The business of television is on full display now as all the networks spend tons of money trying to convince advertisers, investors, and audiences why their new slate of programming is the most profitable. This week it's the major broadcasters' turn as NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS' and The CW will unveil all-new schedules as the "upfront" season reaches its climax.
As per tradition the first of the major broadcasters to reveal its new season slate to advertisers is NBC (a subsidiary of Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA)) and also as per tradition executives are shaking things up. After a season where only one of its fall freshman series lasted the full year, the network is getting ready to reboot its lineup with some big moves that will change its business model. Here are the highlights.
Riskiest move – The Blacklist moves to Thursdays (eventually)
Last year's sole survivor from the fall slate was The Blacklist and this year it has become a major cog in NBC's wheelhouse. The series will again begin the year in the 10 p.m. timeslot on Monday's following The Voice until mid-November, when it will go on a hiatus until it returns in February in a big way ... in the post-Super Bowl slot. After its return, the show will shift to Thursdays at 9 p.m. to continue its sophomore season (presumably uninterrupted).
Experts predicted The Blacklist would be on the move given how NBC has now gone two for two in using the post-Voice timeslot to launch new shows. Revolution's cancellation aside The Voice still did its job and got the once-popular drama off on the right track before it later imploded.
Both the time and scheduling format are surprising. Blacklist was expected to go to Thursdays at 10 p.m. (not 9 p.m.), which would have put it head-to-head with Scandal. By going at 9 p.m. it presumably will go against the aging Grey's Anatomy and can help NBC launch one of its new "it" series (Allegiance) at 10 p.m.
This is the same split-season approach NBC tried two years ago with Revolution. The difference is now instead of springing it on audiences a few weeks into its run, executives are giving viewers fair warning. By not prepping its audiences for the switch last time it effectively served as the beginning of the end for the now cancelled blackout drama. Given the safeguards in place this time and the post-Super Bowl return already on the books, this will be important for advertisers and viewers to watch unfold -- it could give NBC some much needed momentum.
Boldest move – The end of "Must-See TV" comedy Thursdays
In many ways NBC's riskiest move and boldest move are intertwined -- it makes sense to move The Blacklist to help launch new series, but in doing so executives are signaling they are abandoning the network's once megasuccessful Thursday night comedy block ... effectively conceding to CBS. This wouldn't be the first time NBC has ditched its two-hour block, but given the shows it is trying to place there it looks like this time the change may stick.
NBC and CBS have effectively switched strategies. It used to be NBC would have its two-hour comedy block on Thursdays and then end with a big name drama while CBS would start with an established reality series and then air back-to-back dramas. Now if CBS keeps last year's strategy in place (post football) the roles will have been reversed.
Check out the below grids -- the first one is from 2007 and the second one is the expected model for 2015. See the similarities?
To be clear, the 2014 one is CBS's current schedule now. With Bad Teacher cancelled (and football coming in the fall to Thursdays) the lineup will again undergo some sort of change in the fall. While we won't know how the network's night will look until Wednesday, the model of four comedies and a drama will likely continue once football wraps in October.
Getting back to NBC, its new plan for Thursdays is (as mentioned) to eventually move Blacklist into that 9 p.m. timeslot and use it to help launch The Americans-like Russian spy drama Allegiance at 10 p.m. Until then though it will be a mix of old and new as The Biggest Loser will shift to the 8 p.m. slot and NBC will launch buzzy comedies Bad Judge (starring Kate Walsh) and A to Z (starring Cristin Milioti) with Parenthood (which earned one last renewal over the weekend) ending the night.
So what becomes of Thursday night staple Parks & Recreation? Well it's being held until midseason where it will begin its seventh and final season. Yes, longtime cult favorites Parenthood and Parks & Recreation will be ending next season and in an amazing testament to fan support, each will get to go out on its own terms despite many years of being "bubble" shows.
Most interesting move: Girl power
Two of NBC's new dramas and one of its comedies are headlined by established female actresses, which could prove to be a powerful storyline come the fall. Katherine Heigl, Debra Messing, and Kate Walsh have each had a successful TV show and are being asked to once again deliver big with advertisers and viewers. The network also has rising female stars Casey Wilson (Happy Endings) and Cristin Milioti (How I Met Your Mother) on its roster meaning five of its six new fall shows will have a solid shot at luring the female demographic.
Of all the actresses above, Heigl has the most high-profile show as her State of Affairs will eventually get the post-Voice slot, which has helped launch two hit shows. Yet some wonder if Heigl still has the likeability factor following her messy exit from Grey's Anatomy and her subsequent declining film career. Affairs looks like a great comeback vehicle for her and if so that would put NBC in a great position. I also wouldn't be shocked to see Messing's Mysteries of Laura and Walsh's Bad Judge succeed as based on the just released first-look trailers they have the makings of sleeper hits.