Coming out of the Winter Olympics, NBC is throwing everything it has at the March 2 launch of “Parenthood,” which reps the Peacock’s last chance to score with a new scripted series in what has been a tumultuous season for the net.
With the Vancouver Games wrapping, the network is going into full rebuilding mode, starting with its Monday-Friday 10 p.m. slate. “Parenthood” is drawing the vast majority of the Peacock’s attention because it is seen as the network’s best hope. The show certainly has a strong pedigree — Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and “Friday Night Lights” dynamo Jason Katims — and has already drawn some praise from critics.
NBC Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin understands the relevance of relaunching the 10 o’clock lineup to both viewers and the creative community, but doesn’t feel the pressure is solely on “Parenthood.” He says the series would fit into any primetime timeslot.
“Frankly, I feel like it’s a show that could play at 8, 9 or 10,” he says. “It feels like a great television show … and that’s a good place to start.”
Peacock rivals say they’re surprised at how little new business NBC had in the pipeline to capitalize on the promo platform of the Winter Olympics. Even if “The Jay Leno Show” experiment hadn’t gone awry, there just wasn’t much in NBC’s cupboard to bring down after the 17-night Olympics run, which delivered strong numbers.
NBC had planned to tubthump a big-event miniseries — the post-apocalyptic “Day One” — but the project was grounded last year due to creative issues.
Even “Parenthood” wasn’t supposed to be launching now. The show was unexpectedly delayed from its planned fall start by the unfortunate news that one of the ensemble’s pillars, Maura Tierney, was diagnosed with cancer.
Reshooting scenes in which Lauren Graham replaces Tierney, Katims also had a chance to rethink the details of a spinoff from a film property that’s more than 21 years old. He tweaked a couple of scenes, made a few different edits and gave the entire episode a more humorous tone.
The series is one of five shows taking over the 10 p.m. real estate vacated by the cancellation of “Leno.” Filling out the other nights are “Law & Order” (Monday), “Law & Order: SVU” (Wednesday), Jerry Seinfeld’s “The Marriage Ref” (Thursday) and an installment of “Dateline” (Friday).
Similar to what ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters” has done, NBC’s “Parenthood” aims to attract an 18-49 women demo and keep them for years to come. But its roots are in a bigscreen feature that hit the zeitgeist back in 1989, when a good chunk of that demo were just kids or not even born yet.
Based upon the Ron Howard-directed pic that the helmer calls his most personal, “Parenthood” is the only new drama series looking to stake a place for NBC at 10 p.m. So the show is getting the kid-gloves treatment from the network.
The net has skedded “The Biggest Loser” leading up to it, and NBC scheduling topper Mitch Metcalf believes “Parenthood” has all the ingredients to open well and sustain itself as a 10 p.m. force.
“It’s being given a great lead-in, which matches the audience demographically,” Metcalf says. “It’s hard to tell whether it’s going to explode (in its premiere), be a slow builder or a nice steady performer, but we’ve got viewers who will be potentially interested. The most important thing, though, is that it’s a great show.”
Besides the Olympics as a promotional tool — though offering promos throughout the Games doesn’t exactly ensure eyeballs (think the quickly canceled “My Own Worst Enemy” following the Beijing Olympics) — NBC has flexed its marketing muscle in a big way. A motorist in Los Angeles, at least, would be hard pressed not to see a billboard or bus stop that isn’t pumping up “Parenthood.”
While it’s impossible to guess how it would’ve worked out in September if the show’s early plans for that Wednesday 8 p.m. berth had proceeded, “Parenthood” now faces the obstacle of going up against a fledgling success in CBS’ freshman series “The Good Wife,” which also draws a large femme viewership.
With the shift in timeslots and the overall NBC landscape, Katims used the opportunity that came with recasting the female lead to maximize the show’s appeal.
Katims says he was interested in taking what the original film offered — Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen’s attempt to keep their brood functioning as best as possible while the couple also tries to maintain their sanity — and seeing if those issues were still relevant several decades later.
“I looked at the movie again and thought it held up so well and it felt so contemporary to me,” Katims says. “I really wanted to honor the movie and use a lot of the structure of the movie to do it. It was my thought that it would be a great time to revisit it again and think about it 20 years later. What is parenting like now that was different then than it used to be?”
Howard didn’t immediately go for the pitch.
“The first question we asked of Jason was, ‘Well, why do you need “Parenthood”? I mean, you’re a great writer. You can develop your own family,” he explains. “He made an argument for why the foundation of that family worked. Ultimately, it’s about the unbelievable ups and downs of parenting, the absurdity of it, the pain of it, and also, significantly to me, the nobility of it.”
So given the opportunity to reshoot the pilot, Katims wanted to make sure he was hitting all the right notes.
“We had a chance to go back and do things we don’t normally get to do, and to rethink, ‘Well, what would I have done differently?’ After seeing it originally, we wanted to put a few lighter moments in there, and we thought it could be improved upon in that way,” Katims says.
Metcalf says “Parenthood” could still flourish even if it doesn’t draw viewers directly away from “The Good Wife.”
“I don’t know if we cut into them as much as bring women from different sources,” he says. “We feel multiple quality shows can co-exist. There are enough viewers out there, and the DVR can be your friend.”