Network Upfronts: NBC Announces Their 2011 Fall Schedule

During a conference call yesterday afternoon at 2 pm, NBC revealed its schedule for the upcoming fall television season.  For a network that has been the butt of jokes for many years now, and going into their first season with new executive Bob Greenblatt at the helm, the schedule is an interesting mix of safety and risk.

On Monday, NBC is running The Sing-Off in a two hour block from 8-10 pm (meaning of course that Chuck is going to have to find a new home somewhere on the schedule).  I’m of two minds with this choice.  One on hand, The Sing-Off is a show that I’ve actually enjoyed during its limited holiday-season run the past two years (and I say that as someone that doesn’t typically enjoy reality tv or singing competitions).  I think The Sing-Off has conclusively proved that what makes this type of show strong and worth watching isn’t the gimmick or the “drama,” but having intelligent, interesting judges and competitors with actual talent.  Ben Folds and Shawn Stockman should judge every reality competition on tv.  My concern (and this is the big risk that NBC is taking) is that this show worked as a limited-run mini-series, and that by stretching it out over the course of the fall season will ruin whatever alchemy that made it so enjoyable.

The 10 pm hour brings the launch of a new show, The Playboy Club, completing NBC’s complete Monday makeover.  The Playboy Club, as far as I can tell at this point, is a period-piece (60s? 70s?) set in the titular club and will be a mix of women in skimpy costumes and men with gangster-tendencies.  The photos I’ve seen (released in conjunction with the schedule announcement) have a distinct Mad Men vibe to them.  Remember after Lost was a huge hit and for the next couple years all the networks kept doing vaguely-Lost rip-offs?  Well I think this is the year that networks all try to get their version of Mad Men on the air.  These trends don’t usually end well…

If Mondays represented some risk taking by NBC, Tuesday balance that risk with about the safest play imaginable.  Biggest Loser from 8-10 and Parenthood following.  I don’t watch Biggest Loser, but it’s been NBC’s only mainstream mass-market hit for years.  I’m excited to see Parenthood here, as there had been concerns that it might be canceled or pushed to mid-season.

Wednesday starts off with some new material at 8 pm, the half hour comedy Up All Night, followed by Free Agents at 8:30 pm.  I had previously mentioned Free Agents in my attempt to guess the NBC schedule, and I’m excited to see it make it on air (it’s from John Enbom, one of the minds behind Party Down).  I hadn’t paid too much attention to Up All Night, but it has a strong cast (Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, Maya Rudolph) and a premise (Applegate and Arnett unexpectedly become parents) that should play well at 8 pm.  At 9 pm it’s Harry’s Law (throwing David E. Kelly a bone after taking Wonder Woman out behind the shed and shooting it?) followed by the long-in-the-tooth Law and Order: SVU at 10 pm.  It related news, I’ll be watching a different network from 9-11 on Wednesdays.

Some new faces join the Thursday comedy block, while continuing favorites remain.  Community still leads off at 8 pm, and is followed by Parks and Rec (which gives up its post-Office slot so that NBC can try and launch something new there.  I’ve made no secret that these two shows are two of my absolute favorites on tv right now, and I hope that they can maintain strong enough numbers to stay on the air.  The Office keeps its traditional 9 pm spot, with the new show Whitney airing behind it.  This is another show I hadn’t paid a ton of attention to; as far as I can tell it’s yet another Perfect Couples/Happy Endings/Traffic Light type show about people in their late 20s having wacky relationships.  Friends is dead.  Long live Friends.  Following the two hour comedy block is the remake of fame British series Prime Suspect, starring Maria Bello.  This came as a surprise to me.  Prime Suspect was one of the highest profile shows NBC had in development, and this seems like a very incongruous spot to have it land.  I suppose the hope is that without another network’s hit already having staked a claim to Thursdays at 10, this show has a chance to develop a substantial audience.  Having abandoned 10 pm a couple years ago, and having stated their determination to get back in business in that hour, this is certainly NBC putting their money where their mouth is.

Chuck lives on Friday!  Renewed for a 13-episode victory lap of a fifth(!!) and final season, Chuck leads things off at 8 pm.  At 9 pm we have a new show in Grimm, in which a modern homicide cop starts solving crimes amongst the fairy-tale community.  I had hoped NBC would find room for both this and 17th Precinct, but it only stands to reason that a pair of genre shows would end up going out Highlander-style; only one can survive.  The night rounds out with Dateline at 10 pm.

Sunday is Football Night in America, and since I can’t see the NFL cutting off its nose to spite its 6 billion dollar face, I’m not even going to speculate what goes here if the season is canceled.

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