To NBC: A Suggested Fall Schedule (Because Stability is the Name of the Game and Stability Does Not Mean Relying on "The Voice")

posted Feb 19, 2013, 8:30 AM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Feb 20, 2013, 9:13 PM ]

Last week Les Moonves, the grand poobah of CBS, was speaking to analysts about his #1 ranked network. He claimed that they weren't going to need very much for the fall by way of new programming.

While CBS is still by far the most stable of the networks in terms of both ratings and programming, such a claim would have been more true a couple of years ago than today. 

I started thinking about what CBS is really facing and what I would suggest for the fall. Then I decided I had to do the same thing for NBC, ABC and FOX. I don’t bother with the CW. I don’t consider that a broadcast network its niche targeting and inability to effectively program TEN primetime hours (less than half that of the Big Three) without resorting to clones and remakes.

These suggested schedules are built on two things: what I think the best pilot premises are and existing shows worth renewing. I largely veered away from concepts that seemed derivative, limited in premise, too high-concept or sounded unnecessarily violent -- where I could. You’ll notice that I am a bit of a purist when it comes to marrying formats together between multi-camera comedies and single-camera comedies.

I don’t take into consideration any existing deals with producers and studios or other financial matters because I either don’t know, don’t care or just abjectly hate the concept they’ve managed to pitch to pilot. I also don’t take into consideration the execution of the pilot because I’m probably not going to be able to see them anyway. Keep in mind that all of this is based on the information I have at my disposal -- largely from deadline.com.

Lastly, I don’t take into consideration A1849 ratings because it’s an outdated demo that the networks all need to abandon in favor of A35+, a more relevant demographic given the fact that those “valuable and elusive younger viewers” do not watch television the same way adult viewers do AND NEVER WILL.

New shows are highlighted in yellow. Returning shows with new time slots are CAPITALIZED. New show descriptions follow each night with rationale for why a certain show was scheduled for a certain time slot or otherwise moved to a new one.

General network notes come at the end.

We’ll see how my schedules compare to the actual fall schedules when they are unveiled in May.


NBC 

The former stalwart of network TV still tries to crow like a proud peacock when it should really be licking its wounds in the corner somewhere.

Though everyone and their mother crowed about its demo success in the fall, that "success" was driven by Sunday Night Football and The Voice – neither of which are currently in play. All that "success" did was mask the general weakness of the schedule from everyone but me. A better-run network or even vintage NBC would be better able to leverage such marginal success into greater success for the network as a whole.

NBC will instead continue to rely on The Voice with its limited shelf life, rest on the laurels of its powerhouse Sunday Night Football and all but abandon the early 80s approach to programming that made NBC a top-rated network across the board for nearly 20 years -- and a joke for much of the last ten.

My suggested schedule for NBC is rooted in pure stability (despite the fact that there are six new comedies and three new dramas slated) and far less reliance on The Voice. I cut down The Voice to one cycle so as to not burn out the potential longevity of the franchise itself. Also, in the tradition of American Idol, no competition series with a live element should have two cycles. I kept The Voice on the fall to better promote the winter premieres toward the end of its fall run and because I anticipate the fall cycle to far out-rate the spring cycle. Regardless, premiering The Voice at the end of March in the middle of the American Idol season can’t be good (last year both went head-to-head in January).

Here is a link to all the pilots ordered by NBC. See if you agree with my choices. http://www.deadline.com/2013-nbc-pilots/


MONDAY

                                                     (Fall)                                                 (Winter/Spring)
                                                     8pm – The Voice                             8pm – Assistance / Brenda Forever
                                                     10pm – Revolution                         9pm – GRIMM
                                                                                                               10pm – Wonderland

The fall remains unchanged. But the recommended reduction of The Voice to one cycle opens up another night for two new comedies and one new drama leading into another season of Grimm – which doesn’t belong on Friday nights amidst a variety of unscripted programming.

Revolution has never aired without a Voice lead-in, so it’s not known if it can hold its own like Castle was eventually able to do without its Dancing with the Stars lead-in on ABC. Therefore, it is best to continue to protect Revolution by only airing it in the fall following The Voice for a specified number of episodes so the writers and producers can effectively plot out the season and NBC can air them with minimal interruption.

Though it’s risky to launch a night with TWO new comedies – especially in the spring, CBS’s hour, which already took a hit against The Voice last fall, could be even more vulnerable if longtime viewers, wary of having to wait yet another year to find out who the damn Mother is, alienate the show until the very end. It’s a long shot, but it’s a possibility. Either way, Assistance and Brenda Forever, with their female leading characters and single-camera format will be great counter-programming to CBS, which is certain to remain highly competitive on the night.

Holding the night together is Grimm in the tentpole position leading into the similarly fantastical Wonderland. I’m not particularly thrilled with the concept of a modernized adaptation of the children’s literary classic, but it will make a great companion piece to Grimm – which has been be.reft of one throughout its largely spotty broadcast history.

Assistance: An idealistic “working girl” assistant is pulled between her colleague (“work husband”) and her real-life fiance while trying to manage a demanding (translation: crazy) boss. Based on a play by Headland. (single-camera comedy 

Brenda Forever: Stories from Brenda Miller’s past and present are interwoven to give a unique portrait of how a chubby, awkward, but incredibly confident 13-year-old grew up to be a 31-year-old woman who still marches to the beat of her own drum. (single-camera comedy)

Wonderland: Set in the world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, Wonderland is set in modern times and centers on Alice and a new character, Clara. Seven years ago, Clara’s life took an unexplained turn for the worse, and a mysterious stranger tells her there may be an explanation after all… an explanation that lies in the fantastical world of Wonderland. To revive her dreams and get her life back on track, Clara must wage war against Wonderland’s reigning Queen, the woman we once knew as Alice. (drama)


TUESDAY

                                                (Fall)                                                    (Winter/Spring)
                                                8pm – The Voice                                8pm – Sean Hayes Show / GUYS WITH KIDS   
                                                9pm – PARENTHOOD                     9pm - Parenthood
                                                10pm – CHICAGO FIRE                 10pm – Chicago Fire

- Despite the changes, there is only one new show on this night, the currently untitled Sean Hayes starter. NBC has spent the last couple of years trying to get Hayes back in front of the camera in a starring role (Hayes has recurred on Up All Night, will guest star on Smash and also produces Grimm – along with Hot in Cleveland and The Soul Man on TV Land).

- As is the case with Monday nights, Tuesdays are split in the lead-off hour between one cycle of The Voice results show in the fall and a new hour of comedies in the winter/spring that can be highly promoted toward the end of the fall cycle of The Voice.

- With Hayes as a known entity from his work on Will & Grace, he’s another logical choice to lead-off a night despite the fact that his will be a new show. In an odd move, a new show would lead into a returning show – the low-rated Guys with Kids, which suffered from two week lead-ins this season: the quickly cancelled Animal Practice and the much-maligned Whitney (which I’ve cancelled). Kids is light, silly fun that actually got funnier throughout its first season. Given Hayes’ brand of broad humor, exhibited on Will & Grace and Up All Night, the two should serve as great companion pieces for one another with the added parenting element.

- Parenthood returns but slides up one hour to make room for Chicago Fire, which grew in the Wednesday 10pm hour throughout its first season and is more similar in look, feel and tone to Parenthood than its current lead-in, the darker Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (despite the fact that Fire and SVU are both from Dick Wolf). Parenthood and Chicago Fire will air throughout the season in their respective timeslots. The only change on this night will occur in the 8pm hour.

- With the three NCIS hours on CBS, CBS will own this night in terms of total viewers. NBC merely serves as a programming alternative to bring additional viewers to the night, not siphon away from the night’s clear, unadulterated leader.

Sean Hayes Show: Centers on Sean, who must figure out how to parent his 14-year-old daughter, who just moved in, while navigating a temperamental new boss at work. (multi-camera comedy)

 

WEDNESDAY

8pm – GO ON / About a Boy
9pm – Hatfields & McCoys
10pm – Ironside 

- This night is being completely revamped, with all new series except for the returning Go On, which relocates from Tuesdays at 9. It leads into About a Boy, which carries with it its own level of brand equity from both the book and the movie starring Hugh Grant. Like Go On, Boy has a single male lead just going about life until something happens. They’ll make great companion pieces for one another.

- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is NOT a 9pm show, so it’s been shifted to 10pm on another night. With Chicago Fire closing out Tuesday nights, the 9pm and 10pm hours will be filled with two new dramas.

- It wouldn’t be NBC is they weren’t trying to cash in on something. In this case, it’s the popularity of the History Channel’s Hatfield & McCoys with a version of the same name set in the present day. With the current interest in that story, this new version should help boost the unnecessary reboot of the 1967-1975 NBC series that starred the late Raymond Burr. And while I abhor the thought of a reboot, Blair Underwood (as Ironside) is an appealing talent (who deserves better) who can not only carry a show if given the opportunity and most of the other concepts would work better as miniseries or made-for-TV movies.

- CBS’s aging, but still solid 9-11 block of Criminal Minds and CSI still draw over 10 million viewers each week so neither Hatfields & McCoys nor Ironside are going to take much, if anything, away from that. However, as programming alternatives, they may bring some audience back to the night who may have already lost interest in CBS’s long-running procedurals.

About a Boy: Follows the relationship between a bachelor man-child and the young boy who moves in next door with his kooky single mother. (single-camera comedy)

Hatfields & McCoys: Set in present day Pittsburgh, a startling death re-ignites the feud between these two legendary families. Unleashing decades of resentment, the blue collar McCoys will put the Hatfields’ wealth and power at risk as they go to war for control of the city.

Ironside: Centers on a tough, sexy and acerbic police detective relegated to a wheelchair after a shooting as he pushes and prods his hand-picked team to solve the most difficult cases in the city.


THURSDAY

8pm – PARKS & RECREATION / THE NEW NORMAL
9pm – Michael J. Fox / Welcome to the Family
10pm – LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT 

- This is the night in need of the most work. The long-running 30 Rock and The Office both ended their runs while Community, Up All Night and 1600 Penn have rightfully been cancelled for various reasons. The only program I retained is Parks & Recreation – not for its ratings, but for its buzz. While buzz and critical acclaim has driven NBC on this night for the last several years, ratings have been marginal at best. Very few NBC shows on this night have hit 10 million viewers in almost ten years -- and none in the last several. This is almost tragic given the storied nature of this night for NBC. Must of their former luster on this night has long since shifted to CBS and ABC.

- Bottom line, CBS is going to own the 8pm hour so there is no need to programming against it. Parks & Recreation is never going to break out given its niche brand of humor. Give it one last season and let it lead-off the night with those expectations in mind.

- Though it makes my eyes roll at times, The New Normal can occasionally be funny. For that reason alone, it warrants a second season. Also its alterna-family orientation with workplace elements, surely to be more greatly explored next season as it relates to having a baby, is a great segueway out of the workplace-oriented Parks & Rec and into the 9pm hour of family-based comedies.

- Michael J. Fox, whose return to television is still untitled, is the only series with a full season order already. Though NBC Thursdays is no longer as must-see as it once was and will probably never be again, there is still a level of prestige to the night. NBC should want to schedule its most promising new series there. Nestled between two hours of veteran programs, Fox’s sitcom will have a nice audience cushion between his own existing fan base and the existing audience base of the veteran programs surrounding it. Better yet, given the support the network already has for Fox’s sitcom, its potential success could extend to its lead-in and its similarly family-themed lead-out. With no other comedies in the time slot on any other broadcast network, there isn’t much by way of competition in that regard: Grey’s Anatomy is far from what it once was and Person of Interest draws a different audience.

- NBC had 15 years of stability in the Thursday 10pm slot with ER. Since the venerable program went off the air in 2009, NBC has failed with every program in the slot (Southland – which is now airing on TNT, The Jay Leno Show, The Marriage Ref, The Apprentice, 30 Rock, Outsourced, Prime Suspect, The Firm, Awake, Rock Center with Brian Williams and Do No Harm). Expectations shouldn't be high for the well-worn-territory of their new series Hannibal. Enter the long-running Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to restabilize the hour. Though SVU is similarly themed to CBS’s new The Advocates, that should be more CBS’s concern than NBC’s given the longevity and continued strength of SVU – especially in a better, more appropriate time slot.

Michael J. Fox: Loosely based on Michael J Fox’s real life, a husband and father of three in New York City deals with family, career, and challenges – including Parkinson’s disease. (single-camera comedy)

Welcome to the Family: Cultures collide when a white family and a Latino family are bonded together by their children who fall in love followed quickly by an unplanned pregnancy. (single-camera comedy)

 

FRIDAY

8pm – Dateline NBC
9pm – AMERICAN NINJA WARRIORS
10pm – Rock Center with Brian Williams 

- For CBS, this night should be all scripted because they can draw viewers (albeit older but a viewer is a viewer) to it. For NBC, this night should be all unscripted because Grimm, their only scripted show on the night, is out of place. Make it night of unscripted television, with their competition series American Ninja Warriors providing a mindless break between the news-oriented Dateline and Rock Center (which should have NEVER aired on Thursdays at 10).

 

SATURDAY

8pm – Comedy Encores
9pm – Comedy / Drama Encores
10pm – Drama Encores 

- There’s no reason for the network to program this night until they establish some stability on their other nights. Their six new comedies and three new dramas can always use the added exposure.

 

SUNDAY

                                          (Fall)                                                                      (Winter/Spring)
                                          7pm – Football Night in America                        7pm – Dateline NBC
                                          8pm – Sunday Night Football                            8pm – BETTY WHITE'S OFF THEIR ROCKERS
                                                                                                                          9pm – THE BIGGEST LOSER
                                                                                                                          10pm – The Apprentice

- The fall is all football. Hands down. It’s not only NBC’s #1-rated program, but it was television’s #1-rated program for the 2011-2012 TV season (finally ending the torturous eight-year reign of American Idol) and will likely repeat that feat this season unless NCIS has something to say about it.

- For the winter/spring, it’s a night of unscripted programming with another edition of Dateline, Betty White’s prank show (which should not lead off Tuesdays and has already been airing here), the one cycle of Biggest Loser, plus the groan-inducing return of Trump and The Apprentice (which was much better in its early years before the format was tweaked and is now just an excuse to trot out train wrecks and those just seeking publicity).


General notes:

- Stability is the name of the game for NBC. Splitting programs, especially new ones, into two parts cable-style is ridiculous and detrimental to those programs. 

- The problem with NBC is that many of their concepts work better as limited series and even made-for-TV movies that can be aired during post-football programming gaps on Sunday and after the fall cycle of The Voice on Monday and Tuesday. Better to invest in that for plotting purposes than in series after series that has no chance of surviving because of the taxation on the viewers’ attention spans.

- Certain types of programs need a certain span of time with which to tell their stories properly. NBC needs to keep that in mind and be sure to order the requisite number of episodes instead of ordering in parts. Uneven pacing annoys the viewer and ultimately alienates them from trying out new programs. 

- As the network stabilizes itself night by night over the next several years, many of these long-running unscripted competition programs should be phased out in favor of more docudrama-style unscripted fare and of course, more actually scripted fare. There are also a lot of independent films and documentaries out there that can either be acquired by the network or produced specifically by the network for Friday, Saturday and Sunday airings. Broadcasters forget that prestige can sometimes also mean ratings if given the chance.

- I've cancelled Deception (a great example of a LIMITED series), Fashion Star (should never have seen a second cycle), Smash (which was nice to have on TV but will never come together creatively) and Hannibal (it hasn't even premiered yet but it's not going to break its time slot curse).


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