney and Guys with Kids getting cancelled doesn't piss me off. With their ratings, I kind of expected it. Community being renewed with ratings that weren't much better didn't faze me, either, what with competition (TBBT) and syndication concerns. Plus, they probably want to give the newbie showrunners a decent chance. Go On and The New Normal possibly getting renewed with near-as-makes-no-difference the same non-Voice boosted ratings at a higher HUT hour, on the other hand...that makes me blind with rage. Why single out the multi-cams this way?

Spot said...

I don't know if Spot's going to do a renewal/cancellation/pilot pick-up post, so I'll just put a brief list of what happened.


Parks & Recreation

1600 Penn
Animal Practice
Go On
Guys With Kids
The New Normal

Up All Night


Chicago Fire

Do No Harm

Still waiting on Hannibal.

All in all, not a good year for the Peacock. Only 2 of 9 rookies going on. But they had to clear the board, so good on them for doing that.

Pilot Pick-ups:


About a Boy (single-camera)
Family Guide (single)
Undateable (multi)
Michael J. Fox (single)
Sean Saves the World (multi)
Welcome to the Family (single)


Night Shift
The Blacklist

Man. I still can't believe they didn't pick up Sixth Gun.

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