Part two of the upfront preview is the SCHEDULE-centric portion, examining 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 up better to review the schedule next week without making it all about how my own prediction/recommendation did. But you can probably get some sense of which way I'm leaning.
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
8:00 - The Voice | Hollywood Game Night | The Voice
10:00 - The Blacklist
Question: Which drama gets the best slot on the network?
I'm not as locked-in on development as some, so there may be commenters with better insight into this than me. But it seems there's not as clear a favorite as last year's The Blacklist. Deadline regularly labelled the show "white-hot," and then it actually lived up to the hype ratings-wise. The network is probably best-served funneling the casual Voice audience into another largely procedural show with only a thin serialized element. This might mean the Katherine Heigl series State of Affairs or Debra Messing's The Mysteries of Laura.
8:00 - The Biggest Loser | The Voice
9:00 - The Voice | About a Boy
9:30 - The Voice | Growing Up Fisher
10:00 - Chicago Fire
Question: How dedicated is NBC to getting comedies sampled?
NBC's made some real progress over the last couple years, but their comedy department is still moving in the wrong direction. They have four comedies in contention for next season, none of which can be called anything more than a bubble show. Launching a new show after any of these four would probably be suicide. And, disappointing as Michael J. Fox's show may have looked at the time, it'll be very tough for any of their newbies to garner even that level of initial interest on its own. That leaves this Tuesday 9/8c slot as quite possibly the only hour on the schedule where a new comedy won't be DOA.
But NBC also faces this quandry: even if this hour is best for comedy, it's quite possible comedy isn't best for this hour. NBC's best schedule in terms of overall ratings might see this post-Voice slot dedicated to another drama. Maybe the sophomore Chicago PD could get the same kind of boost Chicago Fire did this year.
So this hour will really test whether NBC is serious about trying to get good comedy ratings at this juncture. If they have a comedy pilot that they think has real hit potential, I think it's gotta be in the 9/8c slot (with About a Boy or another pilot at 9:30). If that doesn't happen, they'll inevitably have some comedy across the next three nights, but little to no hope for improvement.
Whether NBC has the ability to recognize a comedy with real hit potential when they see one is another problem entirely. That's why it's tough to trust in sticking with comedy here.
8:00 - Revolution
9:00 - Law and Order: SVU
10:00 - Ironside | Dateline | Chicago PD
Question: Will NBC mess with modest Wednesday success again?
As mentioned every year, NBC Wednesday has the longest active streak for a network finishing in fourth on a night. (It's now been about a decade.) But that gap has narrowed considerably in the last couple years. It started in 2012-13 with the sleeper success of Chicago Fire. But NBC surprisingly threw the night under the bus at the 2013 upfront, sending Chicago Fire to Tuesday in favor of wild card Revolution and unpromising Ironside.
Once the Ironside debacle was over, NBC still ended up with a respectable (if still fourth place) Wednesday. Revolution at least did well enough to stay in its slot for the full season, Chicago PD returned 10/9c to respectability in the winter, and Law and Order: SVU was the real surprise in actually growing year-to-year.
SVU and PD is, once again, the kind of combo NBC could easily justify leaving alone. In fact, doing so seems even more compelling since PD feels a bit weaker than Fire did at this time last year. But several things could get in the way. NBC could mess with it again, either by cancelling SVU and/or by upgrading Chicago PD to Tuesday, and simply sticking a new show in the vacated slot(s). But they could also mess with it by aiming higher: namely, if this is their destination for The Blacklist.
As for the 8/7c hour: a comedy block will be pretty hard-pressed to manage even Revolution numbers. Their best shot at improvement is a new drama that's, like Revolution, a little off-kilter from the 9-11 crime block. But the comedies have to go somewhere...
8:00 - Parks and Recreation | Community
8:30 - Welcome to the Family | Parks and Recreation
9:00 - Sean Saves the World | Hollywood Game Night
9:30 - The Michael J. Fox Show | Hollywood Game Night
10:00 - Parenthood
Question: Will NBC be scared away from making a real effort on Thursday?
There's really only one way NBC can "make a real effort" at a competitive Thursday lineup: move The Blacklist here, probably at 9/8c leading into a new drama. But that's easier said than done. Assuming it started the fall, it'd have to deal with CBS' Thursday Night Football, and it'd be facing a top drama on ABC (maybe even the top drama Scandal). NBC also wouldn't be able to give it a great lead-in; probably the best they could possibly do would be The Biggest Loser, whereas on Wednesday it may be able to air after something reliable like SVU. It's an interesting tension between "doing the best by The Blacklist" and "having a Thursday night that isn't a laughingstock."
Since CBS will remain with comedy in the 9/8c hour (and not very strong ones) and probably won't be that strong at 10/9c, a drama block still seems doable for NBC. There should be some room for an alternative to the ABC dramas, which skew so heavily toward women 18-34.
8:00 - Dateline
9:00 - Grimm
10:00 - Dracula | Hannibal
Question: How much money does NBC want to spend on a Grimm lead-out?
This year, NBC had a much more coherent plan for Friday, using tentpole Grimm to lead into a couple inexpensive limited-run co-productions. These co-productions didn't massively bomb, but they didn't pull ratings that would put them on the bubble under normal circumstances.
What we don't know is how NBC feels about that result. I'd be inclined to continue down the same path, trying a new co-production in the fall and reserving Hannibal for midseason again, but that's not a terribly informed opinion. Maybe NBC needs better ratings for this to be a win; case in point: buzz suggesting NBC might try a "normal" cost drama like Constantine in the hour.
If a normal-cost drama actually does go here, it should be a new one. Something like Revolution or Believe (or even Parenthood) might provide a small improvement on Dracula/Hannibal, but it doesn't seem like it would be enough of one to justify the cost.
7:00 - Football Night in America | Dateline | American Dream Builders
8:00 - Sunday Night Football | American Dream Builders | Dateline
9:00 - Sunday Night Football | Believe
10:00 - Sunday Night Football | Crisis
Question: Can NBC make Sunday in the spring more of an event than Believe and Crisis did?
Resurrection proved it's highly possible to at least open well on this night, but NBC's Believe and Crisis proved it isn't exactly easy, especially when starting from scratch lead-in-wise. So I'm expecting NBC to try one or more of its "event" things here. The follow-up to The Bible? The Heroes revival? Does Celebrity Apprentice return?
I've been saying this for pretty much the series' whole run, so I'll just re-heat the notion that I've always wanted to see how Parenthood would do in an early hour on Sunday. If it doesn't get a fall slot, this could be where NBC at least initially pencils it in. But whatever the network plans for this night should be seen as subject to change (even if they happened to stick with it this year).