Upfronts 2013: NBC starts from scratch again with Michael J. Fox, J.J Abrams and James Spader
For a few months last fall, it looked like NBC had finally pulled itself out of the gutter and built a foundation for ongoing success. The Peacock was even the number one network going into 2013, had a genuine freshman hit in "Revolution" and several other promising rookies in "Go On" and "The New Normal," both of which were said to symbolize NBC's move away from the niche appeal of "Community" and "Parks and Recreation" and towards something broader and more sustainable.
Then, as usual, NBC went back to being NBC. The three shows that had been primarily responsible for that fall success — "Sunday Night Football," "The Voice" and "Revolution" — went away, and all the ratings success went with them. Without "The Voice" as a lead-in, "Go On" and "The New Normal" cratered, and eventually weren't renewed, while "Parks and Rec" and "Community" are the network's only returning comedies. Every new premiere was a disaster. The return of NBC president Bob Greenblatt's pride and joy, "Smash," was a catastrophe that was eventually banished to Saturdays before cancellation. Even when "The Voice" came back strong in the spring, "Revolution" returned to fading numbers suggesting that, like "Smash" and "Go On," it might be barely viable without Adam Levine and friends as a lead-in.
So it's no surprise that the network is basically starting over from scratch with its newly-announced schedule, with a new drama slotted in after "The Voice" on Mondays, "Revolution" sent to fend for itself on Wednesdays, a revamped Thursday lineup that hopefully won't do as poorly as the last several, and change on nearly every night.
Fienberg has the full schedule, for both fall and mid-season — and note that "Community" and several new series (including "Chicago PD," "The Night Shift" and "Undateable") have no timeslots yet in either period — and I have some night-by-night thoughts:
MONDAY: "The Voice" is the only entertainment programming working consistently for NBC these days, so it stays. Rather than stubbornly keeping "Revolution" here to pretend like it's a genuine success rather than a timeslot hit, NBC went with something new: James Spader as a reformed master criminal in "The Blacklist." NBC will have the Winter Olympics in 2014, and presumably these two shows won't be taking as long a mid-season hiatus as "The Voice" and "Revolution" did this year.
TUESDAY: Fairly conservative in the fall, with "Biggest Loser" leading into "The Voice" and then into "Chicago Fire," which was a pleasant surprise for the network on Wednesdays at 10 (and successful enough to inspire the still-unscheduled "Chicago PD" spin-off). The real heavy lifting for "The Voice" will come in the spring, when it'll slide down to 8 and try to launch Jason Katims' "About a Boy" adaptation with David Walton and J.K. Simmons in "The Family Guide."
WEDNESDAY: At 8, "Revolution" will go from having the best lead-in on NBC to having no lead-in at all. NBC's previous J.J. Abrams-produced drama "Undercovers" died in this timeslot a few seasons ago, though it was starting from scratch, rather than trying to migrate viewers from a solidly-rated season on Monday. "Law & Order: SVU" will once again duke it out with (presumably) "Modern Family" and "Criminal Minds," and we'll get yet another remake at 10, with Blair Underwood succeeding Raymond Burr as "Ironside." (Under Bob Greenblatt, NBC loves remakes and other adaptations of pre-existing material.)
THURSDAY: With "Community" in limbo until something else fails, it falls to "Parks and Rec" to be the sacrificial lamb against "Big Bang Theory" at 8, leading into a trio of new comedies in "Welcome to the Family," "Sean Saves the World" and "The Michael J. Fox Show." The surprising thing is the scheduling of the last two. Sean Hayes and Fox are both beloved NBC stars from decades past, but Fox was the bigger star, and his show the object of an enormous bidding war that saw NBC commit to an entire season before a pilot had been shot. Everyone assumed it would be treated as a show that could anchor a night and launch something else; instead, it's the 9:30 show and "Sean Saves the World" is at 9. "Parenthood," NBC's best returning drama (though the fate of "Hannibal" remains up in the air for now) moves into what once upon a time would have been the perfect place for it on Thursdays at 10, but which is now a radioactive wasteland thanks to all the shows that have failed here since "ER" went away. Still, we'll get a full season of the Bravermans this year, and that's a plus.
FRIDAY: "Dateline" and "Grimm" remain where they've been for a while, and we get a pair of high-concept dramas in fall and spring in "Dracula," with Jonathan Rhys Meyers (who worked for Greenblatt at Showtime on "The Tudors") and then "Crossbones," with John Malkovich as Blackbeard the pirate.
SATURDAY: Repeats of shows from earlier in the week. Nothing to see here.
SUNDAY: Football will trounce all comers in the fall. Then after the Olympics, NBC tries something other than Donald Trump ("Celebrity Apprentice" remains in limbo, and will hopefully never get to leave there) with two of its higher-profile new series: "Believe," from Abrams and Alfonso Cuaron; and "Crisis," from "Life" creator Rand Ravich (and starring Dermot Mulroney, not to be confused with the other guy).
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org