Up Front About the Upfronts, Part 1: Where Does NBC Stand?

Next week, the major TV networks will announce their 2012-2013 schedules to a crowd of advertising executives in hopes that those executives will throw down a ton of money to run ads during the networks' programs. These sessions are known as the Upfronts, and they're where we'll all find out for good (mostly) what shows are renewed, what shows are canceled, and what new shows we can look forward to next year. It's, like, a really big deal you guys! So in preparation, we'll spend this week taking a look at each one of the five major networks by reviewing what they've done in the past year and predicting what's in store for 2012-2013. First up: NBC, which holds its presentation on Monday, May 14.

Where NBC stands now: Everyone knows last-place NBC has everyone else's footprints all over it as the low man on the totem pole. But get this: NBC may finish third in the numbers this season, ahead of ABC, thanks to the huge ratings it drew for the Super Bowl. Woohoo! However, once you take the Big Game away you're looking at another stinky year for a network that's struggling. There are no moral victories in the cut-throat TV network battle, and NBC is in the worst shape no matter how many Super Bowls or Olympic Games it airs.

What worked this year: NBC has a few legitimate reasons to get excited, and they begin with The Voice. The singing competition has shown lots of fight on Monday nights, consistently finishing at or near the top of the pile in the adult demographic. While a single franchise can't carry a network, it's better than what NBC had before, which was nothing. Now NBC is thinking about bringing The Voice back this fall instead of holding it for midseason (more on that later). Musical drama Smash hasn't turned out to be the hit NBC hoped it would be, but it's probably NBC's strongest new show, thanks in part to The Voice. Also, let's give some props to Grimm for earning a second season and finding a fan base despite tough competition. The fairy tale prodcedural was a pleasant surprise for NBC.

What failed this year: Pretty much everything else. As far as new shows are concerned, The Playboy Club, The Firm, Prime Suspect, Free Agents, Are You There, Chelsea?, Bent, and Best Friends Forever are all canceled or on their way to out. For all the buzz it manages builds, NBC always seems to end up at a low hum. Ratings were down at all the networks, but NBC's looked particularly pathetic at the bottom.

What's ahead for NBC: For the last half-dozen years, we've been saying, "This is a rebuilding year for NBC." Well, guess what? This is a rebuilding year for NBC. But even with The Voice, this might be the toughest year for NBC to bounce back. Think about it: Long-running series Chuck and Friday Night Lights are gone, and The Office and 30 Rock are on their way out (next season is expected to be the last for both shows). That leaves Law & Order: SVU and Parks and Recreation as the only two scripted NBC shows that will be in their fifth seasons (or beyond) when the 2012-2013 season ends. That means NBC has to produce some scripted-show building blocks right now. This season will be the first completely built by the new Comcast regime.

What NBC should be careful with: Leave it to the Peacock to fumble an opportunity to properly grow a potential franchise. Hit shows should be patiently nurtured and fertilized, given the right amount of sunlight, and delicately watered in a temperature-controlled environment. But NBC is digging up The Voice at the sight of the first flower and ruining the soil in the process. The Voice's numbers have been falling, and I'm convinced it's because NBC is shoving it down our throats with extended and extra episodes. Will adding even more The Voice to its schedule hurt the franchise even more? Also, will the network's success in the unscripted genre convince it create more unscripted fare? If any of the big networks are going to go that route, it's NBC.

Risky proposal that could pay off: Dump The Office and any thoughts of rebooting it or spinning it off. NBC won't do this because it will want to use a "final season" blitz for easy ratings. But if the network wants to salvage its Thursday-night comedy block, it should try out as many new comedies as it can, ordering shorter 13-episode seasons and planting them around Community and Parks and Recreation, two of the most internet-friendly shows on TV right now. Bring back Community for Season 4 and leave it in the Thursday-at-8pm slot, put Parks and Rec at 9pm, and bring in newbies to occupy the half-hour slots at 8:30pm and 9:30pm, respectively. And don't stop there. Prep a pair of 13-episode midseason comedies with the same gusto as the fall entries to swap in when 2013 starts. NBC should throw everything at the wall and see what sticks, as long as it doesn't pull any horrible scheduling tricks like it did with Bent. Make Thursday nights a place for new comedy and use the strongest performers and biggest buzz-builders to lay a foundation for 2013-2014. Yes, we're already thinking about two years from now. Let the internet be your friend, NBC. Embrace the young audience that follows Community and Parks and Recreation, and use the web better than your competitors to get a head start on the future.

What scheduling changes would YOU make if you were an NBC exec?

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