Upfronts on Paper: NBC Saves Big Guns for Midseason; Stability in Fall

NBC is probably the most interesting upfront to have looked forward to considering their much-talked about decline these last few years and the hiring of Bob Greenblatt to resurrect the network after the NBCU-Comcast marriage.

But with the Fall schedule released today, it seems like they are going for the unexciting, yet safe line-up while holding their expected heavy hitters for midseason.

Many expected and wanted a completely revamped NBC Primetime which could have been the best way to help boost the network’s fortunes. But instead they play it safe, though there are still a lot of variables that could render everything moot. Let’s take a look.

MONDAYS
Fall: 8pm THE SING OFF / 10pm THE PLAYBOY CLUB
Midseason: 8pm THE VOICE / 10pm SMASH
It is a smart decision to expand The Sing Off to a weekly series after two Decembers of great performances. The low cost of the series and the positive response toward it should help NBC finally get a solid foothold on Mondays after seasons of wandering aimlessly with poorly rated series. Airing the 2-hour Sing Off in the fall also helps warm up the timeslot for The Voice which will move to Mondays when it returns midseason. (Another excellent decision, as opposed to bringing it back in the Fall).

The Playboy Club is an interesting pairing though with The Sing Off NBC is going for a young female-skewing line-up, but there’s also the family audience that will gravitate towards The Sing Off which then doesn’t work with Playboy Club. But in terms of competition, both The Sing Off and The Voice are young skewing shows which will go up against older skewing Dancing With the Stars which The Voice has already shown can handle it.

Smash with The Voice is definitely a no-brainer.

TUESDAYS
8pm THE BIGGEST LOSER / 10pm PARENTHOOD
NBC decided not to mess with what works, again and that is fine. But, NBC could have used The Biggest Loser to shore up Wednesdays against The X Factor and American Idol since it has already proven itself against Idol on Tuesdays. Opening up Tuesdays also would have meant not launching two new comedies on Wednesday…

WEDNESDAY
8pm UP ALL NIGHT / 8:30pm FREE AGENTS / 9pm HARRY’S LAW / 10pm LAW & ORDER: SVU
Probably the strangest night on NBC’s schedule. Launching comedies on a night other than Thursday was expected but launching two new comedies on Wednesday versus what could be a big problem in The X Factor and the already established ABC comedies will be an uphill battle. Both new comedies feature name recognition in Christina Applegate, Will Arnett and Hank Azaria, which could help a bit.

What doesn’t help a bit is Harry’s Law. The older skewing show is a very interesting move to get sandwiched by comedies and SVU. It would have been a better fit for Fridays where it could give CBS’ equally older skewing procedurals a good run.

THURSDAY
8pm COMMUNITY / 8:30pm PARKS & RECREATION / 9pm THE OFFICE / 9:30pm WHITNEY / 10pm PRIME SUSPECT
NBC gets back to dramas at 10pm Thursdays with Prime Suspect which hopes to not be the next Southland. NBC’s Thursday comedies aren’t going to gain any new viewers, unfortunately, and the entire block could hinge on how well The Office does, not to mention any show in the post-Office slot. And Whitney, NBC’s first multi-cam comedy in years, will be an interesting fit with the other three.

FRIDAY
8pm CHUCK / 9pm GRIMM / 10pm DATELINE
Chuck to Fridays is probably the best decision NBC has made in years. It’ll get to finish out its run, and it gives NBC a familiar performer on the night. They know what they’re going to get with Chuck and Dateline as well. The most interesting thing about Fridays though will be how well Grimm performs and what really is NBC expecting from it.

On one hand, it is a conceivably good pairing with cult-status Chuck and it fits on what has become the official genre-night on television thanks to The CW having probably its most successful night with it and Fox satisfied with Fringe‘s performance. (And thanks to Syfy nee Sci-Fi years ago.) But on another hand, NBC must not have much confidence in it being a breakout hit even though it could have easily slotted it on Wednesdays at 9pm instead of Harry’s Law. It could however do 6-7 million with 1.5+ demo and that’ll be considered a success on the slow night.

SUNDAYS
Fall: Sunday Night Football
Midseason: 7pm DATELINE / 8pm CELEBRITY APPRENTICE / 10pm THE FIRM
NBC certainly hopes the lockout ends by the start of the season.
But at midseason, NBC has a low-cost, low-risk line-up. Celebrity Apprentice has been a strong performer for NBC and is a no-brainer. NBC buying the rights to the internationally produced The Firm is a good choice for Sundays, allowing them to save money on a still important night and allowing them to focus on Monday-Thursday.

What I Would Have Done
Using NBC’s Fall schedule, I would’ve had…

MONDAY: Same
TUESDAY: UP ALL NIGHT / FREE AGENTS / GRIMM / PARENTHOOD
WEDNESDAY: THE BIGGEST LOSER / LAW & ORDER SVU
THURSDAY: Same
FRIDAY: CHUCK / HARRY’S LAW / DATELINE

NBC could be a strong player and even eke out some wins on Wednesday with Biggest Loser and SVU. Meanwhile, they could begin establishing a new Tuesday comedy block on a night that doesn’t have any (though Fox is certainly trying). Moving Biggest Loser does leave Parenthood without its strong lead-in, though it too could switch with SVU. Like on Tuesdays, Parenthood is good counter-programming against a procedurals on CBS and ABC.

As with Sundays, having Chuck, Harry’s Law, and Dateline gives them a night where they know what to expect. They aren’t going to be big, mainstream hits, but they have a solid fan base and audience that’ll follow them wherever they end up. CBS has proven that older-skewing procedurals do fine on Fridays and Harry’s Law would be fine there.

Other possibilities could also have been to maybe move Parenthood to Mondays at 10 to pair with The Sing Off with Playboy Club pairing off with Biggest Loser or throw balls to the wall and have a night of all new series.

So, NBC didn’t do a major overhaul, but they put together a safe, solid line-up that seems to merely be the warm-up act to the main event at midseason. The Super Bowl (if it happens) will definitely be a big boost for NBC to help launch the more anticipated new series in Smash, Awake, and the 2nd season of The Voice.

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