From a pure ratings standpoint, NBC’s position wouldn’t appear all that dire. Though tagged as the “fourth-place network” for years now, it isn’t too far behind a declining ABC.
But there’s only so much that additional hours of “Sunday Night Football” and “The Apprentice” can mask. Eventually, as with every network, it comes down to core weekly skeins — and last season, NBC claimed only two of primetime’s top 25 entertainment series among adults 18-49.
As it hits the reset button following the disastrous “The Jay Leno Show” experiment and sets its sights on perhaps catching ABC this coming season, NBC will need to catch every break it can. But some questionable scheduling moves could thwart its attempt.
The net certainly spent more money on developing pilots this year, and the overall quality onscreen has improved, but the Peacock doesn’t appear to possess anything with breakout potential this fall. (It does, however, have lots of new stuff in the works for midseason.)
There are some solid-looking new pieces on the fall lineup (“The Event,” “Outsourced” and “Undercovers”), which will join the net’s few scripted hits like “The Office” and “Law and Order: SVU.” And “Sunday Night Football” is a monster (only “American Idol” rated higher last season) that should be even more of a bottom-line ratings boon to the net, with one more game added to its schedule this season.
But is the Peacock doing the best it can to maximize performance for its young shows?
When NBC locked in its fall sked in May, it did so before the competition. After the upfront dust settled, though, there were three fairly glaring sked situations that merited reconsideration.
The Peacock backed into addressing one of them, when a showrunner change and the lead actress’s pregnancy bumped promising hourlong comedy anthology “Love Bites” from its Thursday 10 p.m. slot (since replaced, smartly, by a civilian edition of “The Apprentice”). The potential femme fave “Bites,” now targeted for winter, didn’t stand much of a chance following the net’s male-appeal comedy block and airing opposite two femme-friendly veteran dramas on the competish.
NBC might also want to look at making two other moves.
The net hasn’t blinked in the two months since CBS surprised everybody by shifting TV’s hottest comedy, “The Big Bang Theory,” to the same Thursday 8 p.m. timeslot where NBC’s fledgling fan-fave “Community” resides.
While NBC may simply wait to see how badly it gets clobbered, it’s not too late to shift “30 Rock” to 8 p.m. in the fall, flipping spots with “Community” (which would face the untested and seemingly weaker “$#!* My Dad Says” at 8:30 on CBS). At this point of its run, “30 Rock” is not going to grow in the ratings, and instead should be used in something of a defensive position at 8 o’clock; “Rock” has held up well in a few turns kicking off the night.
And then there’s “The Event,” an adrenaline ride that NBC really, really wants to be “the next big thing” (the title alone sounds desperate). So why put this show up Mondays at 9 against TV’s most-watched comedy (CBS’ “Two and a Half Men”), TV’s most popular fall program overall (ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars”), cable’s most-watched series ever (ESPN’s “Monday Night Football”) and Fox’s most promising new show (“Lonestar,” which itself has a strong drama lead-in)?
It’s understandable that NBC wants to take advantage of its promotional push during football the previous night, but it’s a bit much to ask a network that consistently ranked fifth or lower in the hour last fall to suddenly tear viewers away from shows they love. And wouldn’t the audience NBC is targeting for “The Event” during “Sunday Night Football” be inclined to watch “Monday Night Football”? (There is a reason why Fox’s similarly male-appeal and serialized “24” never aired on Mondays in the fall.)
Instead, the spy-themed “Undercovers” — a likable show that auds don’t have to watch every minute, or even every week — might make more sense airing behind the comedic spy drama “Chuck” instead of its currently scheduled 8 p.m. slot on Wednesday.
A timeslot switch would then put “The Event” in the same hospitable, lower-profile timeslot that allowed “Lost” to recruit a big audience from the start. And in the first month of the season, its broadcast competish would consist of three reality shows and a pair of comedies.
While it’s true that DVRs have begun to make time schedules less relevant, lead-ins still matter — especially when it comes to getting a show off the ground.
Elsewhere for NBC, Tuesday should be its strongest, most competitive night, as “Parenthood” and a two-hour “Biggest Loser” return intact. “Loser” is expected to provide “Parenthood” with a winning
demo lead-in, giving the dramedy a chance to continue its winning ways among young adults in the hour.
The net’s Wednesday combo of “Law and Order: SVU” leading into “Law and Order: Los Angeles” makes sense, as the net that bailed on “Southland” gives Dick Wolf a shot at spinning L.A. cop tales. Casting isn’t complete on the series (though Skeet Ulrich is attached), but name recognition and a compatible lead-in could give the show a leg up opposite two other legal-themed drama newbies.
Give NBC credit for trying a different, more inspirational kind of programming on Friday with genealogical hour “Who Do You Think You Are” and then later, “School Pride.” But new 10 p.m. Jimmy Smits drama “Outlaw” doesn’t figure to put much of a scare into either ABC or CBS.
Looking ahead, NBC needs to work harder to expand its comedy block after failing to launch any midseason laffers last season.
Although “Outsourced” feels like a great fit with “The Office,” it’s neither noisy nor broad enough to recruit new comedy viewers to the net. Perhaps the higher-profile midseason laffers “Friends With Benefits” and “Perfect Couples” will offer the net its best chance at finding something that can draw a wider audience (including more women) and eventually lead to a second night of comedy.
Overall, heading into fall, the Peacock has reason to believe it will improve. Its averages will benefit from more football and its 10 p.m. comps to last year’s low-rated “Leno Show” should be favorable.
But what it really needs is to find at least one new top-20 program in the fourth quarter. That, more than closing the overall gap with its rivals, will be its truest measure of success.