I suppose what stick out most about NBC's announcement, which is described in the NBC press release as a more innovative, client-centric approach to its traditional Upfront presentation, is when it occurred – April 2nd rather toward the end of May at or near the end of sweeps. According to Marc Graboff, Co-Chairman NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, that's because the process is all about innovation: Normally the broadcast networks unveil their fall lineups in mid-May, but we've got so many terrific plans already in place, there was no reason to wait. The business is changing rapidly and our clients expect us to stay a step ahead of that change, so we're giving them the chance now to partner with us, start integrating with our shows from the very beginning and map out their strategies a full year into the future. It's an innovative way to introduce an innovative schedule. The NBC presentation also emphasised the idea of the 52 week line-up in which shows aren't just introduced in September but are staggered year round. Of course this is hardly a new concept – FOX has been doing this for a number of years now and look at how successful it's been for them (that was sarcasm in case you don't recognise it). And just to throw a little edoubt into the mix, the other CoChariman of NBC Entertainment, Ben Silverman has stated that NBC reserves the right to change (i.e., discard) anything and everything in this 'new, early schedule' it has announced." Which doen't necessarily fill one with confidence.
So anyway, let's have a look at what's on and what's off at NBC.
Scrubs, Bionic Woman, Amnesia, 1 vs. 100, Journeyman, Las Vegas
Life (to Friday third hour), The Celebrity Apprentice (to Thursday third hour replacing ER in February)
Chuck, Heroes, The Biggest Loser, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Deal or No Deal, Lipstick Jungle, My Name Is Earl, 30 Rock, The Office, ER, Football Night in America, NBC Sunday Night Football, Friday Night Lights, Medium
New (Shows debuting in Winter are marked with a 'W')
SNL Thursday Night Live, My Own Worst Enemy, Kath & Kim, Knight Rider, Crusoe, Knight Rider, The Philanthropist (W), Untitled Office spinoff (W), Merlin (W), Kings (W).
Complete Schedule: (Changes in Winter as noted; new programs in upper case except ER; times are ET.)
8-9 p.m. Chuck
9-10 p.m. Heroes
10-11 p.m. MY OWN WORST ENEMY/ THE PHILANTHROPIST (W)
8- 9:30 p.m. The Biggest Loser
9:30-10 p.m. KATH & KIM
10-11 p.m. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
8-9 p.m. KNIGHT RIDER
9-10 p.m. Deal or No Deal
10-11 p.m. Lipstick Jungle/ Law & Order (W)
8- 8:30 p.m. My Name Is Earl
8:30-9 p.m. 30 Rock
9- 9:30 p.m. The Office
9:30-10 p.m. The Office/ SNL THURSDAY NIGHT LIVE / THE OFFICE SPINOFF (W)
10-11 p.m. ER / Celebrity Apprentice (W)
8-9 p.m. CRUSOE / Deal or No Deal (W)
9-10 p.m. Deal or No Deal / Friday Night Lights (W)
10-11 p.m. Life
7- 8:20 p.m. Football Night in America
8:20-11 p.m. NBC Sunday Night Football
7-8 p.m. Specials/Dateline NBC
8-9 p.m. Specials/MERLIN
9-10 p.m. Specials/Medium
10-11 p.m. Specials/KINGS
MY OWN WORST ENEMY stars Christian Slater as Henry Spivey, a middle-class efficiency expert living in the suburbs with a wife, two kids, a dog, and a minivan. He is the polar opposite of Edward Albright, who is an operative who speaks 13 languages, runs a four-minute mile, and is trained to kill with his teeth. In fact the only thing they have in common is the same body. "When the carefully constructed wall between them breaks down, Henry and Edward are thrust into unfamiliar territory where each man is dangerously out of his element." If this guy isn't suffering from multiple personality disorder (an intriguing if unlikely concept for American TV) this sounds a lot like Arnold Schwartzenegger's character in True Lies.
KATH & KIM is based on the Australian comedy of the same name about a divorcee in her 40s who finally has time to look for love, and her self-absorbed daughter who has separated from her husband and has come home to mother only to discover that her mother isn't ready to go back to catering to her every whim.
KNIGHT RIDER is the continuation of the original 1980s series that was reborn in the 2008 TV movie, which you may recall I panned ... along with a lot of other people, most of whom I respect. Still it drew a huge audience (most of whom I hope tuned in for nostalgic reasons and were aware of how bad this was) so it's on the new schedule.
SNL THURSDAY NIGHT LIVE is really a series of three pre-election specials focused on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" feature. According to NBC, "With all of the excitement and attention around "Saturday Night Live" during the presidential primaries, the anticipation for the show's take on this Fall's election will be at a fever pitch, "SNL Thursday Night Live" will keep the momentum -- and the laughs -- going. One can but hope.
According to NBC CRUSOE "is the tale of Robinson Crusoe. A young man leaves his true love to embark on an adventure -- only to end up shipwrecked on a remote tropical island for 28 years, completely detached from the life he once knew.... Equal parts MacGyver, Castaway and Pirates of the Caribbean, this series is an inspirational tale of survival rife with action and comedy." What they fail to mention is whether the show will be sufficiently true to Daniel Defoe's original novel to the degree of maintaining the early 18th Century setting. I'm going to hazard a guess and say that it won't, with the reference to MacGyver being something of a giveaway.
THE PHILANTHROPIST is a drama about the world's first vigilante philanthropist. No, I'm not making that up, that's the description that NBC has for the show's lead character. He's a billionaire playboy until the death of his only child brings him a revelation and leads him to use his wealth and connections to help people in need. So instead of paying $25,000 a plate at fundraisers, now he's off dodging bullets to deliver vaccines. According to NBC, "He'll do anything to achieve his goals – bargain with the self-righteous, trade with the nefarious and even tell the truth." Of interest here is that the show is being created by Tom Fonatana and Barry Levinson, the creative team behind Homicide: Life On The Street.
There aren't many details yet about the spinoff to THE OFFICE. Reportedly (reported by Kristin from E!Online's Watch With Kristin they don't even have a premise for the new series yet. So it is not entirely sure that this will actually happen, even though the new show is supposed to debut following the post-Super Bowl episode of The Office in 2009. Reportedly they "are not even sure if they will really want to borrow characters from the original to transplant to the new."
MERLIN is the story of Merlin and Arthur (yes that Merlin and that Arthur) as young men trying to live up to their families' expectations for them, discovering love, making mistakes, and finding their own destiny along the way. According to NBC, "The innovative, action-packed drama has cross-generational appeal and paints a picture of Merlin and Arthur's early life that audiences have never witnessed before."
KINGS is a modernised version of the story of King David, taking place in a city under siege where the fighting has gone on far too long. When a young soldier, David Shepherd rescues the King's son the events are set in motion that eventually lead to peace, while David is lionized by all, including the King's daughter. As he rises in prominence though, he finds the lines between allies and enemies becoming increasingly blurred.
NBC also announced a line-up for the summer of 2009 which I won't detail at this time. The 2008-09 season will be the final one for ER, which will end in February after 19 episodes of its fifteenth season. Scrubs is expected to be picked up by ABC.
Frankly this lineup inspires very little optimism in me. While most of the new shows have interesting casts, the premises of most of the shows hold little appeal for me. In particular I'm thinking that Crusoe, Merlin and Kings are seriously off the mark in terms of what the public are willing to accept. The Philanthropist has a vaguely intriguing premise but I have more than a few doubts about how well NBC will be able to pull this show off. The comedy Kath & Kim may have some potential depending on how close they choose to make it to the Australian original and how well they manage to pull it off. I'm less than hopeful given past performances. Knight Rider to represents something of a question. The TV movie did well in terms of ratings if not in terms of critical reaction. The question is whether the audience will keep tuning in once the show becomes a regular series. After all, the reborn Bionic Woman did well in its first episode but rapidly lost its audience when people discovered that they preferred their memories of the original to what was put on the screen in the remake. Still the biggest gamble in terms of giving the go ahead for a show seems to be the spinoff of The Office without even knowing wha thte premise of the series is going to be. Of the new shows, about the only one I'm really interested in may be the True Lies clone My Own Worst Enemy. It seems to be a nice fit with the two shows that precede it on Monday nights – Chuck and Heroes – and has a name actor in Christian Slater to star. The big problem though is that since the departure of Monday Night Football, the third hour on Mondays has belonged to CBS with neither ABC or NBC being able to dent the dominance of CBS and CSI: Miami.
Journeyman wasn't able to dent that popularity this season despite a rabid (if small) fan base. I'm not sure anything from another network will survive in this time slot until CSI: Miami goes.
In terms of cancelled shows I find it more than a little irritating (gall, agonizing, maddening) that a couple of shows that I really liked were cancelled – Las Vegas and 1 vs. 100 (though I have a suspicion that the latter can be revived fairly quickly if needed at short notice, and I think it will be; the show had solid ratings and I don't really understand the decision) and I feel the pain of the Journeyman fans even though I never saw the show – while some of the shows that have been ordered are in the lineup. Setting aside Knight Rider (which is the example some people are citing as being an unfair trade for Las Vegas) because at least with that show the network has what they think is real world data as to the ability of the show to attract an audience. I really can't see Crusoe, Merlin or Kings drawing and holding much of an audience, while I have the sense that the decline in the ratings of Las Vegas had more to do with the Friday night time slot than anything else.
Of the returning shows, have to confess that I'm a bit of a fan of Lipstick Jungle which I found far more riveting than the ABC "clone" Cashmere Mafia, so I'm glad to see that the show has been renewed and put in a timeslot where it has a chance to prosper. Actually, I have to confess that I'm not as happy as I could be about this news. See the timeslot that Lipstick Jungle has been given in the third hour of Wednesday night was previously occupied by Life. This was a show that I championed from the very beginning – indeed from the moment that NBC put previews for their 2007-08 series on YouTube. Instead Life has been moved to the third hour of Friday night, following another of my favourite NBC shows which has been given a bad break, Friday Night Lights, which will be given a 13 episode season and will air initially on DirectTV before appearing on the main network. The problem of course is that Friday nights have, on the whole, been a waste land for the networks (with the exception of CBS).
Frankly – and without actually seeing any of the shows, merely being exposed to the description that NBC has chosen to provide us with – my assessment of NBC's 2008-09 season is bleak. The final departure of ER from the lineup leaves the network in the same sort of precarious position in drama that it was when its great string of comedies, including Seinfeld, Fraser, and Friends left the air one by one and there were no plans for replacements beyond sticking Matt LeBlanc in a spinoff as his Joey Trebiani character. This lineup will have viewers and critics fondly remembering the days of Kevin Reilly and Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, and quite frankly I feel absolutely no sympathy for Ben Silverman, Jeff Zucker or anyone at NBC. They've made their bed and it is an absolute mess.