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2011 Upfronts - N ... B ... See-Ya Later Last Place?

By Seth Freilich | Industry | May 16, 2011 |

By Seth Freilich | Industry | May 16, 2011 |

And just like that, upfronts week is off and running with the announcement of NBC 2011-12 primetime schedule. The press release says that NBC has a “commitment to innovation, strategic positioning and season-long strength.” That statement is definitely supported by the fact that, over the past year, they’ve cancelled “Outlaw,” “Undercovers,” “The Paul Reiser Show,” “Chase,” “Perfect Couples,” “The Cape,” “The Event,” “Outsourced” and “Law & Order: LA.” Of course, they put them all on in the first place. So the question is whether their slate of new shows — of which there are many, with six new dramas and six new comedies — is more of the same old crap, or something that can actually back up their bold proclamation. Let’s take a look-see at the new schedule and some clips from the new shows. …Oh, and right off the bat, we should note that the three bubble shows that didn’t get official renewals or cancellations over the last week — “Harry’s Law,” “Law & Order: SVU” and “Parenthood” — all got picked up).


Mondays. From 8 to 10 p.m. it’s the return of “The Sing Off.” It’s like “American Idol” only with better judges, I think. Even though I love me some Ben Folds, I have never been able to force myself to watch this. Don’t imagine I’ll be starting now. NBC will then try to launch the new “The Playboy Club” after this, at 10 p.m.

As I mentioned last week, “The Playboy Club” is a 60’s drama piece set in Chicago, where the Playboy Club is a status-hotspot that hosts the cities’ elite, be they criminals, politicians or celebrities. It stars Amber Heard as a bunny who accidentally kills the leader of a local crime family leading, one presumes, to trouble. It also stars Eddie Cibrian, which doesn’t bode well for things.

So wait, is this show set in Chicago? …Yeesh.

Meanwhile, in the spring, Mondays are slated to get change, slightly, with “The Voice” taking over for “The Sing Off” and the new “Smash” slated to take over at 10 p.m.

“Smash” is a musical drama set in a Broadway theater where the cast and crew are trying to put on a musical about Marilyn Monroe. It stars Debra Messing and Katharine McPhee, as well as Anjelica Huston and Jack Davenport, and comes to us from exec producer Steven Spielberg.

No no no, there’s no way in hell you can possibly get me to watch this.

Tuesdays. Another two-hour reality chunk, with 8-10 p.m. giving us “The Biggest Loser.” It’ll be followed at 10 p.m. by “Parenthood.” Please watch “Parenthood” next fall, people. It’s one of the best dramas on any of the networks — reward NBC for renewing a quality show.

Wednesdays. This a weird slate. It starts off with two new comedies from 8 to 9, “Up All Night” and “Free Agents,” as NBC tries to get a comedy foothold on a night other than Thursday. Then it’s followed by “Harry’s Law,” which is not only an odd fit to come after a comedy hour, but also seems to be on the wrong night — this really feels like a Tuesday or Sunday show. And then it’s “Law & Order: SVU” at 10 p.m. on a new night.

“Up All Night” is Lorne Michael’s latest comedy foray, starring Christina Appelgate and Will Arnett as a couple who have just become parents. Maya Rudolph plays Appelgate’s boss (Arnett is a stay-at-home dad) and there are some other people:

Like many of you, I’m completely over Will Arnett, but he looks to be playing a more tone-downed character here than he usually does, which is the only chance he’s got to carry a sitcom, so maybe he’ll work here. And Appelgate is adorable, plus I’m carrying some post-Bridesmaids love for Rudolph, so I’ll give this one a shot.

“Free Agents” is Hank Azaria’s latest attempt to breakthrough, and it’s a workplace/romantic comedy from one of the guys behind “Party Down,” which means I’m in. It also stars Kathryn Han and Anthony Head.

Hmmm. I’m still in, but not terribly excited. I want to like this but there’s a vibe in this clip that feels off — it feels like there’s a good show in there, but one that was originally supposed to be a cable show, and this is the toned-down network version. Obviously, a minute-odd long clip is not enough to judge a show or its overall vibe on, but this is also the key clip NBC decided to promote the show with, so someone thinks it’s representative of the series.

Thursdays. We already knew that “Community” and “Parks and Recreation” were getting renewals, but that doesn’t make it any less wonderful to see them paired up from 8 to 9. I guess there’s concern that “Parks & Rec” might be better suited, ratings-wise, after “The Office,” but the show has already had a few chances to land new viewers and I think it’s one that must be assumed is simply going to pull the numbers it’s going to pull, and that’s that.

At 9:30 it’s “The Office,” testing out its new now-with-no-Steve-Carell flavor. I’m not optimistic based on how this season has played out, but I’m sure I’ll still stick with it. “30 Rock” at 9:30? Nope. It’s being held for mid-season because Tina Fey has a bun in the oven. Instead, it’s the new “Whitney” at 9:30, and the new drama “Prime Suspect” at 10.

“Whitney” is Whitney Cummings’ new comedy, a multi-camera sitcom. It’s about her five-year relationship with Alex and her “close circle of opinionated girlfriends.”

Laugh track, oh how I love you! Not a funny clip, at all, and particularly disappointing given how snarky (and foul) Cummings usually is. I’ll give the show a chance because I really do like Cummings, but I’m worried this is going to be a watered down piece of generic fluff.

“Prime Suspect” has two strikes against it — one, it’s a procedural, two, it’s a remake of a British show (which starred the ever-beloved Helen Mirren). But it’s got a few things going for it as well — it stars Maria Bello and the pilot is direct by Peter Berg. Bello plays a NYC homicide detective who has been transferred into a new district, and she’s trying to break into the “impenetrable clique of a boys’ club” which is made tougher by the fact that she’s rude and reckless. It also stars Kirk Acevedo and Aidan Quinn, among others.

Well that doesn’t really get me interested. I’ll still give it a shot because of Berg and Bello, but it’s going to have to come out of the gate strong to get me to come back for a second episode.

Fridays. The final season of “Chuck” has been unceremoniously tucked away into the Friday night graveyard, followed by the new “Grimm” at 9 p.m. and then “Dateline NBC” at 10 p.m.

“Grimm” is, again, what sounds like a Fables knock-off: “Remember the fairy tales your parents used to tell you before bedtime? Those weren’t stories — they were warnings.” It’s about a homicide cop who falls into the unknown world where a group of hunters known as Grimms fight the supernatural critters from our favorite fairy tales.

I’ll give it a shot because I’m curious, but meh.

Saturdays. “Encore programming” is what NBC lists, which means reruns of “Law & Order: SVU” and whatever other dramas NBC thinks folks without DVRs staying in on a Saturday might want to watch.

Sundays. In theory, the fall will have football, with “Football Night in America” followed by “NBC Sunday Night Football.” That, of course, presupposes there’s a football season. I’m pretty confident there will be a season, although I think there’s a very good chance it’ll be delayed a few weeks. For those few weeks, NBC is working on contingency live programming of some sort, so we can expect bullshit concerts and one-off reality games. In the spring, Sunday nights will be “Dateline NBC” at 7, “The Celebrity Apprentice” at 8-10, and the new “The Firm” at 10.

In the off-chance that the Donald actually is making his idiotic Presidential run, NBC says the show will still be back, with someone else running the show. “Who that is, we’re not even going to really entertain because I’m still hoping we’ll have Donald back in the seat.”

“The Firm” is based on the book and movie, set 10 years later. Mitchell McDeere and his family are now leaving witness protection after having taken down the Firm, but there’s still trouble out there. The show already has a full 22-episode order which, given its late season start, means its gonna get a mostly uninterrupted run throughout the spring of 2012.

The book and movie were important to Grisham’s life, so we should watch the show? Pass.

Midseason Filler. In addition to “30 Rock,” NBC has the new drama “Awake” and three new comedies (“Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea,” “Best Friends Forever” and “Bent”) sitting on the shelf for midseason scheduling or early season replacements.

“Awake” is the bizarre Sliding Doors-esque show staring Jason Isaacs as a detective who gets into a car crash and suddenly finds himself in two parallel universes, one where his wife died in the crash, the other where their son, instead, died.

I’m intrigued by the premise and I really love Isaacs (though I don’t like hearing him without his accent), so if this show actually makes it off the shelf, I’ll give a skeptical look-see (and the fact that Wilmer Valderrama is in it only increases the skepticism).

“Are You There Vodka” is based on Chelsea Handler’s book and even though I like Laura Prepon, who stars as Chelsea, this show can kiss my taint.

Yeah, fuck this show. I’m sure a lot of you have read Handler’s book and love her show and love her but I’mm sorry, she’s just not funny, she’s not particularly talented and fuck her and this show.

“Best Friends Forever” is a single-camera comedy about … wait for it … best friends! It may be called “BFF” by the time it airs. If it airs. Either way, based on this clip, I won’t be watching:

And yeah, that was Adam Pally, from the recently-renewed “Happy Endings” on ABC, which means they’re going to have to recast that role. And with that, the only reason I would’ve even thought about tuning in.

And finally, “Bent” is a romantic comedy starring Amanda Peet and David Walton (“Perfect Couples”).

I love Amanda Peet, and Walton was ok-enough on “Perfect Couples,” but this clip doesn’t really do much. Plus, I’m not particularly sure Peet can carry a comedy. But again, I love her, so I’ll give the show a shot if it makes it to air.

And that’s what NBC has in store for us over the next year. So is it going to climb out of the 4th place gutter? Unlikely. But I think it may just be able to make the third place network (ABC, at the moment, I believe), worry a little and look over its shoulder. And that’s probably a start.

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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