TROUBLE CITY

THUD: UPFRONT SPECIAL (NBC)

THUDBrendan M. LeonardComment

THUDSports fans have Draft Day. I have the upfronts, the yearly event held in New York where the five major broadcast networks – ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and the CW – announce their fall schedules in hopes of attracting some of those killer advertising dollars. That event is this week, and while I’m not currently in New York, THUD will be bringing you news, analysis, as well as a few lame musical theatre references all this week. 

In case you missed our pre-season pilot coverage, you can read part one here and part two here.  

The first network to announce their schedule was NBC, who are coming off of what is, literally, their worst season in history. Just when they thought the ratings couldn’t sink any lower – the breakout success of Heroes aside – they did. Unlike CBS and ABC, whose fortunes were turned around by one or two major hits, NBC needs at least four Grey’s Anatomy-size successes to climb out of the gutter. Were they able to do it? 

New programs are in bold.  

MONDAY
8-9 p.m. “Deal or No Deal”
9-10 p.m. “Heroes”
10-11 p.m. “Journeyman” (New Drama)

TUESDAY
8-9 p.m. “The Biggest Loser”
9-10 p.m. “Chuck” (New Drama)
10-11 p.m. “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”

WEDNESDAY
8-9 p.m. “Deal or No Deal”
9-10 p.m. “Bionic Woman” (New Drama)
10-11 p.m. “Life” (New Drama)

THURSDAY
8-8:30 p.m. “My Name Is Earl”
8:30-9 p.m. “30 Rock” (New Timeslot)
9-9:30 p.m. “The Office” (New Timeslot)
9:30-10 p.m. “Scrubs”
10-11 p.m. “ER”

FRIDAY
8-9 p.m. “1 vs 100″/”The Singing Bee” (New Reality Series)
9-10 p.m. “Las Vegas”
10-11 p.m. “Friday Night Lights” (New Timeslot)

SATURDAY
8-9 p.m. “Dateline NBC”
9-11 p.m. Drama Series Encores

SUNDAY (Fall 2007)
7-8 p.m. “Football Night in America”
8-11 p.m. “NBC Sunday Night Football”

SUNDAY (January 2008)
7-8 p.m. “Dateline NBC”
8-9 p.m. “Law & Order” (New Timeslot)
9-10 p.m. “Medium” (New Timeslot)
10-11 p.m. “Lipstick Jungle” (New Drama)

I think I’ve written enough for this site about how much I’ve been rooting for NBC this season. I definitely think that they’re committed to developing quality programming, but as it stands, this schedule…kinda weak.

Usually, at the upfronts, there’s one or two programs that leap out at you, that catch your eye and make you think “Okay, I’ll check that out.” There’s nothing like that here.

The Singing Bee is televised karaoke. Because televised guessing games and bingo just weren’t boring enough! I haven’t even heard of that show before today and I already hate it.

Chuck, the spy show from O.C. creator Josh Schwartz, could turn out all right, and it’s clear that Journeyman (which is basically Somewhere in Time meets Quantum Leap: The Series) and Bionic Woman (from Battlestar Galactica co-producer David Eick) are part of NBC’s attempt to capture the across-the-board appeal of Heroes, as well as the millions of women and few men who watch “girls shows.” But since Chuck has Battlin’ Adam Baldwin and Bionic Woman has Mr. Miguel Ferrer, I will watch at least a few episodes of each. (Also on Bionic Woman is Mae “Her?” Whitman of Arrested Development fame, playing Sister ‘O’ Bionic Woman.)

There’s already been a ton of press and buzz around Lipstick Jungle, which is based on a book by Sex and the City writer Candace Bushnell and stars Brooke Shields, who took time away from calling Tom Cruise crazy to play a career woman who also wants to be The Best Mom Ever™. So why is it not premiering until midseason? Maybe they weren’t that hot about it and maybe they need some more time to work at it, but I’d hate to think that NBC’s real challenger to the girl show audience is Journeyman.

I was happy to see, though, that Life got picked up for a full season. The show stars Damien Lewis as a wrongly convicted cop returning to the force after years in prison, and also features Adam Arkin and Robin “Calamity Jane” Weigert. It’s a strong concept with a strong cast – we’ll see if the execution is just is strong, but I have this gut feeling that it will be critically beloved and quickly cancelled. Then again, it’s also produced by the guys who did The Astronaut’s Wife. (Shudder.)

Speaking of critically beloved shows, I’ve already seen people freaking out about Friday Night Lights getting moved to Fridays at 10. I can see why this has people bothered, as Fridays are frequently the timeslot of death, where good shows go to die. However, I’d also point out that Fridays at 10 were where NBC ran Homicide: Life on the Street for many years, which was another critically acclaimed show that always struggled in the ratings. This may be NBC’s way of supporting the show and hoping it gains an audience in its second season – and anything after 10 allows for more creative freedom on the part of the creators, anyway. Friday Night Lights, from what I can gather, seems like a show in perpetual need of a good lead-in – I don’t know if that lead in is Las Vegas, but maybe putting after 10 is enough to tell audiences this is more than a just a heart-warming show about football.

Law & Order and Scrubs were two other shows that received a last-minute reprieve after much buzz that they were on the chopping block, and Scrubs won’t move from its current Thursdays at 9:30 time slot. Law & Order, however, won’t premiere till after the football season and will have – as producer Dick Wolf confirmed – a reduced budget. Wolf says that we won’t see the effects of that budget on screen, but every season that Law & Order is on is another season closer to beating Gunsmoke’s record for longest-running primetime drama – and the fact that it’s a midseason show leads me to believe that’s all they’re trying to do with it at this point.

A series that NBC does have faith in is The Office, which, after three seasons, is moving into the fabled Thursdays at 9 slot – one held by Cheers, Seinfeld, and Fraiser. In addition, the show will remain a half-hour as opposed to an hour – though there are plans to do hour-long episodes throughout the season. Unfortunately, moving The Office to 9 puts it in the current Timeslot Of Doom, where it will almost surely come up against the twin juggernauts of CSI and Grey’s Anatomy. I’m glad that NBC believes in The Office so much, but one of the things that has made The Office a minor success are its demographics – the same 18 to 49 year-olds who obsess over Jim and Pam are the same ones who watch Grey’s Anatomy, and I predict you’ll see a slight drop in The Office’s ratings as a result. Still, it’s a slot with a lot of history, and even though this season has had a few missteps, The Office is ready to fill the shoes of its predecessors – as well as gaining the creative freedom that comes with a later time.

Of course, no analysis of NBC’s schedule can be without a mention of the final nail in Studio 60’s coffin. We all knew it was coming for some time – last season’s most buzzed-about drama soon became last season’s most mocked show – but hopefully the resounding failure of The Aaron Sorkin Vengance Hour will remind its once-acclaimed creator that tv really isn’t the best place to get back at your girlfriend. Among the other shows cancelled were Thank God You’re Here, the “I Can’t Believe It’s Improv” sketch show, and Crossing Jordan, from Heroes creator Tim Kring. If you’re wondering where Law & Order: Criminal Intent is, even though you heard it got picked up – first run episodes will air on USA (which is really the Law & Order network already) this fall. And without an announcement for yet another season of The Apprentice, it looks like the Donald has finally been fired.

I haven’t seen any of the pilots, so I can’t tell whether they were any good or not, but I was kind of hoping that M.O.N.Y, the Spike Lee/Barry Levinson/Tom Fontana mayoral drama would get picked up. That seemed like an unbeatable team with an unbeatable concept – maybe it was too highbrow, or too controversial, or maybe they just couldn’t find a good night to put it on.

Fall Prognosis: The new series lack the kind of buzz needed to get NBC out of its rating troubles, and they cancelled the wrong shows (Raines, Raines, Raines) to make room for more reality programming and game shows – stuff that’s cheap to produce, but mindless. This is nowhere near the schedule NBC needed, so I’m going to have to go with poor.

Tomorrow: ABC announces their fall schedule. Who wants to bet Private Practice, the Grey’s Anatomy spin off, will be on it?