Net will finish fourth this season, looks for a turnaround

It’s been a bumbling and humbling season for the once-proud Peacock, but there are a few flickering signs of life as the net tries to turn the ship around.

The bleeding continued the first half of this season for NBC, and the net is headed for another fourth-place finish. The former bully of the block no longer scares any of its rivals; it consistently wins only one time period on the entire sked.

Actually, NBC now is a lot like ABC — in reverse. While the Alphabet has some megahits but is lacking in midlevel performers, the Peacock is respectable across much of its sked but is in dire need of a smash or two.

It has four of the season’s top 15 programs in adults 18-49, but its highest is 12th-year drama “ER” at No. 10.

While it looks for new water-cooler shows, NBC can take solace in rookie hit laffer “My Name Is Earl” and solid young pieces like comedy “The Office” and reality skein “The Biggest Loser.”

In non-sports 18-49 Nielsen averages, the Peacock finds itself in third place at midseason, 2 shares behind CBS and ABC and 1 share ahead of Fox. It’s down 16% vs. last year, when it was still within shouting distance of the leaders at this point.

Here’s a look at NBC:

WHAT WORKED: Tuesday night has been a bright spot, although a sked shift that sees “The Biggest Loser” and “My Name Is Earl” depart (and the return of Fox’s “American Idol”) will reduce its second-half effectiveness.

“Earl” became the season’s top new 18-49 draw by shining in a tough Tuesday slot and now is holding its own on Thursday. And skedmate “The Office” — the funniest show on television — continues its gradual build, and is the best shot NBC has at a “Seinfeld”-like breakout success.

Gamer “Deal or No Deal” fared well when the net stripped it in the 8 o’clock slot for a week in December, achieving some timeslot highs and guaranteeing more segs.

Among returning shows, “Law & Order: SVU” continues to win its Tuesday slot, while “Las Vegas” and “Medium” do OK on Monday.

And despite its declines, “The Apprentice” was still a top-15 performer and has to be considered a valuable piece the net can use, perhaps settling in Monday at 8 or Wednesday at 9.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK: Much of the sked drooped, especially Thursday where the same lineup returned down about 30% vs. a year ago. It’s one of six nights in which NBC has declined vs. last season.

“The West Wing” has been putting up embarrassingly low numbers on Sunday, a shameful way for such an honored show to go out. And on the other end of the spectrum, “Fear Factor” is at the end of its line, failing to drum up much viewer interest since its return last month.

Among new shows, Friday’s “Inconceivable” bombed from the start, and Monday’s “Surface” started off respectably but faded as fall wore on and then came back weakly in January. “E-Ring” has fared OK in a weak slot, but the net could do better.

WHAT’S AHEAD: It’s still too early to tell on January preem “Four Kings” on Thursday and “The Book of Daniel” on Friday, but NBC will have a better opportunity to make some noise post-Olympics.

Look for the net to focus on pumping a few new shows — the promising and high-concept dramas “Heist” and “Windfall” are good choices — and the launch of “The Apprentice” on its new night.

There’s no guarantee that auds will watch what NBC promotes during the 16-night Winter Games, but the highly watched event and another burst of “Deal or No Deal” give the net a good chance to increase circulation prior to the season’s stretch run.

NBC has showed a willingness to try new things in both comedy and drama, which is a good thing. “Heist,” in particular, would seem to hold some of the same adrenalin-rush appeal of Fox’s “Prison Break,” and is a show to keep an eye on.

On the comedy side, “Teachers” and the possible return of the disappointing “Joey” are pieces the Peacock could slide into either Tuesday or Thursday. Net also should be able to generate some excitement for the concluding episodes of “Will & Grace.”

BOTTOM LINE: NBC is destined to finish fourth this season, but will be looking to create some buzz that it can carry over into next fall.

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