May 4, 2009
Best Development Season...EVER!
NBC Infront: What We Learned
Trying to judge a network's future by its presentation to advertisers is always a risky proposition.
Spin levels are dangerously high. Clips can be misleading (think the end of the pilot for "Yes, Dear," or the entire first episode of "Joey"). And, let's face it: Most new babies appear cuter than they actually are. Unless a network does a disastrous job putting together its presentation, there's a tendency to grade its efforts on something of a curve.
And yet, those of us who get paid to write about TV can't help but issue snap judgements, however incomplete the evidence. Heck, in the age of Twitter, conclusions are drawn and broadcast around the world in real time.
With all those caveats in mind, how did the Peacock do with its infront? After the jump, Five Things We Learned About NBC Today.
1. Angela Bromstad has done a good job in a short period of time. NBC's new shows look like actual TV series. Last year, NBC's projects—when we finally got a look at them—came off as caricatures of television programs.
Bromstad is clearly walking a fine line between the blatantly commercial, managing-for-margins "product" that NBC favored last season, and the too-cool-for-school, critic-friendly fare NBC championed under Kevin Reilly. Based on the clips NBC is making available, she may have walked the tightrope perfectly.
Nurses drama "Mercy," for example, could have easily disintegrated into something only Aaron Spelling could love (not that that is such a bad thing). Instead, the pilot looks like a cousin of "ER," with a bit more soap suds thrown in.
Remaking "Parenthood" also was a gamble, but the scenes NBC played Monday made the show appear to be a knockoff of "Brothers and Sisters" with less adultery. And on the comedy front, "Community" appears to have the great writing and winning cast that make "30 Rock" and "The Office" work, but without the hipster, funnier-than-thou attitude that made "Kath and Kim" unwatchable.
Again, it's impossible to truly judge any of these shows from clips alone. But the fact that NBC's new pilots can at least appear to be good in five-minute samples is a big improvement over the network's recent in-/upfront efforts.
2. NBC speaks to advertisers, rather than at them. I'm sure many critics who watched NBC's elaborate montage of product-placement packages from last season rolled their eyes at the network's proud hyping of advertising tie-ins. I certainly sighed a few times watching the cast of "Chuck" get busy with a five-dollar footlong.
But this is what network advertising in the land of TiVo has become. Flashing stats about demos and retention rates doesn't impress as it once did. A line such as "We tell your stories in our stories" may make critics cringe, but it's the right message for 2009.
Of course, "We're No. 1 across the board" is also a good message. NBC can't say that. At least it's saying something smart.
3. NBC should be brave and schedule "100 Questions" on Thursday nights—but only after a run on Tuesdays behind "The Biggest Loser." It's nice to see the network trying multicamera comedies again after a too-long, three-year hiatus (the last one on NBC was "20 Questions"). The show looks like it's trying a bit too hard to be "Friends" or "How I Met Your Mother," but so what? Those are good role models, and there's no law that says funny sitcoms need to have fresh premises.
The buzz on the show from inside NBC is that it's not as funny as it could be. That's OK. "Friends" really didn't get good until halfway through its first season. If the cast and concept are there, the laughs can follow.
As for scheduling, NBC needs to be a bit bold. "100 Questions" seems like a perfect Thursday 8 p.m. show, and the network needs to not be afraid of leading off the night with something new. If execs are truly nervous, why not shrink "Biggest Loser" to 90 minutes—something Ben Silverman hinted had been discussed—to try "100 Questions" on Tuesday for a few weeks before eventually shifting it to Thursdays?
4. Hype is a card NBC should eliminate from its deck. Despite doing a good job with its new shows, NBC executives just couldn't resist the urge to overdo the superlatives. That's a given at these sorts of events, but that doesn't excuse flat-out lies. Case in point: The notion that "Southland" is somehow a "hit" or that its debut has been that much more impressive than the other midseason dramas. Fact is, CBS essentially canceled "Harper's Island" for drawing the same rating that got "Southland" picked up for a second season.
5. NBC won't be bullied. Given the network's fourth-place status, it would be easy for NBC to cling to the security blankets of existing shows. But the network isn't doing that, delaying decisions on new seasons of "My Name Is Earl" and "Medium," among other shows, until it can work out a schedule.
In truth, it seems as if NBC wants to ensure the lowest possible license fee for all of its returning shows, something all networks are doing this spring. Or it could mean that NBC is ready to take some chances and not cling to shows that have nowhere to go but down.
That said, NBC really needs to make a deal to bring back "Chuck." There's still potential in the franchise, if the network gives it a shot.