First impressions of the fall lineups. Grades are subject to revision –- TV works on a curve -– at the close of the upfront festivities.
Donald Trump got laughs at NBC’s upfront presentation, and Jimmy Fallon didn’t. Then again, at least Trump’s announcement that he wouldn’t be running for president qualified as a win-win — for America, and the network’s Sunday-night lineup.
New NBC Entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt said all the right stuff at this year’s upfront. A new attitude. Patience. No more Zucker-like talk about “managing for margins.”
But based on what the network has lined up for the fall, anyway, it looks like patience is definitely going to be required.
In fact, NBC would probably like to put the whole season in suspended animation until January, when it’s situation looks considerably stronger than in September. Several of the midseason shows appear promising, unlike most of the fall contenders, which include low-rated returnees like “Parenthood” and “Chuck.” In addition, all Greenblatt could say was that NFL Sunday Night Football would “most likely” only be delayed a few weeks if the lockout continues, which seems optimistic, and potentially leaves a gaping void in the network’s schedule.
Greenblatt spoke about putting on “original, attention-getting shows,” but precious little of the fall crop — and almost none of the previewed comedies — appear to fit that description. (“Up All Night” got the highest marks, but as a new parent myself trying not to cuss around the kids, take that with a grain of salt.)
The most interesting dramatic newcomer, meanwhile, “The Playboy Club,” could be a tough sell as a broad-appeal ratings grabber, in a cable sort of way, though that definitely merits a look (and perhaps a royalty to “Mad Men”).
Beyond that, Greenblatt — who developed “The X-Files” at Fox — will return to that playbook by putting a macabre new hour, “Grimm,” in the same 9 p.m. Friday slot that Mulder and Scully originally occupied. Still, the benefits of scripted Friday-night fare have largely failed to materialize despite a push there this season.
The network’s fortunes look much improved come January, when NBC will bring back “The Voice” — over-billed as a “game changer,” which seems premature — and introduce the dramas “Smash” and “Awake.” The latter, starring “Brothers'” Jason Issacs, looked especially interesting, at least based on the cutdown shown Monday. And NBC hosts this year’s Super Bowl, which will give the network a major promotional platform, the question mark being what the network’s labor woes might do to the schedule.
NBC’s Ted Harbert spoke early about not trying to reinvent the wheel and focusing on basic “blocking and tackling” and “Broadcasting 101,” but that might be the last blocking and tackling we see on television for awhile.
“Today is the start of the road to recovery,” Greenblatt said, in a presentation that ran nearly two hours and could have done without NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol joking about throwing like a girl. Greenblatt added, “We view this as a marathon, not a sprint.”
That’s the right mindset. But unless something unexpectedly breaks out (a disclaimer that applies to all the presentations, naturally), I have a feeling the fall’s going to feel a bit more like a Death March. Fortunately, the network has a better chance of starting to hit its stride, at least a little bit, come January.
Preliminary grade: C+