With a month to go before the broadcast networks release their schedules for 2017-18, TV by the Numbers examines what’s working, what isn’t working and what’s needed at each of them.
NBC will enter next season as one of the two healthiest broadcast networks — words that would have been hard to put together with a straight face a few years ago. But it’s true.
The network’s ratings are up year to year thanks to the season’s only new big hit (“This Is Us”) — but also to fewer outright failures than last year. NBC currently sits in first place among adults 18-49 with a 2.2 for the season to date (vs. 2.1 in 2015-16).
There are concerns still, obviously — we’re talking about a broadcast network in 2017. But the network has to be feeling good about itself as it looks ahead to next season.
“This Is Us” (obviously): The biggest new show of the season — by far — among adults 18-49 gave NBC an unbeatable Tuesday night for much of the season. It was the first show ever to build on a “Voice” lead-in and played a big role in bumping up the average for NBC’s scripted shows by 12 percent vs. last season. Its two-season renewal was pretty much the definition of a no-brainer.
Chicago: “Fire” and “PD” have both come down a bit this season (10 and 9 percent), and “Med” suffered greater losses after moving out of the safer harbor of post-“Voice” Tuesdays to Thursday nights. But the Windy City franchise remains a rock-solid portion of NBC’s schedule. New addition “Chicago Justice” has come in somewhat lower on Sundays, but it too has upgraded its time period year to year.
What’s not working
10 p.m. shows without “Chicago” in their titles: One of “Timeless” or “Taken” may survive to next season, but it will be a soft renewal. “The Blacklist” is way down year to year, and “The Blacklist: Redemption” never really got started. “Shades of Blue” runs 10 episodes a year and is therefore a lower risk, hence its renewal for next season. But a repeat of this season’s 0.8 average or further declines will cut its lifespan.
The comedy brand: “Superstore” is quietly a very good show, and “The Good Place” pulled off a heavily serialized story with aplomb. But NBC still seems tentative at best in what it wants to do with comedies: “The Carmichael Show” has been shipped to summer again (along with new show “Marlon”), and the way “Trial & Error” and the upcoming “Great News” have been scheduled suggests to viewers the network wants them on and off the air as soon as possible.
Rest for “The Voice”: A proposed revival of “American Idol” is apparently off the table for now, but had it come to pass it likely would have helped extend the life of “The Voice” a little. The show is still a key player for NBC, but it’s eroding at a faster pace than would be ideal. If NBC could hit on another unscripted franchise (singing contest or otherwise) — easier said than done, obviously — it would probably help “The Voice” live longer.
Comedy confidence: Can you name a comedy that ABC aired in the 2008-09 season without looking it up? Bet you can’t. The network had no definable comedy brand that season. Then in fall 2009 it launched a completely new two-hour block on Wednesdays, anchored by a newcomer called “Modern Family.”
The odds of any comedy pilot turning into a “Modern”-sized hit are low, obviously. But ABC went all in on establishing its identity in comedy, and it’s still reaping benefits from that eight years later. NBC would do well to look at that history.