NBC, ancient, storied, its halls full of ghosts, is the network that benefits most from, and is burdened most by, its history. At events like this week’s upfronts–where networks announce their fall schedules for advertisers–it likes to remind us how many of our fondest TV memories started there. But it also means that when it slips up or runs into trouble, whatever it does is treated as a sign of The Troubles of TV Today because, well, it’s NBC.
So on the one hand, the fact that NBC announced a fall schedule with only two sitcoms–a live version of Undateable and the new People Are Talking–doesn’t sum up the state of comedy everywhere. ABC had a strong year with the debuts of blackish and Fresh Off the Boat, and there’s plenty of comedy on cable. On the other hand: only one measly hour of comedy, on the home of Seinfeld and Cheers, and that on the dead zone of Friday night.
A few years ago, NBC talked about how it was changing its tack with comedy, stepping back from clever-but-niche comedies (like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, now streaming on Netflix) to broader, more “mass” comedies (like Bad Judge, now airing nowhere). Now it’s mostly stepped back from doing comedy at all. (The network has several comedies for midseason, but who knows when they will air or how well the network will commit to them.)
The result is a fall schedule full of shows that work for NBC now (The Voice); shows that resemble shows that work for NBC now (Chicago Med, successor to Chicago PD and Chicago Fire, and precursor, I assume, to Chicago Gas & Electric and Chicago Dept. of Zoning); and shows that used to work for NBC in the past (Heroes Reborn). The other new series include Blindspot, a mystery-thriller with a bit of a Blacklist feel; Heartbreaker, another medical drama; and The Player, with Wesley Snipes in an action drama about a security expert in Las Vegas.
You can see trailers from the new series online. They may be very good or may be very bad, it’s hard, at first description, to get very excited about any of them.
And hey, can I blame them? NBC’s first job is to get ratings, not to excite me, and it has at least climbed out of the fourth-place subbasement it occupied when the network aired comedies that I watched. And while NBC’s sitcoms may be sparse in the fall, there is at least one new show that promises an intriguing experiment and ideally some laughs: Neil Patrick Harris’ variety show Best Time Ever.
Still, NBC’s bet on NPH and the variety format seems a little tentative. Rather than give it a primo spot on the schedule, say immediately after The Voice, it will air Tuesdays through November at 10 p.m.–an oddly late slot for variety shows, which have usually gone earlier to grab an all-ages audience. Maybe NPH’s comedy will be racier; maybe NBC feels Heartbreaker (which gets the Voice lead-in) is a better investment.
Either way, Best Time Ever may or may not laugh best, but NBC’s scheduling has ensured that it will at least laugh last.