Fall TV Preview 2011-12: NBC

The good news for NBC is that it has nowhere to go but up.

Stuck in fourth place for the past several years, the Peacock has a new president in Bob Greenblatt and a new corporate owner in Comcast, willing to shell out whatever it takes to garner a few hits.

But as many TV execs have painfully learned, it’s not coin that delivers eyeballs, but quality. Greenblatt fully realizes the challenges ahead.

“The goals for this season and for the next few years are to rebuild the schedule,” he says. “We’re going to be very aggressive and develop upscale original shows that hopefully appeal to our audience, which has always been more upscale and more desirable for advertisers than any of the other networks. We want to restore NBC to its leadership position in quality.”

Peacock says it’s going the female empowerment route with its hourlong dramas. Net revisits the 1960s with “The Playboy Club” in a tough 10 p.m. Monday timeslot, while Maria Bello offers a Stateside take on “Prime Suspect” in the same hour Thursday.

While NBC’s dramas have had a difficult time gaining much traction lately, it’s the comedies — “Community,” “Parks and Recreation,” “The Office” — that have garnered critical praise. What they could use, though, are more viewers.

Greenblatt is adding “Whitney” to the Thursday mix and launching a comedy beachhead Wednesday with laffers “Up All Night” and “Free Agents.”

NBC will have to show plenty of patience, though, as both will be up against solid ABC comedies “The Middle” and newcomer “Suburgatory,” CBS’ reality stalwart “Survivor” and Fox’s much buzzed about Simon Cowell newcomer “The X Factor.”

SPOTLIGHT


“Prime Suspect”

Thanks to Dick Wolf, cop dramas have been an invaluable lifeline at NBC over the past couple of decades. Now network vet Maria Bello (“ER”) looks to continue that trend with Gotham-centric “Prime Suspect.”

Exec producer Alexandra Cunningham says revamping a U.K. staple is made easier by Bello’s singleminded take on a gritty take-no-crap detective, often willing to do whatever it takes to clear cases — including suffering indignities from the guys in her own precinct. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be some laughs along the way.

“I think that our character has all the qualities that made Jane Tennison so watchable, but we’re trying to incorporate maybe a little more humor than the British version,” she says.

“What we have, which no other show has, is Maria. She’s just so watchable, you’re not going to be able to take your eyes off her.”

NEW FOR 2011-12

“Free Agents”

Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn work and, occasionally, sleep together. He’s coming off an emotionally devastating divorce while she puts up a strong front, yet is psychologically wounded as well. From “Party Down” creator John Enbom, series has another strong comedic voice in the ranks: “Malcolm in the Middle” vet Todd Holland is the pilot’s director.

“Grimm”

NBC is waiting until Oct. 21 to premiere this offering, inspired by Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Peacock figures Friday is the best spot for something that’s fairly offbeat for broadcast, though maybe it’s actually better suited for Syfy. It will have to succeed on its own, because “Chuck” won’t likely give it a strong lead-in.

“The Playboy Club”

Hoping some of the “Mad Men” buzz rubs off here, NBC is tapping into an iconic brand and willing to fend off the barbs and arrows from such conservative-based groups as the conservative Parents Television Council. In “NYPD Blue” fashion, maybe the controversy can boost both interest and ratings?

“Up All Night”

Sitcom vets Christina Applegate and Will Arnett play a married couple, struggling with learning to care for a baby. Pilot has undergone some tweaks — specifically redoing Maya Rudolph’s character and Applegate’s profession — meaning some weren’t happy with the creative direction the show was headed.

“Whitney”

A popular stand-up comedian and star of Comedy Central’s roasts, Whitney Cummings takes the primetime plunge. NBC is hoping a relatively comfy timeslot — wedged between “The Office” and “Prime Suspect” on Thursday — will help draw auds to Cummings’ often irreverent brand of humor.

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