May 04, 2005

TV: playing network programmer (NBC edition)

The current lineup at NBC:

7:00 Dateline NBC

8:00 The Contender (on hiatus: American Dreams)
9:00 Law and Order: Criminal Intent
10:00 Crossing Jordan
8:00 Fear Factor
9:00 Las Vegas
10:00 Medium
9:00 The Office
9:30 Scrubs
10:00 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
9:00 Revelations (on hiatus: The West Wing)
10:00 Law & Order
8:00 Joey
8:30 Will & Grace
9:00 The Apprentice
10:00 ER
8:00 Dateline NBC
9:00 Third Watch
10:00 Law and Order: Trial by Jury
8:00 movies/specials

There are lots of problems here. Fading shows long past their prime (ER, Will and Grace), shows that never developed the audience they should have (Scrubs), and shows that have been deservedly ignored (Joey). So if you're a fourth-place network, you gotta clear out a lot of the dead wood and start from scratch, right?

Not if you're NBC, apparently. All of the shows I just mentioned are coming back next year. What isn't? Well, Third Watch is finishing its run, and Revelations was only meant to last for six weeks (though it's been successful enough that you know someone's trying to figure out how to bring it back, which will be a particular challenge for a show about the Apocalypse). The only other shows reported to be at risk of cancellation are The Office, American Dreams, Las Vegas, and The Contender, a surprisingly short list for a network in such trouble.

There's hope for some rejuvenation in spots. The Apprentice may draw back some former viewers with the curiosity factor of new host/tycoon Martha Stewart, and the ongoing election storylines seem to be putting new life into TheWest Wing.

But there are just as many potential dangers lurking. Can ER survive the loss of Noah Wyle, the only remaining actor who's been there since the first episode? Doesn't the Law and Order franchise have to collapse someday (and aren't the lackluster reviews for the new Trial by Jury installment a sign that the collapse is near)?

So whatever we do with this lineup feels a bit like shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic, but here goes: Of the vulnerable shows, I expect Las Vegas and The Contender (which doesn't really seem easily repeatable) to die; American Dreams might get a pickup for mid-season replacement, but won't be part of the fall lineup. The Office will survive, based mainly on its critical success and the perception that it's a prestige project.

And since NBC desperately wants The Office to succeed, they'll move it into the only decent sitcom slot they've got, Thursday at 8:30, moving Will & Grace to 8. (Remember when W&G premiered and everyone was fussing over whether it was too daring and risque for even the 9:30 timeslot? Now it airs in the "family hour" and no one even notices. A sign of progress, I suppose....)

Joey gets moved to the other sitcom night, Tuesday, joining Scrubs and one or two new shows; I think there's a good chance that this spring's trial run of Committed may have done well enough to get it brought back. The logical lineup would be Joey / new show / Scrubs / Committed.

Let's move Medium into that now-vacant Third Watch slot on Friday. That leaves holes on Monday (9-11), Wednesday (8-9) and Sunday (8-9). I'd try sitcoms on Wednesday -- counterprogramming against 60 Minutes and ABC's Lost -- and depending on the quantity and quality of pilots I've got to choose from, maybe on Sunday. Monday gets a new drama at 10 (why is it that no one runs sitcoms in the 10-11 hour?), and maybe a reality/competition companion for Fear Factor at 9.

And then I sit back and pray that every one of those new shows hits big, because that's what it's going to take to get NBC out of the basement.

Tomorrow, we'll look at Fox.

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