How ‘The Blacklist’ Is Saving NBC

It looks like Red Reddington's secret plan also includes saving a major broadcast network.

NBC's (a subsidiary of Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) ) The Blacklist is without a doubt one of last season's breakout hits. Starring the charismatic James Spader, the series has become a lynchpin of the network's schedule. If you've ever wondered how one show can change a channel's momentum, this is a prime example.

Blacklist debrief

Credit: NBC

NBC's schedule last year was touted as its best yet with a slate of series that would put the network's "Must-See TV" Thursday comedy block back on top. It didn't quite work out that way as all three freshman series faltered early on. The dramas didn't do much better and in the end The Blacklist was all that was left from the fall roster. Still if only one of your shows is going to succeed, The Blacklist is the one you're going to want.

The drama is headlined by the Emmy-winning Spader as a concierge for the world's most dangerous criminals. However for reasons we still don't fully know, Spader's character Raymond 'Red' Reddington teams with the FBI to help turn the tables on the bad guys. What we do know is that it all has to do (of course) with a girl. Rising star Megan Boone joins Spader as Elizabeth Keen, a profiler fresh out of Quantico who is mysteriously chosen by Reddington to be his handler. Each week the pair and an FBI team take on a different member of Red's "Blacklist."

It's a fairly straightforward concept but it works on many levels. Critics and audiences both quickly became enamored with the show. NBC recognized the appeal of the series and quickly renewed it back in December. Even with its stop/start airing schedule in the spring (thanks in part to the Winter Olympics) the show consistently delivered. It will end the 2013-14 season as one of the network's most profitable and recognizable properties.

Piece of the pie

Credit: NBC

Every hit show is a big deal to the network, but this one not only strengthened NBC, it weakened an important rival. For years CBS  (NYSE: CBS  ) has owned the Mondays at 10 p.m. timeslot. The network would air a two-hour Monday night comedy block capped off by a hit procedural drama. But last year executives took a risk and gave that slot to Hostages ... a limited-run series that tanked.

Audiences didn't like the concept or the execution and could care less it came from megawatt producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Many viewers tuned out and switched to NBC with others joining the legions of fans still loyal to ABC's Monday night staple Castle. Suddenly ABC and NBC controlled that key timeslot and CBS was left on the outside looking in.

The future

Credit: NBC

The Blacklist's success isn't just important to the network because it is a hit, it's a building block executives can work around during the rest of this year and well into next. For the first time in 10 years NBC is projected to win the previous TV season in the 18-40 demo, an honor usually taken by CBS or Fox.

Winning in that category doesn't just mean bragging rights, it means money and lots of it. As the ad buying season known as the upfronts hits its stride this week, NBC has the ability to flaunt ratings statistics that will help it increase its asking price for commercial time.

In fact NBC is doubling its bet on Blacklist this fall. As I detailed in my analysis of NBC's new fall schedule, the series will not only eventually shift to Thursday nights, but will get the coveted post-Super Bowl timeslot this year. Both moves showcase just how important the series is to NBC.

NBC's plan is start the season with The Blacklist on Mondays and help hold that audience so when it comes times to move, viewers may be more likely to start with the incoming State of Affairs (starring Katherine Heigl) versus jumping to Castle or trying to catch up on whichever drama CBS slots for that period. It's a gamble but it's one that could produce two new hit series as in 2015 The Blacklist will become a lead-in and help give another new drama a strong launching pad.

The Blacklist is one of those shows that you wonder what took so long to make. For NBC it couldn't have come a better time.

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