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NBC's Fall schedule, night by night: Can you get a bigger audience by combining Playboy bunnies with 'Parenthood'?

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I sure hope the fall schedule NBC announced today does better than the fall shows NBC has given us in recent years, because aren’t we all tired of making jokes about the latest Law & Order spin-off, fretting over Chuck, and reminding each other that this used to be the home of Friends, Seinfeld, and Cheers?

One reason to think NBC will do better this season: The programming is now overseen by Robert Greenblatt, an executive who understands quality programming, given his track record at Showtime (Dexter, Weeds) and his realistic view of broadcast TV. I know: “Quality programming” and “two hours of The Biggest Loser” are not compatible phrases. But Greenblatt’s gotta start somewhere. Which means he’s not looking to turn NBC into a cable-edgy-niche network, clogged with watered-down versions of The Big C or The Borgias (thank Gawd). Instead, he’s trying to build a bridge between what works on NBC now, and starting to create a new identity for the network’s future.

But what is that identity? Based on its new shows, NBC wants to do interesting work in mostly familiar genres. (Memo to Greenblatt: You really need to avoid building NBC’s identity around The Voice, which everyone — NBC, the press, and fans alike — is treating like a veteran hit, yet I’m warning you, that show could go either way: Become a staple like American Idol, or flame out fast from over-exposure.) Oh, and like everyone else in network TV these days, NBC wants to rip off a little of AMC’s success. See what I mean below.

Monday: The Sing-Off as a lead-off show for the week? Weak. (Love ya, Ben Folds, but this is just not a durable franchise series.) Following it with The Playboy Club is a big risk on a number of levels. The Playboy Club, set in the 1960s, would never exist were TV executives not still mesmerized by Mad Men — or more specifically, by Christina Hendricks’ hubba-hubba, hour-glass figure. There are programming decisions being made based primarily on the gamble that men want to see more curvy women on TV, and women want to watch zaftig women closer to their own body types plus handsome guys in sharp-looking suits, instead of the adolescent-boy, unshaved, hoodie-wearing males that now dominate prime time. Me, I think The Playboy Club won’t work, but not for the reason you may think. It’s not that I don’t believe people want to see sexy people on their screens; it’s that whatever deal NBC and Club‘s producers had to make with Hugh Hefner to use the “Playboy” name will involve limiting the creative freedom they have, because I’m assuming Hef doesn’t want the Playboy image tarnished or critiqued via the show’s drama. So from the get-go, I think The Playboy Club is actually going to be less like Mad Men and more like NBC’s well-made but low-rated period drama (remember it?) American Dreams.

Tuesday: Two hours of Biggest Loser followed by Parenthood. No flow there, but at least Parenthood lives for another season, and it finished out its last season with a series of very strong subplots, so old fans and — if NBC promotes it extensively — new fans who can get caught up in one of TV’s few, and best, current family dramas.

Wednesday: Two new sitcoms, Up All Night and Free Agents, leading off the night? I guess the thinking is, it sorta works for CBS on Mondays and Thursdays, so why not? Followed by Harry’s Law — and you know how I feel about that show — and Law & Order: SVU, the sole L&O spin-off that gets substantial ratings. The pattern to the night actually makes sense: Comedy from 8 to 9 p.m. then glides into the comedy-drama of Harry’s, which then undulates over to the grim drama of SVU. Speaking for myself, I won’t be watching NBC on this night, unless Up All Night and/or Free Agents proves to be an unexpected delight.

Thursday: Community, Parks and Recreation, The Office, and then Whitney, a new sitcom starring Whitney Cummings. (30 Rock will hold until mid-season and then air uninterrupted.) Some are already saying Whitney is a jarring fit with those other sitcoms, what with its multi-camera, studio-audience laughs. I say Cummings herself is a charmer — a sometimes abrasive, often brainy one — and I welcome giving her a shot at giving NBC some ratings in what’s considered a “traditional” format. (You can’t tell me some viewers aren’t ready for a respite from the deadpan, faux-documentary style sitcom.) Whitney‘s biggest problem may not be the show itself but its lead-in: Will the ratings for The Office post-Steve Carell continue to fall? At 10 p.m., there’s Prime Suspect. I loved the Helen Mirren original, and I wasn’t appalled that NBC had the temerity to attempt an American version. (Uh, The Office, right?) I was jazzed when I heard that Maria Bello would star, since she has proven to be able to project the right amount of world-weary allure. But… the clips I’ve seen aren’t filling me with great hope: They look as though they’ve taken one element of the Mirren Suspect, sexism in the workplace, and amped it up. And that issue has been rather assiduously covered since the first Prime Suspect premiered in 1991.

Friday: With Chuck consigned to a final-season 13-episode move to Fridays, the new show that follows it, Grimm, has its work cut out for it. Supernatural detectives on Fridays at 9 p.m.? Hmmm, haven’t I seen this on, oh, Supernatural? But wait: some of the characters and plots might loosely be compared to Grimm’s Fairy Tales. This kind of idea has been making the rounds in comic books for years, most notably in DC/Vertigo’s Fables, and I can’t say as I’m much of a fan of trying to transfer this print source material, which is so superior in provoking your imagination to supply the images rather than literalizing the creatures, into other media. (ABC is also trying it, with Once Upon A Time.) But since Grimm comes from Angel‘s David Greenwalt, maybe it has a creative shot. (For me, it will at best be a DVR item, since nothing’s gonna stop my Fringe-ing when it returns.)

There’s nothing new from NBC on the weekend this fall. The network’s biggest risk/reward project, Smash — the Steven Spielberg/Craig Zadan/Debra Messing Glee-full drama about the making of a Broadway musical — will premiere mid-season.

Twitter: @kentucker

Read more:

EW’s 2011 Upfronts coverage