The broadcast networks unveil their 2016-17 lineups the week of May 16. Before that happens, TV by the Numbers will look at each of the Big 4 networks and assess a few things they really need to happen next season. (The CW has renewed virtually all of its series, so it just has to deal with making a schedule to fit them all.)
On the surface, NBC has had a decent season. At least four of its new series will be back next season, and it’s poised to finish second in adults 18-49 for the year behind CBS (which got a bump from the Super Bowl). All good, right?
Not exactly. NBC’s ratings are built on the backs of “Sunday Night Football” and “The Voice,” and the latter has fallen a fair amount in its spring cycle. None of its scripted shows will average a 2.0 same-day rating in adults 18-49 for the season; each of the other Big 4 networks has at least one.
The Peacock has some work to do, in other words. Here are a few places to start.
A non-‘Voice’ incubator
“The Voice” is still doing just fine, in the context of the current Nielsen climate. But asking it to be the launchpad for seemingly every new show NBC offers up seems a bit much. The show has helped “Blindspot” stay afloat, and it gave “Superstore” a platform. But “Blindspot” follows “The Voice” every week, and “Superstore” aired on the night it previewed.
But “The Carmichael Show,” “Crowded,” “Heartbeat,” “Game of Silence”? None of them got any lasting help following their post-“Voice” debuts. Consistent scheduling still matters, even in the DVR age. “The Voice” can maybe help the shows that air after it week to week, but the one-off previews haven’t done the new shows any good, and they’ve probably annoyed some fans of the regular occupants of those time periods.
The problem, of course, is that there’s little else that can provide even that much of a rented audience for a new series. But this isn’t the movie business. An opening-week pop won’t save any shows over the long term. Putting a show in its timeslot and letting viewers and DVR algorithms find it week after week might help a little.
A stronger commitment to comedy
“Superstore” succeeded this winter almost in spite of NBC’s efforts. “The Carmichael Show” has critical love and a good lead-in, but on a night where NBC hadn’t aired comedy in ages. Its only comedies in the fall, “Undateable” and the now-long gone “Truth Be Told,” aired in the sparsely watched hinterlands of Friday. None of those shows ran for a full season.
It would be understating things to say the network hasn’t been super-interested in comedy the past couple of seasons. But treating comedy as a full-fledged arm of the schedule rather than just in-season duct tape would be a welcome change.
“Superstore” found its audience with very little help. That’s something to build on next season, perhaps with “Carmichael” and a couple of new shows to form a real comedy block. A little light on the schedule would be nice.
A better post-football plan
Here’s what aired at 9 p.m. ET Sundays in the weeks between the Golden Globes on Jan. 10 and the Sunday premiere of “The Carmichael Show” on March 13: A presidential debate, the movie “Bridesmaids” (opposite the NFC Championship on FOX) an “American Ninja Warrior” special, the movie “Pitch Perfect” (opposite the Super Bowl), a “Tonight Show” Valentine’s special, the James Burrows tribute with the “Friends” not-really-reunion, the movie “Ted” (opposite the Oscars) and “Dateline.”
Not wanting to waste originals opposite the two most-watched NFL games of the year and the Oscars is just good sense. The rest is utter hodgepodge. The prevalence of big events on other networks on winter Sundays makes scheduling a challenge, to be sure, but there must be a better way to go than that.
The network can’t air its live musical “Hairspray” on a Thursday in December next season thanks to its “Thursday Night Football” contract. It’s already announced a date of Wednesday, Dec. 7, but the Sunday after the Globes would be a pretty nice place to put it too. Heck, NBC could even experiment with a short-run series in big blocks over a couple of weeks — the broadcast version of a binge-watch.
That probably won’t happen, but it would be fascinating to see a network try.
Go here for more coverage of the 2016 upfronts and the coming season.