You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Upfront Scorecard: NBC Bets on Stars, Families, Synergy – And Downplays Latenight

NBC’s upfront presentation lasted an hour and 45 minutes, but almost all of the important messages had to be decoded in a kind of subtext – some intended, others not and requiring a more trained eye to read.

The network opened by discussing what NBC Entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt called “a bit of a rollercoaster season for us” – which exhibits a gift for understatement – and touting the synergistic potential of the full slate of NBCUniversal networks, a strategy the company has given the name Symphony.

In other words, pay no attention to that struggling broadcast network in front of the curtain. It’s just a small part of a massive entertainment machine. Sounds great, except every other network presenting this week can point to its own array of assets, so demonstrating how finely tuned Symphony is will warrant a bit more proof.

After that, there were some discordant – or downright puzzling – notes.

Perhaps the most inexplicable involved latenight, where Greenblatt thanked Jay Leno for his 20 years of yeoman service, then discussed the plans to launch Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers as the network’s new latenight tandem coming out of the Winter Olympics in February.

Remarkably, none of the three hosts appeared live on stage. Not Leno to take a bow. Not Fallon or Meyers (who was in the audience and took a bow) to provide a few jokes and lighten up the morning. Greenblatt thanked the audience for “having a sense of humor about latenight,” but that’s more than NBC – after its protracted game of cat and mouse with the media about the shift – exhibited. And a taped Fallon-Leno duet, this time set to “Les Miserables,” felt a little tired after the “West Side Story” version.

Seriously, not one Conan joke? Lighten up, guys.

Granted, in the bigger scheme of things it’s not a big deal, except comics are one of the few ways to bring some showmanship to these presentations. And instead of showcasing its comedic stars, NBC looked as if it is was hiding them.

In terms of the network’s primetime development, the other unspoken messages were A) we’re going to rely very heavily on recognizable stars; and B) we would like to bring a family audience back to primetime. The latter has been shown to be an iffy approach, and the latter an extraordinarily difficult, thread-the-needle one in this fragmented day and age.

Even with big names returning to the lineup on Thursday night – including former occupants Sean Hayes and Michael J. Fox – it’s also hard to expect too much from a comedy block consisting of “Parks & Recreation” and three new sitcoms. A little more salesmanship on why that has the potential to work – other than the clips of the shows, which were so-so – certainly would have been advisable.

As for the new dramas, although the concept looks like another “Silence of the Lambs” rehash (which felt odd after “Hannibal”), “The Blacklist” showed potential thanks primarily to the prospect of seeing James Spader in that kind of serpentine-criminal role, just as Blair Underwood brought some sizzle to “Ironside” that the show otherwise appeared to lack. (NBC Entertainment Prez Jennifer Salke stressed the new version had nothing to do with the Raymond Burr one, which does sort of make you wonder why bother dredging up the name at all.)

Once again, NBC seems to be putting a lot of stock in the Olympics as a launching pad to its midseason/spring programming efforts, which requires a bit of willful amnesia about what a hit-miss proposition that has been in the past.

On the plus side, the Olympics will help bridge the gap between editions of “The Voice” during which NBC struggled so mightily this season. In addition, the Peacock is hardly the only network facing a “Prove it to me” challenge this week, so by Thursday, its wares might look a little better in the rear-view mirror.

Still, the message execs pushed about their momentum and progress – based on Monday’s preview – felt more hopeful than tangible. For a network that wound up axing “The New Normal,” that remains the old normal.

Preliminary grade: C+

(Upfront presentations are graded on a curve, so all evaluations are subject to revision at the end of the week.)

More TV

  • Lisa Borders Time's Up

    Time's Up President Lisa Borders Resigns

    Lisa Borders has resigned as president of Time’s Up, she and the organization announced on Monday. Borders is resigning due to family issues, she said in a statement. Time’s Up COO Rebecca Goldman will now serve as interim CEO. “As Time’s Up continues to grow, I am proud of the work I have done to [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron71st Annual Writers Guild Awards,

    Alfonso Cuarón on Academy's 'Inevitable' Reversal on Televised Oscar Categories

    Alfonso Cuarón isn’t exactly surprised that the Academy reversed its decision and will now air all the Oscar categories during the live show on Sunday. Feb. 24. Calling the decision “inevitable,”Cuarón tells Variety that he thinks the Academy should take things even further. “Let’s stop calling them technical categories!” he told Variety on Sunday night [...]

  • Desus Nice The Kid Mero

    TV Shows to Watch the Week of Feb. 18, 2019: Academy Awards, 'Desus & Mero'

    Welcome back to Tune In: our weekly newsletter offering a guide to the best of the week’s TV. Each week, Variety’s TV team combs through the week’s schedule, selecting our picks of what to watch and when/how to watch them. This week, the Academy Awards air and Desus & Mero make their debut on Showtime. [...]

  • WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01

    BBC Takes Stake in New Company Set Up by ‘Luther,’ ‘Bodyguard’ Exec

    BBC Studios has taken a minority stake in Firebird Pictures, the new drama indie being set up by BBC execs Elizabeth Kilgarriff and Craig Holleworth. Kilgarriff’s credits include “Luther,” “Poldark,” “McMafia” and upcoming Richard Gere-starrer “MotherFatherSon.” She commissioned breakout drama hit “Bodyguard.” Holleworth will be the new company’s COO, having run business and operations for [...]

  • Punisher Jessica Jones

    Marvel's 'The Punisher,' 'Jessica Jones' Canceled at Netflix

    The last of Netflix’s Marvel shows are officially ending. “The Punisher” has been canceled after its second season, and the upcoming third season of “Jessica Jones” will be its last, Netflix confirmed on Monday. The announcement comes after Netflix gave the ax to its other Marvel series: “Daredevil,” “Iron First,” and “Luke Cage.” “Marvel’s ‘The Punisher’ will [...]

  • SND Boards Comedy Series 'Family Shake'

    SND Boards Comedy Series 'Family Shake' With 'Desperate Parents' Producer

    SND, the commercial arm of the French TV network M6, has acquired worldwide distribution rights to “Family Shake,” a comedy series written by Baya Kasmi and Michel Leclerc. SND is the latest vertically integrated French film group to start handling live-action series, following TF1 Studio, Studiocanal and Gaumont, among others. Produced by Gaëlle Cholet at [...]

  • 'Super Shiro' Anime Series Inspired by

    'Super Shiro' Anime Series Inspired by 'Crayon Shin-chan'

    The enduringly popular Japanese cartoon franchise “Crayon Shin-chan” has inspired a new animated TV series, “Super Shiro.” “Crayon Shin-chan” has been on air since 1992 and inspired 26 feature films. “Super Shiro” is a fast-paced chase series, for kids, based on original IP by Yoshito Usui and scripted by on Kimiko Ueno.  The series is [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content