Complete coverage of the 2011 upfronts
The Best and Worst of Upfronts 2011
ABC: Lee Gets Network Laughing Again
CBS: Scheduling For Strength
Fox: 'In It to Win It' With Big Bets Like 'X Factor'
The CW: Pushing for More Original Programming
Turner: Programs Power Through Upfront Clips Snafu
ESPN: Flexing Its Marketing Muscle
Upfront 2011 Marketplace: Wet Week Clears Way For Hot Ad Market
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STRATEGY: Hoping to stoke a turnaround by opening a new night of comedy and holding some assets—including rare NBC hit The Voice— until midseason.
Battling against the high expectations many in the industry have for him may be the toughest task facing new NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt, but at least he already heads into next season with a new bullet in his gun. So it seems savvy that Greenblatt says despite announcing 12 new series for 2011-12, his top priority is nurturing The Voice so that it has a long-term shelf life.
While Greenblatt would love to find a new hit among the dozen rookies, he’s made it clear there’s only so much that can be done in one season. And he won’t say this, so we will: Since a lot of NBC’s development slate was under way before he came in with the new Comcast management, he will get something of a pass if the fall tanks. So for next season, Greenblatt’s goals are turning The Voice into a multiyear juggernaut and expanding comedy beyond Thursdays.
Cementing some longevity for The Voice was a big driver for holding the singing competition until midseason, when it will take over the Monday 8-10 slot from The Sing-Off, establishing the night as a season-long destination for the genre. Sound familiar? It’s what Fox is doing with the twin scheduling of American Idol and The X Factor. Hot pilot Smash, which Greenblatt brought from Showtime, will be held for midseason to get the plum post-Voice lead-in, a good thematic and audience companion for the musical drama.
The Sing-Off has performed solidly in short December runs the past two years, “getting a sizable audience with no promotion and no marketing,” Greenblatt told B&C, earning the show a weekly-format berth next season.
Greenblatt’s other big play is opening up a new night of comedy on Wednesdays. Two new comedies, Up All Night and Free Agents, will anchor the new block; Greenblatt is hoping the sitcom chops of stars Christina Applegate and Hank Azaria will be enough to make these shows selfstarters. “We’re not fooling ourselves—it isn’t going to be easy,” he told B&C. “We’re going to have to be patient and spend a fair amount of money trying to get an audience to that time period in comedy.”
Launching new dramas has been a headache for NBC as of late, as none (count ’em, none) of last fall’s five rookie dramas survived; midseason entry Harry’s Law, which execs admit was an accidental success, is the only one returning. Four of NBC’s six new dramas will air at 10 p.m., a tricky time period for all of the nets. The Playboy Club will get the post Sing-Off slot in fall; Smash and The Firm will premiere in midseason; and Prime Suspect will take the hour on Thursdays (the spot once occupied by ER), in a bid to reestablish the night for NBC.
Following in the footsteps of Fox and CBS, NBC will schedule scripted programming on Fridays this fall, shifting perennial bubble show Chuck from Mondays to Fridays for the series’ 13-episode final season, leading into new fantasy drama Grimm. “I thought if we have a chance of transporting an audience to Friday night, it might be with something that has a real loyal following,” Greenblatt said.
Other new series slated for midseason, but not yet scheduled, are drama Awake and comedies Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea; Best Friends Forever; and Bent.
With so much change in the schedule, it was necessary to keep some elements in place, Greenblatt said. Tuesday is returning intact with The Biggest Loser and Parenthood, as is much of the Thursday comedy block, with Community, Parks & Recreation and The Office leading into new laffer Whitney (30 Rock will return in midseason).
Sunday Night Football also remains scheduled for the fall, although NBC has a contingency plan to produce “high-quality, live-event reality shows” to fill out the Sunday lineup should the return of the football season be delayed due to labor negotiations. If the net doesn’t end up needing the shows for Sundays, they could be used as filler for scripted shows that flop. “There are any number of places they could go,” Greenblatt said.
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