Will John Malkovich’s ‘Crossbones’ Be a Summer Hit for NBC?

Just because it's summer doesn't mean NBC's (a subsidiary of Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) ) not going to go full tilt to keep its momentum going. Coming off its first win in the advertiser-friendly 18-49 demographic in nine years, the Peacock network is already off to a strong start with another potential game-changer coming down the pike tonight with Crossbones.

Credit: NBC

NBC's summer

NBC can best be described as cautiously optimistic. As mentioned the net just won a key ratings area as it prepares to entice advertisers to buy into its new fall slate. Coming off last fall's disastrous roster, which produced just one returning series (The Blacklist), this is a coup. It shows how one series can truly make all the difference.

As a result NBC's not pulling its foot off the gas. While many broadcast networks once went light during the summer, it's quickly become a new battleground. NBC has a mix of comedy, drama, and reality slated for the season that has already produced strong returns for America's Got Talent and Last Comic Standing and a solid showing for new drama The Night Shift (though week two will tell a fuller story).

The network will also soon debut imported drama Taxi: Brooklyn and the Amy Poehler-produced comedy Welcome to Sweden starring her brother. But first comes Crossbones, which may be airing in the weak Friday at 10 p.m. timeslot, but shouldn't be seen as a throwaway.

A pirate's life

Crossbones stars Academy Award nominee John Malkovich as the legendary pirate Blackbeard. Series creator Neil Cross has said many times the actor was who he imagined in the role.

Cross earned credibility after launching the hit BBC series Luther starring Idris Elba. While not well known stateside, the drama is a quality show that U.K. audiences have embraced in a major way. The team-up of Cross and Malkovich should appeal to audiences.

The series presents Blackbeard as the ruler of a small island in the Bahamas known as Santa Compana and centers on the pirate's quest for a chronometer device also of value to the British. The British have sent a spy (Covert Affairs' Richard Coyle) undercover as a physician to intercept the device and, if possible, kill Blackbeard. Cross crafted the plot on the 2007 book The Republic of Pirates, which is based on actual events, but this story is work of fiction.

 

Pirates have meant big business for Hollywood for years. Just look at Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and more recently Starz's Black Sails. While both of those properties have been well-received, many others haven't, which is why NBC's going all out for Crossbones.

Shows like Night ShiftUndateable, and Crossbones were all picked up last year but held for the right time. Like ABC, NBC orders more shows to series than any of its broadcast brethren, giving it a deeper bench and a competitive edge. As a result, the network can afford to wait until executives are certain they have all the pieces in place before a splashy launch.

Charting a course

Crossbones' timeslot is also a calculated move. While not seen as an ideal TV night, the move fits into the network's business model for Fridays, which are usually anchored by fantasy thriller Grimm. NBC has been trying to position its end-of-week lineup as a go-to for audiences looking for a certain type of programming. Whether it be more of a sci-fi thriller like Dracula or of pure horror like Hannibal, it's escapism and it feeds a certain niche that is missing on broadcast. Slotting Crossbones in that lineup keeps pounding its message to viewers (and advertisers).

Also of note, while the show may focus on Blackbeard, the title is Crossbones. That is something to remember as Malkovich, who has never done a TV series before, has said he's unsure if he'll be back for a potential second season. Conceivably the pieces are in place for Cross to take the series in a new direction at the end of the season and not need Malkovich for a sophomore run.

Audiences don't like radical changes like that unless it's part of a grander scheme, which could be the case here. With the success of shows like True Detective and American Horror Story, the groundwork is there to change things from season to season. There's no confirmation this is the plan and I'm purely speculating, but it speaks to a growing industry trend that gives investors another reason to keep any eye on the show's ratings as it gets ready to set sail. The tide is turning in on traditional TV and Crossbones is one such example of how.

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