With a look at NBC’s schedule, my coverage of the 2006-2007 upfronts (the annual presentation of network’s new schedules to media outlets and advertisers) comes to a close.
NBC is in the worst shape of the 5 major networks. It’s coming off yet another disastrous year and they’ve been facing this downward trend ever since the loss of The Jennifer Aniston Show, otherwise known as Friends. After foolishly betting on the charm of Joey to carry the Must See TV torch, NBC settled on the Donald’s hairpiece to keep the network relevant on Thursdays with The Apprentice. Now after that show and the Donald himself have begun to show their age, NBC is betting on a series of new shows and young hits to keep their dreams of world television domination alive in 2006-2007. That’s not to say that last year was a total waste: the game show, Deal or No Deal, hosted by Bobby’s World creator/the world’s most famous OCD patient Howie Mandel, was a surprise hit last season, as was the new comedy My Name is Earl.
NBC also has some of the most talked about shows of the new season, including not one but two about the backstage madness going on at an SNL-style show. One, 30 Rock a half-hour comedy from the mind of Tina Fey, the other an hour-long drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, from West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin. This season, NBC said goodbye to two of the network’s longest running, most decorated shows, Will & Grace (Most. Depressing Series Finale. Ever.) and The West Wing. Cancelled are the aforementioned Joey (burning off its last few episodes sometime this summer), the Law & Order-spin-off Conviction (Does this mean Stephanie March will head back to SVU? Pretty Please?), E-Ring and reality shows Fear Factor and The Apprentice: Martha Stewart Concentration Camp. NBC was actually the first of the networks to reveal its schedule but held a press conference last week to reveal major updates to its new schedule. The reason? Grey’s Anatomy’s move to Thursdays at 9PM where it was going to compete against/demolish Studio 60, which was in position to reignite Must See TV Thursday. You see, Meredith Grey doesn’t only destroy lives in Seattle Grace; hers is the most deadly plague since the spreading of the McPheever. Also it should be noted that Scrubs HAS been renewed for a full season, but its premiere date has not yet been confirmed. At first it was speculated that it would return midseason, but with the recent shakeups to the schedule, it could return earlier. To find out what other surprises NBC has in store for us, join me after the jump!
JOHN MADDEN TRYING TO CALCULATE EXACTLY HOW MUCH MONEY HE HAS. AND HOW MUCH IT WOULD COST TO BUY CO-SPORTSCASTER AL MICHAEL’S IMMORTAL SOUL.
In one of the biggest coups for NBC, this season the NFL returns to the Peacock on Sunday nights for the first time in years. This basically guarantees the faltering network a ratings boost for the first half of the season. AT 7 PM, NBC is boasting the first ever full hour NFL pre-game program, anchored by Al Michaels and John Madden, who despite popular belief, isn’t just a guy whose name is on a videogame. At 8 PM the football game coverage will begin.
After the football season ends, NBC will have a little post-partem depression but hopes to rebound quickly with the return of the Simon Cowell produced reality competition, America’s Got Talent. The show actually premieres over the summer; so I suppose if it’s not a ratings winner, NBC will be looking for another show to fill this slot. America’s Got Talent is kind of a Star Search/American Idol hybrid, except instead of singers singing their hearts out, they’ll be contortionists, contorting their hearts out and fire-eaters fire eating their hearts out. Why not just call it America’s Next Carnival Sideshow? The big shock here is that the host of America’s Got Talent will be… REGIS PHILBIN! Yes, the Reege! This may not seem like a huge controversy, but as you may have noted, America’s Got Talent is not being aired on ABC where the Reege has set up shop for years and years. How will this effect his morning show? How about those Who Wants to Be a Millionaire specials? Most importantly, what of Kelly Ripa!?!? Also premiering in January will be Raines, starring Jeff Goldblum as a detective who gets confessions out of criminals by stammering and rubbing his forehead until they get so annoyed by his tics and mannerisms they crack.
JUST LET ME GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY: COULD I BE ANY MORE EXCITED ABOUT THIS SHOW?
At 8PM, Deal or No Deal is going to lead off the evening, and I’ll probably start watching because I think Howie Mandell is about one handshake away from a full-on nervous breakdown. At 9PM is the premiere of the new show Heroes, which depending on who you listen to is the best new show of the year or the first potential bomb of the season. Personally, this is one of the new shows that I am most looking forward to. The show centers on a group of strangers who suddenly discover they have superpowers. Supposedly, this is played more for drama than a Smallville-like actioner, which is fine with me. I like to think that it’s not the big comic book nerd in me that’s excited about Heroes but rather the enlightened television connoisseur.
On that note let’s take a look at the stellar cast: Alias/Lost monster food Greg Grunberg takes the lead, along with Final Destination star Ali Larter, finally realizing that Final Destination is as good as its gonna get for her on the big screen, and Gilmore Girls’ Milo Ventimiglia (who also, for some reason, will be starring in the new Rocky film Rocky 26: Rocky Takes Manhattan). Rounding out the cast is Hayden Panettiere (Malcolm in the Middle), Adrian Pasdar (RIP – Profit) and Leonard Roberts (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer season 3 recurring guest star alert!). I won’t reveal the powers of each of the characters, but they range from flight to indestructibility to telepathy to inability to get a date for being such a massive dork. In a decision that bodes very well for Heroes, NBC recently blinked and moved Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip from Thursdays at 9 PM (where it would go up against Grey’s Anatomy, CSI and The O.C.) to Mondays at 10 PM. There, Studio 60’s only real competition will be CSI: Miami, and hopefully the night will be big enough for both Studio 60 and David Caruso’s hair. Studio 60’s only concern is too much buzz. The hour-long drama about the goings-on behind the scenes at an SNL-type series has been so hyped at this point there is nothing that could satisfy people. As a matter of fact, the very entertaining clip shown at the upfronts was strangely met with mixed reactions. See it for yourself here. I think that perhaps people thought the combination of Aaron Sorkin producing, Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet and Bradley Whitford starring, and a plum-NBC timeslot was going to instantly be the second coming of Jerry Seinfeld. Instead, what you have here is a very smart, very funny, very promising clip that shows how un-Chandler Matthew Perry will be and how un-annoying Amanda Peet will be. Monday night, for the first time in a long time, is now relevant to me beyond Jack Bauer.
The only other show to get nearly as much buzz as Studio 60 at the upfronts was Friday Night Lights, a small-screen adaptation of the 2004 Billy Bob Thornton film (which in turn was a big screen adaptation of the H.G. Bissinger book). Networks have had a great deal of trouble adapting films into television series (see Parenthood, My Big Fat Greek Crapfest, etc.), but seeing how this was a great film that wasn’t hugely successful, and its theme (High School + Small town X great expectations = good drama) is a pretty appealing one, NBC seems to be riding high while squashing the notion that this is strictly a show about football (it’s about LIFE). Kyle Chandler takes over the Billy Bob Thornton role as the coach with Connie Brittion co-starring. I say, yes please. Following Friday Night Lights will be a double dose of Law & Order. In a post-upfronts scheduling change that pissed off über-producer Dick Wolf, Law & Order: Criminal Intent will be moved to 9PM and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit will stay put at 10PM. Whether or not Criminal Intent will keep it’s half- Vincent D’Onfrio-scene-chewing and half Chris Noth-mugging structure remains to be seen, but it seems likely. While the beloved Mariska Hargitay is on maternity leave over on SVU, stalling a Stabler-Benson make-out session even further, Gladiator temptress Connie Nielson joins the cast as Elliot Stabler’s new partner for a handful of episodes.
DEAR GOD, THANK YOU FOR GIVING US HEALTH, LOVE AND DEBBIE DOWNER
At 8PM NBC will launch two comedies, both of which have great potential. First is 20 Good Years, starring John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor (welcome home, Papa Bluth!) as two sixtysomethings who decide to make the best of the life they have left. Sounds like a big, broad comedy that you can gauge your enjoyment level based on your feelings towards the two leads. I am predicting that it won’t be nearly as clever as Arrested Development, but not as slapstick happy as Third Rock from the Sun. Props to NBC for programming for my grandmother, however.
At 8:30 PM will be the premiere of 30 Rock, the SNL-satire from Tina Fey, who will be forsaking her head writer duties on the real Saturday Night Live, but not her Weekend Update co-anchor spot, to write, executive produce and star in 30 Rock. I’m assuming that even if the show doesn’t achieve the brilliance that it is capable of, the worst episode of 30 Rock will be better than the best episode of many other sitcoms on television. I say this based on nothing but the fact that Weekend Update is constantly the funniest part of SNL, and that Mean Girls was one of the most surprisingly funny movies I’ve seen in the past few years (don’t deny it, you get passed the Lindsay Lohan, and there’s a quality movie there). With Tina Fey headlining, Alec Baldwin as a new Network president, and SNL-alums Rachel Dratch and Tracy Morgan rounding out the cast, this show has a lot more to live up to in my mind than Studio 60. This fresh comedy block doesn’t seem like an ideal pairing with a fresh cycle of The Biggest Loser, a show I like to watch because it makes me feel pretty good about my life. As I shovel nachos into my mouth, I can at least say to myself, well, you’re not fat enough to be on The Biggest Loser. At 10 PM will be the premiere of the new show Kidnapped, which sounds like it may be a frontrunner for first casualty of FALL 2006 if it doesn’t deliver solidly on its been-there-done-that premise: A wealthy family’s teenage son is kidnapped, and it’s up to the psycho brother from Six Feet Under (Jeremy Sisto) to get him back. The show has an impressive pedigree – Dana Delaney, Timothy Hutton and Delroy Lindo co-star and David Greenwalt (Angel) is one of the shows producers – but is anyone clamoring for another serialized thriller? However, this does look more appealing than the Da Vinci Code knock off, Vanished, premiering this fall on FOX. I’ll be the first to eat my words if the show is more of a Prison Break than a Reunion.
“I JUST NEEDED YOU TO KNOW… ONCE”
Oh Must-See-TV, how far you’ve fallen! With the sad state of Thursday night on NBC, it’s hard to remember that Thursday night on NBC was a fixture from before those coffee-loving genetic freaks hung out here through most of the ’90s. Thursdays on NBC is where The Cosby Show, Cheers, Seinfeld, etc. all set up shop from the early ’80s on. So it’s no wonder that NBC is trying desperately to keep the tailspin that Joey Tribbinani caused under control (even sadder, the thought that poor, sweet, trashy Adrianna had to get whacked on The Sopranos so Drea De Matto and her body of steel could head on over to LA with her brother Joey). The original plan was to start the evening off with their two biggest comedy hits (and arguably, the two best comedies on television), My Name Is Earl and The Office, followed by the hyped-to-the-hilt Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and finishing off the night with old standby ER. It sounded like the return of Must-See-TV to everyone! Including ABC, who decided to transplant the horny interns of Grey’s Anatomy to Thursdays at 9PM (did you hear about that one yet?), all but guaranteeing that Studio 60 would be crushed under the weight of McDreamy’s hair product. So NBC blinked. They are keeping My Name Is Earl at 8 PM and The Office at 8:30 PM, and it has to be said: The Office is my favorite comedy on television. The season finale was, in a word, genius. If you are not watching because you’re a fan of the original British version or because you don’t think you can click with the funky rhythms of the show, please give it a shot (either on iTunes or reruns or on DVD). You will not be sorry. Jim and Pam forever! Everyone else never! Also, let’s give some love to My Name is Earl, which is a solidly funny and quirky show, thanks in no small part to a crackerjack ensemble, especially Jamie “Who Knew You Were Anything But a Hot Piece of Ass” Pressley, giving a comic tour de force. Seriously, watch this hour of comedy next season.
At 9PM NBC will air another hour of Deal or No Deal, and while it’s not the sexiest scheduling choice, it’ll be a solid ratings winner in a tough time slot. At 10 PM someone will surely care that ER is back for its umpteenth season. It’s just not me. At midseason, NBC will premiere The Black Donnellys, a drama about four young working class Irish brothers getting into trouble in New York City. The show is getting great buzz and comes from Paul Haggis, director of the Academy Award winning Crash, a great movie (although I felt its message was a little heavy handed at times). This leaves me excited for Donnellys, and its solid young cast including Jonathan Tucker (one of Leatherface’s more unfortunate victims in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake), Thomas Guiry and everyone’s favorite lesbian teen fling, The O.C.’s Olivia Wilde. I think the plan is to move Donnellys to another night after premiering it Thursdays at 10PM for a few weeks during an ER hiatus.
After the Greys-gate of ’06, NBC decided to take Crossing Jordan off the mid-season sidelines and bring it back Fridays at 8 PM, effectively placing Medium (and its declining ratings) in mid-season limbo. At 9PM, Las Vegas will continue its fun-run as television’s best guilty pleasure show. I have to admit, however, as much as I love beautiful people being beautiful in Las Vegas, this show failed to live up to its promise earlier in the season by killing off Lara Flynn Boyle in the lamest way possible. Yeah it was funny, but come on, sending her literally, FLYING OFF THE ROOF by a gust of wind? Believe me, much funnier in theory than it was in practice. 10 PM is the new home for the original Law & Order after a season finale full of, umm, cast changes. Expect a lot of new faces next season to put some new life in the fading workhorse.
NBC isn’t even pretending to schedule programming; so it will drop in a Dateline airing followed by Drama Series reruns.
So that’s all she wrote. I’m pretty psyched about a lot of NBC’s lineup, which is quite unusual. Heroes, Studio 60, 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights are about one good commercial away from season passes on my DVR. What are you looking forward to?
And that concludes my coverage of the upfronts in New York. Hope you enjoyed it! And just a sidenote: don’t get too attached to any of these timeslots and series. Shows have a tendency of getting moved around or disappearing during the long summer months. See you on the flip!