The reconstruction of NBC’s Thursday night lineup begins with the kickoff on Super Bowl Sunday. The Peacock has as much at stake in the telecast of the big game on Feb. 1 as do the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots.
NBC is relocating its most valuable scripted-series asset, “The Blacklist,” from Monday to Thursday in an effort to shore up a night that has become a black hole for the network. “Blacklist” opens the second leg of its sophomore season with the post-Super Bowl airing of a two-part episode. The conclusion will run four nights later when the James Spader starrer settles into its new Thursday 9 p.m. berth.
The move of the show from its familiar Monday 10 p.m. slot is risky, even with a Super Bowl-sized platform to promote the timeslot switch.
“Blacklist” is the anchor of NBC’s new all-drama strategy on Thursday — a radical makeover of a night that has had a long legacy of laffers, from “Family Ties” and “Cheers” through “Friends” and “Seinfeld” to “The Office” and “30 Rock.” NBC now aims to draw viewers to a block of intense, heavily serialized hours, with the espionage thriller “Allegiance” following “Blacklist” at 10 p.m., and the limited series “The Slap” arriving at 8 p.m. on Feb. 12. (The 8 p.m. hour on Feb. 5 will see a rerun of the first half of “The Blacklist” two-parter.)
NBC’s drama-rama reflects a renewed interest among the broadcast networks to market specific blocs of programming as must-see events in addition to promoting individual shows. NBC’s bid to turn Thursday into a destination night of shows of a similar genre and tone would seem a counterintuitive approach at a time of time-shifted viewing and on-demand platforms offering an alphabetical menu of shows.
But ABC’s success this season in stacking three Shonda Rhimes-produced dramas on Thursday — “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder” — and selling them to viewers as a can’t-miss, tweet-along-with-us weekly event has execs reconsidering the importance of branding a night. NBC was the modern pioneer with its “Must-See TV” tagline affixed to Thursday night in the 1990s. ABC echoed its past by branding the new incarnation “TGIT,” a play on the “TGIF” moniker for the block of family comedies that aired on Fridays in the 1980s and ’90s.
ABC Entertainment Group prez Paul Lee credited the Alphabet’s new Thursday traction as an old-fashioned feat of scheduling that was enhanced by the lure of second-screen activity in real time for ardent fans. He praised ABC’s lineup-makers for pulling off “a rather brilliant mix of the very, very new and the very, very old.” ABC is now taking the same tack on Wednesday night with its 8-10 p.m. bloc of domestic comedies, anchored by “Modern Family.”
NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt gave a nod to ABC’s Thursday success in outlining the Peacock’s overhaul of the night. NBC’s dramas hope to skew more male than ABC’s femme-heavy lineup, but nonetheless the Peacock is facing strong competition from the Shondaland trio as well as CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory”-infused alignment.
“We think that while the move of ‘Blacklist’ is certainly risky, the only way to really reinvigorate that night is to jump-start it with something like ‘The Blacklist,’ ” Greenblatt told reporters last month. “We’re trying to create a new night of really high-quality drama, which hopefully will bring an audience.”
NBC hasn’t had a drama-laden Thursday night since the 1979-80 season. It has carried a four-stack of 8-10 p.m. comedies on the night since at least 1982, with the exception of 2004-2005, when “The Apprentice” aired at 9 p.m. Execs wrestled over the decision to drop the comedy block, but the high casualty rate for new shows in those time periods ultimately left them no choice.
“We looked at ourselves and thought that putting comedies there that we love and having them fail started to feel like the definition of insanity,” said NBC Entertainment prexy Jennifer Salke. “We’re really proud of the Thursday prestige dramas anchored by ‘The Blacklist.’”
Thursday is vital to all major networks because it is a highly trafficked night for TV viewing overall and a high-demand night for advertisers looking to influence weekend purchasing decisions. Greenblatt said he doesn’t expect “Blacklist” to draw a bigger audience on Thursday than it has on Monday.
NBC feels confident that the live-plus-7 ratings will remain constant, because 60% of the show’s viewers watch it on a time-shifted basis.
“Hopefully it will be a big enough live number to help turn the tide on (Thursday),” Salke said.
Noting that it took ABC years to find the right mix of shows, Greenblatt cautioned that re-establishing Thursday will likely be a years-long process.
“I think we can completely reconfigure the night and hopefully build something for the future that lasts,” he said. “If you don’t start that move at some point, you’ll never get there.”