NBC UPFRONTS 2011-2012: ROAD TO RECOVERY?
It’s that time of year again when advertisers act like sailors in port looking to sway Lady Luck at a casino and instead cross paths with a mermaid who may lure them to a (fiscal) death.
After an acknowledged slump in Primetime, NBC, under the stewardship of Ted Harbert, Steve Burke and Robert Greenblatt (ex-Showtime, and let’s not forget ex-Fox under Peter Chernin) have double-downed their programming strategy in an effort to “rebuild the brand” show by show, night by night if necessary.
Starting off the week with a bang comes ‘The Playboy Club,’ their Monday night ‘Mad Men’ take on the rumbling sexual revolution in early ‘60s Chicago centered on Hugh Hefner’s legendary club. Look forward to a great period soundtrack. Survival Rate: 80%
Wednesday will bring two new comedies. One a most likely failure and a second that may stumble out of the gate but has a chance of recovery.
‘Up All Night’ is the latest from Executive Producer Lorne Michaels (‘Saturday Night Live’) featuring refugees from his NBC cash cow wanting to spread their wings dramatically – Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph. Christina Applegate plays a frazzled new mom to harried new dad Arnett. Cursing around the baby is the height of humor here with retreads of sitcom sleep-deprived parent jokes. Don’t expect to see this come Spring. Keeping Amy Poehler (‘Parks & Recreation’) and Arnett’s wife happy may be the only thing keeping this show on the schedule longer than it should be. Survival Rate: 20%
‘Free Agents’ skips the usual setup of two co-workers sexually attracted to each other but delaying the sex until season finale by diving head first into a one-night stand they both regret but want to repeat again and again. Hank Azaria whines his way through as the emotionally unstable new divorcee; a little too much that you may want to switch channels. His romantic foil Kathryn Hahn (‘Crossing Jordan’) is the reason to tune into this workplace romcom. Survival Rate: 60%
Thursday night steps to the plate with what might be the big comedy hit of NBC’s Fall Season, ‘Whitney’ starring comedienne Whitney Cummings (‘Chelsea Lately’) as the funnier half of a happily non-married couple trying to keep their relationship out of the boredom box. Survival Rate: 85%
Closing out the Thursday Primetime schedule is the new series from ‘Friday Night Lights’ Executive Producer Peter Berg, ‘Prime Suspect,’ the Americanization of the hit UK series. Maria Bello (‘ER’) is definitely no Helen Mirren. What we have is a typical hard-edged police procedural with macho sexist detectives who think a woman is unqualified to be their equal. Bello does the usual “I’m butchier than you” shtick who wants to show she can hold her own with the boys. If it weren’t for the interesting character actor supports I’d tune into anything from Dick Wolf, even repeats. Survival Rate: 50%
On Fridays, be prepared for NBC’s saving grace, ‘Grimm,’ a cop show crossed with un-Disneyfied fairy tales by way of TWILIGHT by the Executive Producers of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Angel.’ A police detective discovers that he’s a descendant of hunters charged with stopping the proliferation of supernatural creatures who all seem to conveniently reside in Portland, Oregon. With a few minor tweaks to the series this one should be a winner. Survival Rate: 90%
As is prudent when gambling, keeping something in reserve is always smart. NBC has two mid-season shows in the wings along with three backup comedies and a drama.
NBC is betting the house on Executive Producer Steven Spielberg’s ‘Smash’ (think ‘Glee’ goes to Broadway). Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, Producers of CHICAGO and HAIRSPRAY are the true workhorses on this series along with the HAIRSPRAY composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. The behind-the-scenes creation of a Broadway musical based on Marilyn Monroe may not survive beyond a single season (a mini-series would work much better), but a cast that includes Debra Messing and Anjelica Huston will make things interesting. The ingénue, portrayed by Katharine McPhee (‘American Idol’) brings pleasure to one’s ears. Survival Rate: 70%
The other mid-season show with a high wow factor is John Grisham’s ‘The Firm’ which takes place 10 years after the movie with lawyer Mitch McDeere leaving the Federal Witness Protection Program and setting up a small practice. As expected, he gets involved with another law firm that makes his former Memphis firm look like a Boy Scout troop. Survival Rate: 80%
The first comedy up on the bench is Chelsea Handler’s adaption of her autobiography ‘Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea’ starring Laura Prepon (‘That 70’s Show’) as Chelsea with Handler herself portraying her older sister. Alkie comedies don’t usually hold up so it’s a toss up. Survival Rate: 55%
Romcom ‘Bent’ features Amanda Peet in her return to tv as a single mom lawyer tempted by a guy from the other side of the tracks. With Jeffrey Tambor in for comedy relief this can go either way. Survival Rate: 50%
‘BFF’ is going straight for the single woman demographic pining for a relationship but willing to settle for a Girl’s Night In. Lennon Parham (‘Accidentally On Purpose’) and Jessica St. Clair (‘Weeds’) are besties who reunite over a divorce to the chagrin of the boyfriend still in the picture when bestie moves back in to the former bachelorette pad. Survival Rate: 45%
‘Awake,’ the stand-by drama, looks quite interesting. With the right amount of careful handling this could work with the tv viewer that likes to be intellectually stimulated once in a blue moon. British actor Jason Isaacs stars as yet another police detective who awakens from a car accident to discover that his wife and son are dead. ‘Been there, done that’ you say? What if every time he goes to sleep and wakes up again his wife or son are alive while the other isn’t. Is he dreaming or going mad? This alternative reality series will either click with the viewer or not. I say give it a few episodes so you can get into the rhythm of the story. Survival Rate: 70%
NBC is preparing for a potential NFL Lockout by stockpiling a slate of reality game shows. Other new shows on the slate include ‘Betty White’s Off Their Rockers,’ the senior citizen ‘Punk’d’ adapted from the super popular Belgian tv series; Brian Williams’ untitled news magazine program and Elle Macpherson’s ‘Fashion Star’ which is ‘Star Search’ for the fashion obsessed wannabes.
The mega-hit ‘The Voice’ returns in January along with ’30 Rock’ (Tina Fey is on maternity leave for the Fall). ‘The Office’ will introduce Steve Carrell’s replacement on the last episode this season. ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ is getting tweaked and repositioned next season. Fans of ‘Chuck’ will be saddened to learn that the upcoming season will be its’ last as NBC is planning a proper closure to the series rather than an abrupt yank off the schedule as usually occurs.