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Upfronts 2012: NBC Hopes that The "Friends" Monkey Was the Secret to Earlier Successes

By Seth Freilich | Industry | May 14, 2012 |

By Seth Freilich | Industry | May 14, 2012 |

Well, it’s that time of year again, the Upfronts. When each network parades out its new schedules, hope springing eternal, trying to entice the advertisers to cough up their big money. And hope springs eternal for NBC more than any other network, because NBC’s reputations and ratings have both been pretty ugly for a while now (if it wasn’t for the Super Bowl and its monster ratings, NBC would’ve been, yet again, the 4th-place network). Going into NBC’s official announcement of its schedule there really wasn’t much surprise as we already knew all of its renewals and all of the cancellations, with the exception of a few reality shows. But here’s how it all breaks out.

Renewed. We knew that NBC had already renewed “30 Rock,” “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers,” “The Biggest Loser,” “Community,” “Celebrity Apprentice,” “Dateline,” “Fashion Star” (although I can’t tell you why, given that it ended its run with terrible ratings), “Football Night in America,” “Grimm,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Parenthood,” “Parks & Recreation,” “Rock Center with Brian Williams,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Smash,” “Up All Night,” “The Voice” and “Whitney” (I will pay good money to find out who watches and enjoys this show).

Cancelled. Meanwhile, we knew that the Peacock had given the axe to “Are You There, Chelsea?” (not anymore!), “Awake” (it’s a shame, but given that we already knew this time last year that “Awake” was likely DOA, I’m just happy we’ve been able to get the whole first, fantastic season aired), “Bent” (you deserved better), “Best Friends Forever” (you deserved a little better), “The Firm,” “Free Agents,” “Harry’s Law” (which was still doing well ratings-wise, but it was skewing way old, as the cherished 18-49 year old ratings were atrocious), “The Playboy Club” and “Prime Suspect.” Meanwhile, NBC has also confirmed a host of reality show cancellations, most of which are not surprising and only one of which (“The Sing-Off”) is disappointing: “Escape Routes,” “Fear Factor,” “It’s Worth What?,” “The Marriage Ref,” “Minute to Win It,” “The Sing-Off,” “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Who’s Still Standing?”

We also knew of a slew of new shows NBC had picked up and so the only real question was how NBC was going to put everything together. So let’s take a look at the schedule.

Mondays. “The Voice” has been one of NBC’s true successes, so of course NBC is going to ride that horse into the ground by giving us a fall airing, from 8-10 p.m. That will be followed by the new “Revolution” at 10 p.m.

“Revolution” comes from J.J. Abrams, Jon Favreau and Eric Kripke (“Supernatural”). It’s set 15 years after the world’s electricity suddenly stopped working (because, sure) and the world has returned to farming and pre-industrial revolution ways of life. But one woman is suddenly pulled into a mystery when a local militia kills her father, which “sets her and two unlikely companions off on a daring coming-of-age journey to find answers about the past in the hopes of reclaiming the future.” It stars a whole lot of names I don’t recognize, except for Giancarlo Esposito (Gus!) and Andrea Roth (Tommy’s wife on “Rescue Me”). It kinda sounds more like an ABC show than an NBC show, one of those shows ABC constantly tried to plug in behind “Lost,” i.e., a shitty ABC show. Here’s a trailer, with clips from the Favreau-directed pilot:

Well, I liked seeing a shot of Woody Woodpecker. And Esposito as a warlord is much better than Esposito as “Once Upon a Time’s” mirror-mirror-on-the-wall. But yeah, I’m not holding my breath on this one being worth a damn. But I expect we’ll be seeing a lot of commercials for this during the Olympics.

Tuesdays. NBC has added a third hour to this fall implementation of “The Voice,” from 8-9 p.m., because if you’re going to ride the horse into the ground, you might as well ride it hard. That’ll be followed by an hour of new comedies, “Go On” and “The New Normal,” with “Parenthood” wrapping things up at 10 p.m. Since “Parenthood” only got a 15-episode order, we can expect one of NBC’s midseason shows to spring up here in the winter or spring (more on those in a bit).

“Go On” is Matthew Perry’s new vehicle (never mind the fact that he shouldn’t need a new vehicle because “Mr. Sunshine” should still be on the air). He plays a sportscaster who’s ready to return to work after taking some time off because his wife died in a car accident. But his bosses don’t think he’s ready yet, so the cocky and charming guy is off to group therapy. All told, it’s not a terrible premise for a sitcom, and Perry sure does cocky, self-assured as good as anyone. NBC has two brief clips available, but one kept failing to work (top notch as always, NBC), so let’s take a look at the clip that did work:

…I kinda wish it hadn’t worked. It feels really staid. But still, I like me some Matthew Perry, so I’ll certainly come in with an open mind and hope for the best.

“Go On” will be followed by “The New Normal,” a comedy from Ryan Murphy, because who can do half-hour comedy better than the nutso showrunner behind “Nip/Tuck,” “Glee” and “American Horror Story?” “The New Normal” is about a Beverly Hills gay couple who hires a recent Midwestern-transplant to be a surrogate mother. “Surrogate mother, surrogate family.” Yeah, that’s really the tag line NBC coughs up in the press release.


Oh, I forgot to mention that it also stars Ellen Barkin as the surrogate’s mother:

Still blech. I just hope this isn’t so offensively unfunny that it winds up doing more harm than good to the ever-marching-forward gay marriage/civil rights battle.

Wednesdays. This night is almost all new, with the comedies “Animal Practice” and “Guys with Kids” leading into 9 p.m.’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” which in turn leads into a new Dick Wolf drama at 10 p.m., “Chicago Fire.”

“Animal Practice” stars Justin Kirk, from “Weeds,” and Tyler Labine, from all sorts of failed shows, which means I’m already in. But the fact that it stars Labine unfortunately means it’s likely doomed from the get-go. Kirk is a New York vet who is much better with animals than people, and that only gets worse when his ex (Amy Huberman), takes over the animal hospital he works for.

Monkey riding toy ambulance? Fuck yes!

Monkey losing bets? Fuck yes! A doctor monkey whose name is Zaius? FUCK YES! I’m all in on this one. It’ll probably only air about 6 episodes.

Speaking of Dr. Zaius, if you’ll excuse me for a moment …

After “Animal Practice,” we’ve got “Guys with Kids,” which is exec-produced by Jimmy Fallon and is about three dads trying to hang on to their youth while also dealing with having new kids. It sounds perfectly bland, and I’m not particularly enticed by stars Jesse Bradford, Zach Cregger or Anthony Anderson. But Jamie Lynn Sigler and Tempestt Bledsoe’s return to television makes it a little intriguing. Let’s take a look-see:

Yeah, that did nothing for me. I’ve never particularly liked Anderson, and that little Goodfellas “joke?” didn’t help any. Plus, that clip didn’t even have Sigler or Bledsoe. There are no Sigler clips, but let’s see if this Bledoe clip helps any.

Welcome back to NBC, Tempestt but … nope, that didn’t help at all.

I don’t know why NBC has paired these shows as the lead-in for “SVU,” but there you have it. Going from “SVU” to the new “Chicago Fire” makes more sense, given that “Fire” also comes from Dick Wolf and is about Chicago firefighters. It stars Eamonn Walker and some other folks, and let’s just watch the clip:

The show’s tag-line is “the closet you’ll ever get.” The closest I’ll ever get to watching “Chicago Fire” is watching that clip. Hey-yo!

Thursdays. Oh NBC Thursdays, I still mostly love you. “30 Rock,” “Up All Night,” “The Office” and “Parks & Recreation” make for 3/4ths of a great comedy block, while “Rock Center with Brian Williams” at 10 p.m. is NBC’s way of saying “we don’t know what the fuck to do with Thursday nights at 10 p.m.”

“30 Rock” was only given a 13-episode order for what is probably its final season (yes, we all reported last week that it was definitively the final season, but NBC says it isn’t necessarily, although I suspect it absolutely is). Meanwhile, as you know “Parks & Rec” surprisingly got a full 22 episodes, and no hint or mandate (yet) that this will be its final season. So, you know:


As for “The Office,” everyone but Mindy Kaling (who has a new Fox sitcom) is slated to return, and there has been no pick-up (yet) of that Dwight spin-off. Whatever. Just take this dog out back and kill it already.

Fridays. “Whitney” at 8 p.m. and “Community” at 8:30, acting as the lead ins for “Grimm” at 9, and then “Dateline NBC” at 10 p.m. Meanwhile, I said all I need to say on the “Community” move yesterday; in summation, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, particularly as they ordered up a full 22 episodes and have not yet said this will be the final season (but I have no doubt this will be the final season as 22 episodes put it beyond where it needs to be for syndication purposes).

Saturdays. As per usual, NBC will use Saturday nights for “encore programming,” i.e., “go watch your DVRs and Netflix Instant.

Sundays. In the fall, it’s football as always, of course. Once the sadness of post-football sets in, it’ll be another edition of “Dateline NBC” at 7 p.m., “Fashion Star” at 8 p.m., “The Celebrity Apprentice” at 9 p.m. and the new “Do No Harm” rounding things out at 10 p.m. “Fashion Star” is only a show I’m even vaguely aware of and given how terrible its ratings were at the end of its run, I’m guessing you’re not more than vaguely aware of it either. As for “The Celebrity Apprentice,” I recently heard an interview with the former head of NBC entertainment Warren Littlefield (his new book on his time at NBC is next up on my Kindle) and he said that NBC’s airing of the original “The Apprentice” is when it turned the corner into crap because NBC stopped respecting its audience and aiming high: “A decade of ‘Cheers,’ a decade of ‘Seinfeld,’ and then ‘you’re fired.’ That to me said, it’s over. They’ve destroyed what we built.” Yep.

As for the new “Do No Harm,” as Cindy wrote yesterday, it’s “[a] potentially intriguing take on Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde”. It stars Steven Pasquale (who became quite fantastic on “Rescue Me” as the seasons drug on and on and on) as a neurosurgeon who, thanks to a newly-developed immunity to a serum, finds himself at night turning into an alternate personality, a sociopathic sex-hound. By day, he’s Dr. Jason Cole. By night, Ian Price.

Not much to go on, but I’ll definitely give it a shot. It’ll probably air for three episodes.

Midseason Filler. The crappy “Smash” is sitting on the shelf for a second season at some point, and we can expect to see the renewed “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers,” “The Biggest Loser” (which NBC usually gives a fall and spring airing, but not this year, presumably because of the double-airings of “The Voice”) and “Celebrity Apprentice” all return in the spring. But NBC also has a host of new shows sitting in its midseason pocket (or possibly to come earlier if a fall show bites it hard), with three comedies, two dramas, and four reality/alternative series.

On the drama side, there’s “Infamous,” which used to be called “Notorious,” which is about an FBI agent looking into the death of an heiress to a pharmaceutical empire, a death that he finds suspicious. It comes from Peter Horton and a former “Friday Night Lights” writer, and has a good supporting cast (I don’t know much about lead Laz Alonso, but Meagan Good was solid in the recent Think Like a Man, and Victor Garber and Tate Donovan are always welcome on my TV). If it makes it to air, I’ll likely give it a shot, even though this clip feels a little soft and has one of the worst voice-over/ADRs I’ve heard in recent times:

The other drama waiting for a home is “Hannibal,” which you may have heard about before. There are few of us who really want to see a show about a young Dr. Hannibal Lecter, but there are many of us who are intrigued about the fact that it comes from Bryan Fuller, who gave us the belovedly quirky “Pushing Daisies.” There are no clips, and I don’t think they’ve even cast Lecter yet (though they do have their lead, Hugh Dancy, who plays the FBI agent who enlists the help of a young Dr. Lecter). I remain skeptical, but intrigued by Fuller’s show-running.

As for comedies, NBC’s got “Next Caller,” “Save Me” and “1600 Penn.” “Save Me” stars Anne Heche as a woman who finds, after a near-death experience, that she is prophet.

I kind of adore Heche in the right role. Not sure this is such a role, but if it makes it to air, I’ll give it a shot. However, this feels like a show that will get a quick “Bent”-like burn-off.

“1600 Penn,” meanwhile, is Jenna Elfman’s return to sitcomdom in the form of a stepmother trying to win over her new kids. But she’s no regular stepmother. Check out the show’s title. It’s the White House, bitches! And Bill Pullman makes his triumphant return to the White House as the President (over/under on the number of episodes before there’s an Independence Day reference is 2). Given that “Veep” is knocking it out of the park on politics-set comedy at the moment, I have nothing but terrible expectations for this.

Yeah, my expectations will stay right where they were.

As for “Next Caller,” it stars Dane Cook, so despite also staring Jeffrey Tambor, fuck “Next Caller.”

Yup, fuck it.

As for the new reality/alternative shows, there’s “Stars Earn Stripes” (nine celebrities compete in military-inspired exercises), “Howie Mandel’s White Elephant” (a game show based on the holiday White Elephant game), “Ready For Love” (an Eva Longoria-produced dating competition) and “Surprise with Jenny McCarthy” (everyone’s favorite anti-vaccine nutter is giving us a variety show!). Fuck all of ‘em — I’m not showing you any clips, because you don’t deserve that level of pain.

And that’s NBC. All in all, I can’t complain. The shows I wanted to come back that had a chance to come back are coming back. And there are a few potentially decent new shows in the mix. Baby steps, NBC. Killing the attempted return of “Fear Factor,” a good baby step. Not doing a better job of trying to launch “Awake.” Bad baby steps. But keep on taking your baby steps.

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

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