Stop me if you've heard this before...this is our year. I'm not talking about Cubs fans; I'm talking about executives at NBC (a subsidiary of Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA). Here we are again in May on the cusp of NBC's new schedule reveal and the network has cleaned house yet again, setting the stage for a fresh start.
Yet after another extreme case of spring cleaning (that claimed cult hits Community and Revolution) many are asking if yet another fresh coat of paint to the network's schedule will work.
No laughing matter
Last year NBC felt comfortable enough in its comedy slate to cancel one-time "it" shows Go On and The New Normal and gamble on only having two established comedies on its fall roster (Community and Parks & Recreation). Ironically the network is in a similar position this year except substitute About a Boy for Community as it was granted a second season while lead-out Growing Up Fisher was shown the door this afternoon.
The belief is that NBC's development slate is strong enough that the network can once again roll the dice in the fall. This time the network is banking big on Tina Fey, up-and-comer Cristin Milioti, and rising star Craig Robinson, with Bill Cosby factoring in as well. But many believe the network could be feeling déjà vu in a few months should some of these projects not catch on.
Still those are promising names and in the case of Fey and Cosby, guarantees were attached to the orders. It's a big move to gamble like that, but these are two personalities that have roots on the network so it's understandable.
The question becomes how long Madison Avenue will continue to play along. It's around this time every year the network grandstands that this is the best slate for advertisers, but NBC's comedies haven't delivered in recent years.
Keep in mind this isn't limited to NBC -- no network had a megabreakout comedy last season. As good as CBS's The Millers, Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and ABC's The Goldbergs are and as well as the shows were received, none have broken into that Friends/Seinfeld gold standard realm. NBC was furthest away thanks to the misfires starring Michael J. Fox and Sean Hayes.
The drama side is the opposite thanks to the trio of The Blacklist, Chicago Fire, and Chicago PD. In this case the network can crow all it wants. The three series are bona fide hits and advertisers should be lining up to get involved. NBC knows what Dick Wolf has done for the network over the years and especially what he's done over the last two -- you can knock NBC for a lot of things, but nurturing that relationship (which also lead to a new season of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) isn't one of them.
With that said a number of dramas had a rough go of it on Friday as NBC powered down Revolution and lost faith in Sunday night series Believe and Crisis. As I mentioned earlier in the year, asking the audience to commit to two highly serialized dramas this late in the year against this much competition was a no-win situation. Yet it's a trade-off I think a few other networks would take -- as bad as NBC is during the spring on Sunday nights, the network is just as good during the fall thanks to Sunday Night Football.
The biggest question though is with Parenthood, which the network reportedly wants to give a 13-episode swan song season, but that (as of press time) is still in limbo. Several websites are claiming the cast is being asked to take pay cuts and accept a nine-episode guarantee, which is isn't sitting well with the ensemble. Fans truly want to see the show get a final run, but this "will they/won't they" scenario is nothing new as Parenthood's future seems to always come down to the wire.
As for the new shows it looks like advertisers will have some interesting choices to make as the network's slate of new dramas has promise. Network favorite Debra Messing will return in The Mysteries of Laura, the DC Comics stable will expand to NBC with Constantine, and X-Files star David Duchovny will front Aquarius, a limited-run series based on the Manson murders.
Can any of them duplicate The Blacklist? The difference this year is that while last season Blacklist was getting buzz for all the right reasons, NBC's buzziest drama is getting it for the wrong ones. Blacklist producer Joe Carnahan is backing the Katherine Heigl fronted State of Affairs, which follows Charleston "Charlie" Tucker, a top CIA analyst who is in charge of the president's "Daily Briefing" on terrorist threats.
While the concept sounds interesting, the question is will audiences watch Heigl? Her messy exit from Grey's Anatomy and subsequent declining film career has made her a risk to executives. While she wants to make it clear all of that is behind her, there are still skeptics and that's why this one has to be handled very carefully.
Keep it here as NBC continues its fall/midseason pickups and preps its new fall schedule, which will be fully revealed in the coming days.
Brett Gold has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.