No one should be feeling too pea-cocky just yet, but for the first time in years, NBC seems to have some wind at its back.
The long-struggling network broke through last season, finishing ahead of one of its rivals (ABC) in the young adults demo for the first time since “Friends” went off the air in 2004. Thanks to top-rated “Sunday Night Football” and “The Voice,” the Peacock had a big fall and, ultimately, a competitive finish in the spring.
“The Voice” is the hottest broadcast reality show these days, and the Peacock in general seems to be a step ahead of its rivals in the unscripted arena. It launched summer’s top two new reality shows, and its big-scope/big-bucks “Million Second Quiz” has the potential to be another player.
But on the scripted series side, NBC remains very much a fourth-place network. Among the top 20 comedies and dramas to air on the Big Four last season, NBC could claim only one — “Revolution,” a rookie show that aired behind “The Voice.”
Thanks to smart scheduling, NBC figures to increase that number during the 2013-14 campaign. Instead of using Tuesday’s “Voice” results show to lead into lightweight comedies as it did a year ago, the net is slotting promising second-year drama “Chicago Fire” on the night.
NBC knows “Fire” has a following, and a push from “The Voice” could vault the show to hit status.
The Peacock is being aggressive at 10 across the board, with no weeknight standing pat, and three newcomers joining the schedule.
There’s no guarantee “Blacklist” on Monday, “Ironside” on Wednesday or “Dracula” on Friday will work, but NBC seems determined to strengthen its performance in primetime’s final hour — something that should help the net’s latenight (including, eventually, Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show”).
“Ironside,” meanwhile, could manage to surprise, though it has crime drama competition from the still-potent “CSI,” while “Dracula” is a clear alternative to older-skewing “20/20” and “Blue Bloods.” Both “Ironside” and “Dracula” also have the best drama lead-ins the net could provide in “Law & Order: SVU” and “Grimm,” respectively.
“Revolution,” which followed “Voice” on Mondays last season, is being asked to lead off Wednesdays. This makes sense, because NBC needed to open up Monday for something new, and there are no other dramas in that timeslot. It’s possible the 8 p.m. berth might help a heavily-DVR’ed show like “Revolution,” giving viewers more time to watch it on the night that it airs, which would matter most to NBC as far as its advertising rates are concerned.
The most surprising returning-show timeslot switch is the one for “Parenthood,” which is getting long-overdue support from the network, and shifting to Thursday at 10. This is a tough task opposite hit dramas on ABC (“Scandal”) and CBS (“Elementary”), but NBC has been punched out too many times with new shows in the hour since “ER” exited in 2009 to jump back in the ring so soon with anything but a veteran.
The Peacock also needed a known commodity closing out Thursday because it’s trying three new comedies earlier in the evening — the most it has attempted on any night in the fall since 1997.
NBC has a long uphill battle on the night, which, excluding Friday and Saturday, was the lowest-rated night for any of the Big Four last season, tumbling 22% from the previous year.
And with Thursday mainstay “The Office” wrapping its nine-season run in May, the Peacock had no choice but to blow up the night.
Lone Thursday returnee “Parks and Recreation” should provide an upgrade from “Community” in the leadoff slot, and “Welcome to the Family” is a decent show that could hang in there behind it, given the relatively low expectations for those timeslots.
The old-school, multicamera “Sean Saves the World” could have a rough time at 9 p.m., but “The Michael J. Fox Show” at 9:30 will certainly be a big draw at the outset, and figures to be able to mesh well with “Parenthood.”
Elsewhere, “Sunday Night Football” will again be fall’s dominant primetime program, and the net has been blessed with another blockbuster slate of games featuring the league’s most popular teams. (The NFL has also given NBC noticeably better matchups this year to go up against Major League Baseball’s postseason games on Fox and TBS, perhaps payback for MLB’s refusal to acquiesce to the NFL’s request to help alleviate a scheduling conflict regarding the Thursday football season opener.)
NBC is looking to create other kinds of event programming as well with its return commitment to developing longform fare such as the much talked-about Hillary Clinton miniseries, new spins on “Rosemary’s Baby” and Stephen King’s “The Tommyknockers,” and heavy-duty costume drama “AD: Beyond the Bible,” Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s follow-up to “The Bible,” a ratings winner for History.
With momentum now in sports and reality, NBC has covered most of its bases. If it can nurture a few scripted hits, a plucky Peacock could become the network to beat.