NBC: A Network Wasteland of Scheduling

A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece actually complimenting NBC on their revised Thursday night scheduling.

I should have known better than to compliment the peacock network on creating a good schedule. They wouldn’t know such a thing if it dropped out of the sky and crapped on their heads. (Is this too harsh? I thought it was sort of funny).

NBC has been the fourth place network for years now, falling far behind CBS, ABC and Fox. It’s funny, though, because I watch a fair amount of television, and more of those shows are on NBC than any other network.

The real problem with NBC isn’t their lack of quality television. It’s two-fold. First, they haven’t had a legitimate hit to anchor the network since Friends went off their air. Second, they can’t schedule their programming worth a crap.

I can’t say why they haven’t had a big-time hit, frankly. They put a ton of shows into development each year, each year their new pilots are more interesting collectively than others. I tend to think it’s because the biggest hits tend to be weekly criminal/medical procedurals and once a season event-type reality shows.

For instance, the top-rated scripted shows include NCIS on CBS and American Idol on Fox. Drawing people to networks to see these shows allows the chance for further promotion of additional programs on the networks.

NBC is just getting going with The Voice as an American Idol competition. I’ve never seen it (and probably won’t, as I don’t like most reality television) but am told that it’s as good, if not better, than American Idol. NBC has had many mis-fires in this area, but seems to have finally found their footing.

The net has a dying franchise in Law and Order, the original criminal procedural from which NCIS, CSI and others are currently based. However, the SVU version still draws a decent audience.

The bigger problem with NBC is their lack of decent scheduling to (a) promote it’s solid if unspectacularly rated shows and (b) give new shows a chance to find and build an audience.

NBC has wasted critically-acclaimed shows like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Friday Night Lights, Chuck, Parenthood and Community with just plain awful scheduling, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Little if no planning seems to go into pairing shows together to take advantage of like-minded audiences.

One great example came from this season. NBC’s Thursday night comedy block is well-established due to some well-written and executed half-hour comedies on the night. Due to Tina Fey’s pregnancy, NBC was forced to rush the ill-advised Whitney into the lineup in the 9:30 spot on the night. Though the show was critically panned (and even the previews looked awful), it held an audience due to the lead in from the three shows before it. Now that it’s moved to Wednesdays, look for it to die a quiet death.

Another example is The Firm, which is already dying a quiet death of its own. NBC really rushed this one as well; buying the series based on an idea before a pilot, stars or even a script had been produced, and rushing it into the mid-season schedule. As a result, the series unfortunately was lacking in the intricate detail we’ve come to expect from high-concept serial shows.

However, the show likely wouldn’t have had a chance anyway. NBC dropped it into the Thursday/10:00pm time slot, after its much-vaunted comedy block. NBC seems to be following the formula that worked so well with ER…15 years ago. It simply doesn’t work today. With so many options, viewers who are looking for offbeat comedy can switch to any one of 500 additional channels, versus sticking around to watch a new legal show after two hours of comedy.

If only NBC had a well-acted and well-written one hour dramedy to put into that Thurday at 10:00pm timeslot. Oh wait…Parenthood anyone? Parenthood is a semi-scripted family comedy/drama with various characters and the same offbeat sensibility of comedies like Parks and Recreation, Up All Night, and so on.

Yet, Parenthood continues to struggle with a lead in of The Biggest Loser; these are not two like-minded shows. One only needs to look at the other three networks to see how the pairings are done. CBS pairs Survivor with Criminal Minds and CSI. ABC’s lead-in to Castle is The Bachelor. Finally, when Fox does have a show on after American Idol (Fox only has two hours a night of network time), it’s a procedural like Bones or its new show, The Finder.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the connection here: reality television pairs nicely with story-based procedurals, not high-concept character shows.

Finally, when you’re in fourth place, yanking shows and moving them all over the schedule isn’t really the smartest thing in the world to do. Develop a nice schedule with shows you believe in, and then let them develop and grow. It’s ridiculous that a network television show spend months or even years in development, only to be canceled after two or three episodes.

Without further ado, I present to you my thoughts on what NBC’s schedule should look like for next year.

No existing shows for here. However, night is wide open right now. ABC has reality shows, Fox is losing House and CBS’ comedies are beginning to stagnate. JJ Abrams has Revolution, a high-concept sci-fi thriller at the net right now. This should anchor the night at 9:00pm. Need to find two other shows to compliment Revolution, but need to stay away from legal at 10:00pm: ABC has Castle and CBS has Hawaii Five-0. Will need to have a strong mid-season slate, because it’s likely at least one show won’t make it.

8:00-10:00pm/Fall: The Biggest Loser
TBL is too over-exposed with two seasons a year right now. Limiting it to the Fall will extend its shelf-life.

8:00-10:00pm/Spring: The Voice
Good push against Glee as the show begins to weaken.

10:00pm: Law and Order, SVU
Pairing existing legal procedural with existing reality shows.

NBC has a large number of comedies in development at the net right now; this would be a natural place for two female-skewing laughers that can serve as a nice lead-in to Smash. This will be good counter programming to the reality on Fox and CBS.

9:00-10:00pm: Smash
NBC’s biggest hit right now can establish a new night for the network

10:00-11:00pm: New one hour drama to compliment Smash.

8:00-8:30pm: 30 Rock
Biggest audience of the night; solid lead-in.

8:30pm-9:00pm: Community
Great show; better protected with 30 Rock lead-in

9:00-9:30pm: Parks and Recreation
The Office has been great, but needs to end.

9:30-10:00pm: Up All Night
Great lead-in for Parenthood.

10:00-11:00pm: Parenthood
The best compliment to four half-hour comedy blocks.

NBC can place two of its new comedies in the 8:00 and 8:30 blocks.

9:00-10:00pm: Harry’s Law
Harry’s Law is a decent show that was out of its depth on Wednesday night. But will do well with the lower expectations on Friday night.

10:00-11:00pm: Grimm
Has done solid numbers for the net on Friday night. Also does well on DVR.

I’m not sure why in the days of DVR that no one schedules programs on Saturdays anymore. Back in the 1970’s, networks had big-time, classic programs like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show on Saturdays.

Instead of running these “encore presentations” (politically correct for rerun), why not try some experimenting here? I’d love to see networks revive the mini-series and run them on Saturday nights. It wouldn’t take much to win the night, now would it? Also, once created, the network can then sell them on DVD and downloads as well.

7:00-11:00pm/Fall: Sunday Night Football
Football is the best rated show in America, period.

7:00-8:00pm/Spring: 30 Rock Center
8:00-9:00pm/Spring: Dateline NBC
Double news hit good counter-programming to other network offerings (Fox’s animation, CBS’s Amazing Race and ABC’s Once Upon a Time).

9:00-11:00pm/Spring: Celebrity Apprentice
Built-in audience will also do well on DVR.