NBC is a big mess; NBC is on the verge of big success: A critic's take

Given the announcement of its midseason schedule, we can say two things: NBC is in big trouble, and NBC is paving a path to success.

NBC is in big trouble generally because its new fall shows have either been watched with a minimum of enthusiasm or by virtually no one. More specifically, NBC is in big trouble, public-relations-wise, because it will yank Community from its Thursday-night 8 p.m. slot to make way for the return of 30 Rock as of Jan. 12. And Community fans are, I can tell you from experience, some of the most passionate and social-networky fans in the uni-Twitter-verse.

One of NBC’s problems is that it has too many shows, of varying quality, which don’t do well in the ratings. Yes, we all adore the multi-Emmy’d 30 Rock, but it’s not your traditional evening-anchoring hit. Its ratings are solid but modest by that standard. Thus a new January Thursday-night lineup of 30 Rock, my beloved Parks and Recreation, The Office, and a relocated Up All Night is by no means a guaranteed audience-improver. (As for the show that now occupies Thursday nights at 10, Prime Suspect? This getting-better-all-the-time drama is not picking up viewers, and NBC isn’t talking about its future. (My translation: I hope it lasts long enough to air the episode in which my friend Graham Beckel is a guest star.) (UPDATE: Oh, damn: NBC has “shut down production” on Prime Suspect, probably code for “impending cancellation.)

But now flip this argument. NBC is going to replace Prime Suspect in January with The Firm. Shows based on best-sellers and popular movies can do well (let’s see, there was In the Heat of the Night, right?) or they can go limp in the ratings (let’s see — oh, right: Friday Night Lights, which I’d argue was, as a TV series, a better work of art than either the book or the movie it was based on). But The Firm, based on John Grisham brand-recognition, has a good shot at luring eyes to TV screens.

Even better for NBC, The Voice, the network’s biggest recent breakout hit, will return in February. And it will provide a good launching pad for one of the new shows TV critics (including yours truly) have been most enthused about seeing on the air: Smash, the making-of-a-Broadway-musical series starring Debra Messing.

Other scheduling moves NBC is making may not be thrilling — I doubt whether you or I will be front-and-center to watch the reassembled Sunday programming block of Dateline NBC, Celebrity Apprentice, and Harry’s Law — but that lineup may work for the network as alternatives on a hotly contested night.

I know, I know, you’ve been screaming it as you read: Where is Whitney?!? Don’t worry: Your (not-)favorite sitcom moves to the Wednesday Up All Night slot, where NBC’s wild card is going to be played: Are You There, Chelsea?

Now, I haven’t seen one second of this sitcom based on Chelsea Handler’s book and attitude. Maybe NBC is more wise than I give it credit for. But: If I was NBC being pitched a show from a comedian whose act is based largely on her being outrageous and vulgar, I’d say, “Sorry, here in broadcast television at 8:30 p.m., we can’t be as outrageous and vulgar as Chelsea needs to be to satisfy fans. Rather than have us water down the concept, why don’t you toddle on over to FX, where it may be the perfect thing to program with greater creative freedom alongside It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?”

So, in conclusion: Bookmark this post so you can either laugh at me derisively if my NBC analysis proves way off, or hail me as a guy who should be programming NBC.

On second thought, I’d rather keep my TV-critic gig here than program NBC. But you get what I mean…

Oh, and let me start the rallying cry: Free Community! #OccupyGreendale, as @kelliemegnin has suggested after reading this post!

Twitter: @kentucker

For more: NBC announces return of ’30 Rock,’ debut of ‘The Firm’ and ‘Smash’

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