HOLLYWOOD — You didn’t need a Ouija board to predict that NBC’s future was looking cloudy on the heels of a flat fall, but as often happens in the biz, one hit may be just what it needs to turn things around.
It’s too early to know if it will hold up in coming weeks, but a very nice start for psychic drama “Medium” last week — as well as some promising upcoming skeins — has the Peacock pumped as it approaches midseason.
Still, overall, it has been a less-than-stellar season for NBC, which finds itself in a tight battle for second with a resurgent ABC and is a couple of hits away from catching “CSI”-driven CBS. A year ago, it was a solid No. 1.
The loss of “Friends” and a larger-than-expected falloff for last year’s unscripted smash “The Apprentice” had many insiders buzzing that the Peacock’s feathers were about to be clipped.
But NBC has remained optimistic despite modest Nielsens for “Friends” spinoff laffer “Joey” and the early-season exits for dramas “LAX” and “Hawaii” and animated comedy “Father of the Pride.”
Net’s strategy of spreading throughout the season some of its key programming assets — rather than devoting its top fare almost exclusively to fall — means it has some good cards to play over the next few months.
WHAT WORKED: Among fall shows, only Friday procedural “Medical Investigation” has performed at anticipated levels, while unscripted weight-loss skein “The Biggest Loser” has quietly performed well in one of the net’s weakest slots (Tuesday at 8), and its second edition could air in the spring.
“Joey” is averaging an OK 4.7 rating in 18-49 (compared with an 8.8 for “Friends” a year ago), but viewers have been gradually tuning out since the premiere. Some cast changes and shakeups in Joey’s world could help, but the net might need a “Friend” to stop by to give viewers another chance to sample the show.
WHAT HASN’T: In addition to the failed first-year series, third-year drama “American Dreams” remains weak on Sunday, and both comedy vets “Scrubs” and “Will & Grace” have declined.
Speaking of comedy, pretty much every NBC attempt since “Scrubs” has lacked that magical combo of witty writing and perfect casting.
Network has clearly not put the necessary resources into laffers. Whatever it’s expended in time and effort, it should be doubled — that’s how important a hit comedy is for NBC, the net that most viewers still think of first when it comes to sitcoms.
Derivative dramas also haven’t worked, with copshow “Hawaii” the best example of the new season; at least “Medium” is a fresh take on the crime genre.
The network of “ER” and “West Wing” needs to think outside the box to come up with its next big drama idea.
WHAT’S AHEAD: The death of Jerry Orbach certainly puts a damper on “L&O: Trial by Jury,” but the show will go on, with a spring premiere date expected. An 8 o’clock slot, on either Sunday or Wednesday, is a good possibility for this show, which will emphasize the courtroom over cadavers.
Other midseason hopefuls are limited-run end-of-the-world thriller “Revelations” and the remake of British comedy hit “The Office,” which is perhaps the biggest wild card — and a decent longshot bet — for NBC.
BOTTOM LINE: Good news is that there are timeslots where NBC can improve, but the bad news is that each is home to one of the competish’s megahits.
Still, if “Medium” can hold its own opposite “CSI: Miami,” that’s one big step in the right direction.