Sunday, May 13, 2018

NBC Schedule Analysis for the 2018-19 Season

Earlier today, NBC unveiled its schedule for the upcoming 2018-19 season. Tomorrow, the network heads will promote the lineup to advertisers. But right now, I'm taking a closer look at the network's scheduling plans and analyzing what is likely to work and fail.

NBC's full schedule for the 2018-19 season can be found here.
Trailers for the new fall shows can be found here.

Heading into the 2017-18 broadcast season, the television industry knew that NBC would be a dominating force in the ratings. They had weekly football games on Sundays and Thursdays as well as the Super Bowl. They had the Winter Olympics. They had the continuing success of The Voice and This Is Us. That proved to be such a winning formula for the network for the year. Even in the summer months, NBC seems to have the biggest hits with America's Got Talent, American Ninja Warrior and World of Dance. NBC has found a way to have a strong year-round line-up. That's impressive for a network that was in shambles not all that long ago. The industry knew that NBC would emerge victorious for this past season. And yes, they were number one in the ratings in the core Adults 18-49 demographic by a considerable margin. And yet, it also seems like a distinct possibility that NBC will actually dethrone CBS for overall total viewers as well. That's crazy and just continues to prove just how important sports is for a network's lineup. That's what fueled so much of NBC's success last year. But now, a new season is getting ready to start. For the 2018-19 season, things will be different. NBC won't be able to rely on the Super Bowl or the Olympics. Plus, they are also losing the Thursday night football games to FOX. Moreover, The Voice is really starting to show its age with numbers that continue to trend downward and will more than likely continue doing so as long as it produces two cycles a year. So, NBC simply can't rest on its laurels and take a victory lap. No, they still need to keep the momentum going so that their entire schedule and brand is strong. They have the tools to do so. They will probably still win in the ratings again this upcoming season. But it also may be a much tighter race.

NBC's biggest new success story last season was the return of Will & Grace. Now, it's wrong to call it a new show considering its just a continuation of the old series. It served more as the ninth season of the show instead of as a completely new series. But it still had an impressive showing that gave NBC a comedy lineup that was actually quite invigorating to watch. There were moments last fall where NBC's Thursday night lineup was my most anticipated night because of the quality of those four comedies. Now, the network is keeping everything that worked last season exactly the same. Superstore, The Good Place and Will & Grace are still being paired together. Moreover, The Good Place will be able to run its episodes straight through without having to take a hiatus after the ninth episode to make way for football. That will be huge for fans of the show. Of course, it also means the night will probably look completely different come January. It's also fascinating that the network decided to give the post-Will & Grace time slot to I Feel Bad instead of Abby's. This development cycle proved that the broadcast networks were trying to find the next big multi-camera sitcom hit following the ratings success of Will & Grace, Roseanne and The Big Bang Theory. That's a genre that comes in and out of style as of late. Now, it's verging on having a big breakthrough year with more projects ordered to series that are taped in front of a live studio audience. Those shows typically fair better when paired together. Of course, that hasn't hindered the Big Bang Theory-Young Sheldon or Roseanne-The Middle partnerships at all. So, it may actually work out for I Feel Bad in the end. It just feels like the network is placing more of its promising comedy bets for midseason.

It's also intriguing that NBC decided to order only two new comedies this year. They had a robust and diverse comedy development slate. That definitely comes across with the two series orders toplined by women of color - Natalie Morales for Abby's and Sarayu Blue for I Feel Bad. But it also just shows how competitive it is for a comedy to find space on this lineup. That's not even mentioning one of the biggest stories of this upfront cycle. Last Thursday FOX cancelled Brooklyn Nine-Nine after five seasons. Then on Friday, NBC picked it up for a sixth season. That shouldn't be completely surprising because Universal Television produced Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It coming from an outside company was the reason why the financials could no longer work for FOX. And yet, they work just fine for NBC. The fans were demanding another network pick up the show and those prayers were answered. It's miraculous because so many "Save Our Show" campaigns have popped up over the last few years with almost none ultimately proving successful. It has been a long time since either Hulu or Netflix rescued a show that was cancelled on broadcast or cable. They are simply focusing on developing their own hits instead of just stealing from elsewhere. That's a perfectly fine business perspective for them to have as well. Mass audiences are just slow to realize that. Things just happened to work out for Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It means Mike Schur will have three comedies on NBC next season. That's always a good thing. But again, I'm curious to see how the network will fit all of this product into the lineup (which also includes the second season of A.P. Bio somewhere).

Elsewhere, the big stories from NBC's schedule presentation at the upfronts over the last few years have been which new shows get the prime time slots following The Voice and This Is Us. Of course, that means the viewer has to decide whether or not time slots still matter and that those two shows can actually make hits following them. The Voice has always been unproven in that regard. The Blacklist certainly did well airing after the reality juggernaut. But now, it earned a sixth season renewal at the eleventh hour and won't even debut until Midnight, Texas wraps its 10-episode second season on Friday nights. Meanwhile, dramas like Revolution, Blindspot, Taken and Timeless got second season renewals after airing after The Voice. But most of them quickly plummeted in the ratings as soon as they were moved away. And so, it's a big gamble to place mystery thriller Manifest starring Once Upon a Time's Josh Dallas after The Voice on Mondays. It's been awhile since broadcast audiences have flocked to a heavily serialized mystery show like that. The networks are still chasing the Lost success and have failed to find it. Meanwhile, This Is Us couldn't really launch a new show in the fall last year. Law & Order: True Crime was a quick flop. Then, Chicago Med came in with its already loyal and sturdy audience. They kept watching even when This Is Us ended and Rise took its place. It seemed like NBC developed the perfect companion show for This Is Us this year with The Village. But the network is probably holding onto that drama for midseason so that it can serve the This Is Us audience when the show ends its third season - in the same way that Rise was suppose to do this spring. So instead, New Amsterdam starring The Blacklist's Ryan Eggold gets the slot. There is always a place for new medical procedurals on the broadcast networks. It's a genre I still enjoy and it's clear that success can still happen there like it did for ABC's The Good Doctor.

And finally, it's fascinating that the network is making an even bigger push with reality during the winter months. The network has always struggled to fill the gaps between The Voice cycles. Monday and Tuesday nights have plummeted in the past without that show. This year was better because the network had Ellen's Game of Games. That quickly became a hit and was renewed for a second season. In fact, the network has always tried running reality shows in this time period and then airing more new episodes during the summer months. It's a formula that lead to many of them flaming out quickly. The Wall and Hollywood Game Night followed that pattern. And now, they are no longer the big hits they once were. The same is also true of Little Big Shots which has lost its broad appeal as of late. So, it could be dangerous for NBC to bet so large on reality during these months. And yet, it also serves as a way to bring America's Got Talent into the regular season after it's been a dominating force in the summer for years. Plus, World of Dance proves to be a more stable success on Sundays after football ends than Little Big Shots and Genius Junior turned out to be. Sure, it's unclear if that show will pair well with Good Girls and lead to better ratings for the night in the spring - especially if they have to face off with ABC's American Idol. But it's also something very important to be aware of for the upcoming season.