'Smash,' 'The Voice,' newbies in spotlight at NBC upfront presentation
NEW YORK, NY — How do you solve a problem like NBC? The network's upfront presentation to advertisers put forward one possible solution: Lots of comedy and lots of music!
NBC entertainment president Robert Greenblatt took the stage Monday morning at Radio City Music Hall to emphasize four points about the network's 2012-13 schedule:
— Comedy is king (which is why the network renewed six and ordered seven).
— The fall schedule was designed for maximum audience flow.
— The hope is to extend the momentum of Sunday (football) and Monday ("The Voice") into Tuesday and Wednesday.
— The "priority" timeslots to promote are Monday at 10 (JJ Abrams' "Lost" and "Walking Dead"-esque new drama "Revolution") and Tuesdays at 9 (a new one hour comedy block with Matthew Perry's group therapy-set "Go On" and Ryan Murphy's "The New Normal," about a gay couple and the young woman they select as a gestational carrier).
Among the takeaways from Greenblatt's focused approach: the idea of NBC's Thursday schedule as "must see TV" is long gone. With a line-up of four low-rated returning series and the fast fading "The Office," discussion of the night was barely a blip in the presentation. Greenblatt promised "The Office" will have "explosive twists" next season to "shake things up," praised the ongoing quality of "Parks and Recreation," confirmed that "30 Rock's" next 13 episodes would officially be the last ("culminating in a one hour finale") and declared that "Up All Night" deserved a second season because it's "relatable, incredibly well written and has three of the best comedic actors on TV."
As for returning comedies "Whitney" and "Community," Greenblatt again defended the decision to move the shows to Friday, saying the networks shouldn't give up on the night. He believes "Whitney" "found its voice" in the last third of the season, and called "Community" fans the "loudest" among all network TV fans, adding: "Calling all fans of 'Community,' come to Friday night! Start tweeting!"
But the returning shows that really got special treatment at the upfronts were the network's biggest hit "The Voice" and its most beloved drama (at least internally) "Smash."
The morning kicked off with a mock "sizzle reel" featuring Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon watching "clips" from NBC's fall season: It was a montage of stars from "Grimm," "The Office," "Parenthood," "Parks and Recreation," "30 Rock," "Law & Order: SVU," "Up All Night" and even "Meet the Press" host David Gregory (with backup dancers) singing and dancing on set. NBC: The all musical network? Har har. But I'll take any excuse I can get to see Amy Poehler and Craig T. Nelson breaking out in song.
The reel was immediately followed by "Smash" stars Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty dueting on the show's signature song "Let Me Be Your Star." As the performance came to a close, the iconic "Voice" swivel chairs appeared behind them and turned one by one to reveal Adam Levine, Cee-Lo Green, Christina Aguilera and... Greenblatt. (According to Greenblatt, Blake Shelton was away celebrating his anniversary with wife Miranda Lambert.)
Greenblatt praised "The Voice" as "the phenomenon that is the cornerstone of the future for us. We have no illusions that it will take down every singing competition out there but we're very proud." He also noted, as previously reported, audiences can expect changes to the way the blind auditions, battle rounds and live shows play out (including more swivel chairs). Later in the presentation, the latest "Voice" champion Jermaine Paul took the stage to sing "I Believe I Can Fly." (He sounded a little rough, and I overheard a veteran stage performer from one of NBC's new shows tell a castmate that Paul was probably sick.)
In between all the "Voice" and "Smash" hype, the network screened promo clips from the new series, none of which exactly set Radio City on fire. Slick single camera veterinarian comedy "Animal Practice" starring Justin Kirk and a monkey (yes, you read that right) drew the biggest laughs. And its shameless use of adorable animals seems well matched with the shameless use of adorable babies on "Guys with Kids." (Though multi-camera "Guys" looks straight off the CBS assembly line, which could give it some "Whitney"-esque problems with critics, if not viewers.)
Comparitively, the jokes on Dane Cook's "Next Caller" and dysfunctional White House family comedy "1600 Penn" (starring Josh Gad, Bill Pullman and Jenna Elfman) landed with a thud. "Go On," "New Normal" and the Anne Heche midseason comedy "Save Me" seem to fit into the NBC highbrow comedy wheelhouse ("Save Me" especially looks like a series from Greenblatt's former cable home Showtime and featured co-star Alexandra Breckenridge spouting an uncensored use of "bats**t"), which could mean more ratings struggles ahead.
On the drama side, Abrams' "Revolution" played like "Lost" (exotic locations, epic scale) meets "Flash Forward" (mysterious international crisis) meets a zombie-less "Walking Dead" (post-apocalyptic adventure), and the track record for "it's the new 'Lost'!" shows isn't exactly encouraging. But, as Greenblatt emphasized, giving it the post-"Voice" slot is a sign of real faith and it was their strongest testing drama pilot this season.
Dick Wolf's sexy firefighter drama "Chicago Fire" looked utterly generic, the "Jekyll & 'House'" midseason medical thriller "Do No Harm" was distractingly cheap and gimmicky (Steven Pasquale's good guy doctor keeps blacking out into a bad guy alter ego) and currently unscheduled flashy soap "Infamous" came off like a straight-up "Revenge" knockoff (at least with the appealing Meagan Good filling in for Emily Van Camp).
(Judge for yourself in network approved clips from the new comedies and dramas.)
Another performance from "Smash" closed the presentation, proving that even though NBC is holding back the show until midseason, it's still near and dear to the network's heart. And strategy for the future.
— NBC's broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert weighed in on Dish TV's controversial Auto Hop service, which will allow viewers to remove commercials from TV shows with the push of a button: "This is an insult to our joint investment in programming and I'm against it."
— Greenblatt's spin on NBC's ratings for the 2011-12 season: "We're not yet where we want to be by any measure. [We'll have a] photo finish with ABC for #3 in adults 18-49, and finish as the most improved network in 18-49, 18-34 and total viewers."
— During his intro of Ryan Murphy's "The New Normal," Greenblatt quipped: "Knowing what Ryan is capable of I wouldn't be surprised if he talked President Obama into coming out to support gay marriage last week. Thank you for that."
— NBC's reality TV (or "alternative programming" as they like to say) strategy: "Big, classy, exciting and attention getting." (Obviously the only way to describe "Love in the Wild" and "American Ninja Warrior.")
— Both "Munsters" reboot "Mockingbird Lane" (with Eddie Izzard as Grandpa) and Hannibal Lecter series "Hannibal" (with Hugh Dancy as FBI Agent Will Graham) are still casting additional roles and have not yet shot pilots, so there was no footage available. But Greenblatt promised "Mockingbird" "will not be your mother's 'Munsters.' If the pilot goes well, it will be on the air midseason." Creator Bryan Fuller cheered loudly from the audience.