This week I’ll give you all my two cents on the network strategies following their upfront announcements. For the purposes of all this, I’m going to operate under the assumption that scheduling still matters (it does), but equally as important, what is each network saying about who they are and what is their strategy (if any) moving forward? Today it’s NBC and FOX.
NBC is in a good place (see what I just did there?) at the moment, and it’s reflected in a solid, sensible schedule. I left the Peacock in March 2000, and after going through the Garth Ancier-Jeff Zucker-Ben Silverman-Jeff Gaspin era, they finally came upon Bob Greenblatt. And with the addition of some ABC schedulers, NBC is back on top.
There’s a lot going right there. They have “Sunday Night Football,” Dick Wolf — heck, a whole night of Dick Wolf’s Chicago — “The Voice” (starting to fade a bit, but still) and a legit success in “This Is Us.” They have also gone back to a Must-See TV structure on Thursday night with some critical if not ratings successes, anchored by a MSTV revival in “Will & Grace.”
As “This Is Us” enters its third season, NBC is finally trying to take advantage of the show by pairing it up with another manipulative, tug-at-the-heartstrings (not that there’s anything wrong with that) companion in “New Amsterdam.” Like FOX’s “The Resident,” “New Amsterdam” pits young, idealistic doctors against “the man.” They save lives in spite of the system. A definite upgrade for the Menendez brothers as a “TIU” lead-out this season.
I’m a bit more skeptical about “Manifest.” There have been so many shows similar to this (ABC seems to do at least one every year), and they generally collapse because the concept is not sustainable. They tend to keep the “why” from the audience for too long, and when they finally reveal the secret, it’s generally a letdown, and now that audiences know the hook, why continue to watch? The trailer did try to give “Manifest” that “TIU” rub, but we’ll see.
NBC is in a good position to continue its run, and there’s nothing here that feels like a slip or a missed opportunity. They also get the added love for “saving” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” which will probably show up on Thursday in mid-season. They are great Americans.
FOX appears to have made the most with what they have with the cloud of the potential sale of most of 21st Century Fox to Disney or possibly Comcast cast over this upfront. Either way, the broadcast network and the stations are the orphans, and although this is a good schedule, it’s still not clear how this all positions the network for what’s to come, possibly by next May.
FOX relies on its sibling studio (as it should) for most of its content, so what happens when they are split up and the network has to foot the enormous license fees for the animated behemoths of “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”?
The first thing that jumped out at me about this schedule is the total repudiation of niche FOX comedies. It’s about time. That “brand” has been replaced by a more populist and multi-cam approach. Keeping “Last Man Standing” on Friday night was a smart play with no downside.
There are two moves that I sort of liked. Finally giving “Bob’s Burgers” the “Simpsons”/”Family Guy” hammock made my heart skip a beat (actually, that happens a lot with me), and pairing up “9-1-1” and “The Resident” (which I like), thus giving FOX a broad-appeal night of healing shows, was yet another announcement that this is a more mature, broad-appeal network. I would have started Monday with “9-1-1,” but I’m sure that was a decision made for them by Ryan Murphy. FOX execs don’t like to piss off their talent, even when it’s in their best interest to do so.
As I said up top, FOX did the most with what they had, and going broader and more populist in their programming may upset some who write about the business but should lay out the welcome mat to a new audience. That’s going to be important for them given the uncertainty ahead. With the NFL on Thursday night through the fall, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that next year will be a year of growth for FOX.