With the upfronts creeping closer and closer, many networks are beginning to solidify their 2014-2015 rosters with early pickups of top shows. So far, The CW, Fox and CBS have all made a few big moves, and this week NBC (a subsidiary of Comcast (CMCSA -0.81%)) continued the trend with three renewals of its own. However, many believe this could be actually be a sign of something bigger to come.
Last year around this time, NBC shocked analysts and critics by ordering a spin-off of then-freshman series Chicago Fire. It was a highly unorthodox and rarely seen move, as usually networks wait a few seasons to start spawning copies of their top-performing shows. Given Fire's strong numbers and loyal following, though, it made complete sense for the network -- more importantly, it worked.
Now, NBC has just renewed both Fire and its spin-off Chicago PD for next year. At the same time, the network revealed to E! News that Mentalist star Amanda Righetti will drop by both shows next month during the network's big crossover sweeps event. Righetti will play a pediatrician, which has in turn prompted rumors that the Peacock net could once again be thinking "spin-off."
Ever since PD hit the air, audiences have been speculating that eventually NBC would probably go back to the well one last time and launch a Chicago MD type-series. After all, executives used Fire to give Chicago PD a backdoor pilot; the same could be done here. Righetti is getting ready to exit her role on CBS's long-running The Mentalist, so the timing works.
From Law & Order guru Dick Wolf, the Chicago franchise has been one of the lone consistent bright spots on NBC's roster. With a charismatic camera-friendly cast and enjoyable storylines, the brand has momentum and completing the trifecta could help NBC recapture more of the 10 p.m. landscape that it had at one time abandoned. Having The Blacklist on Mondays, Fire on Tuesdays, and PD on Wednesdays has proved to be big for the network, so imagine if Thursdays became home to MD, which to many would take them back to the days where E.R. ruled the Thursday night roost.
NBC also confirmed this week that in addition to Chicago Fire and Chicago PD, fairy tale drama Grimm will return for a fourth season. The series that some critics wrote off as dead on arrival, thanks in part to a Friday night time slot, has became a cult hit and a Friday staple. The network is even trying to build a horror/fantasy night around it by pairing it with fare like Dracula and Hannibal. The strategy hasn't worked out yet, but NBC likely will keep searching for a match.
These three pickups aren't the first of the season for NBC, though. Last year, the network made the unusual (but smart) decision to give a very early second-season pickup to breakout Monday night hit The Blacklist. The James Spader-led drama is arguably the biggest winner of the 2013-2014 season and is more than deserving of a sophomore run. Between Blacklist, The Voice, and NBC's Sunday Night Football franchise, NBC had a strong fall and all three lynchpins are in place for 2014.
NBC had also given Parks & Recreation the go-ahead for a seventh season, so the network has its core roster locked in. Now all eyes turn to its development slate. On the table are new projects featuring Bill Cosby, Tina Fey, and Ashely Judd, among other boldfaced names, which could boost more time slots and potentially draw new viewers to the network's strong dramas.
Keep an eye out, though, as you never know if NBC will slide one last pilot into the mix, especially if it can back-door into an established hit.