NBC Upfront Analysis

Yesterday NBC unleashed its fall schedule on advertisers and will now spend the next few weeks (or is it months) doing back room deals, faking projections off an archaic and fictional Nielsen ratings system, trying to sell them on their shows.

I think NBC will be very successful this year and see an increase in upfront revenue and CPM.

Before I start on that I should say that even despite itself, NBC has made real progress since Comcast has taken over. Brian Roberts and Steve Burke committed a boat load of money to re-establish the house that Ben Silverman and Jeff Zucker virtually decimated. They’ve had some hits (Blacklist, The Voice) some misses (too many to name) but have mostly climbed out of the ratings basement (even if the ratings are pretty much fiction).

While the money helped, perhaps more important was instead of cycling out NBC Entertainment heads every two years, as idiot savant Zucker did, Burke brought on, and has kept,  former Showtime head Robert Greenblatt, allowing Greenblatt pretty much carte blanche to get his hands dirty and plant his flag.

Now, one shouldn’t call what NBC is currently having, and proclaiming, a turn around, because it’s not. It’s true that Greenblatt has done what no one thought possible (myself included), he’s lifted NBC up. They’re not entirely out of the basement…yet. He’s done it with real intelligence and savvy earning him tremendous respect internally at Comcast and within the industry.

Conspicuously absent from yesterday’s presentation was NBC Entertainment head Jennifer Salke. Something tells me she is on her way out (note to Bob Greenblatt, here’s my resume).

Back in January, I posted some thoughts about what NBC had ordered to pilot.

nbcLet’s see what they actually brought forth to put on the sked:

State of Affairs – This is a Katherine Heigl vehicle. Even if you put her lackluster acting and star quality along with her rapidly diminishing bankability aside, and the fact that she is, by all accounts, an awful person AND just ignoring that the awesome Alfre Woodard is attached as the President…that still won’t save this heaping pile of dung. I have not seen one second of this and I can smell how shitty it is.

The show centers on a key CIA attaché who counsels the president on high-stakes incidents around the world. She balances her intense political responsibilities with a complicated personal life.

In January, I rather emphatically stated “UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD THIS GET A SERIES ORDER.”

Won’t succeed.

Marry Me – Young couple gets engaged. Hilarity ensues. I watched some of this yesterday and it was, as you might imagine, predictable. Jokes are seen a mile away. I laughed a couple of times, mostly because as predictable as dreck like this is, sometimes it works.

I thought this would get a series order because it is just the type of pap middle America turns on to tune out their lives.

Will succeed (against my better judgement).

The Mysteries of Laura – This show has Debra Messing and is allegedly based on the popular Spanish series Los Misterios De Laura. It follows the life and relationships of a female homicide detective who can handle murderous criminals — but not her evil twins.

I predicted this would get a series order. Debra Messing is just charming enough that this may work…for a little while.

Won’t succeed.

Bad Judge – Kate Walsh plays a hard-living, sexually unapologetic judge who plays with the law and whose life on the edge is constantly hanging in the balance.

In January, I thought this was more than deserving of a series order because people don’t realize how funny Kate Walsh is…it also helps that it comes from Adam McKay and Will Ferrell.

Will succeed.

Aquarius – This must be new because it wasn’t part of NBC’s initial pilot order. David Duchovny in a 1967 period crime drama. I like this premise and I like him.

Will succeed.

Emerald City – (no pilot, ordered directly to series) A headstrong 20-year-old Dorothy Gale is unwittingly sent on a journey that thrusts her into the center of an epic and bloody battle for the control of Oz.

In January I said “This is clever, sure, but ultimately won’t stick around.” The production costs will be HUGE and unless it blows up out of the gate (very unlikely), it’ll either ankle or get filed away under the “mini-series” label (like last years Dracula thing-a-ma-crap).

Won’t succeed.

Mission Control – Set in 1962, it examines what happens when a strong woman butts heads with a macho astronaut in the race to land on the moon.

My prediction was that this would get a series order. David Horsnby (Rickety Cricket from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) teams with Adam McKay and Will Farrell. Anchorman for the space race.

Will succeed.

Mr. Robinson – (no pilot, ordered directly to series) A talented musician adjusts to his new life as a middle school music teacher, where he maneuvers precocious kids, teacher politics, and the temptations of single moms.

Meh. Now that Community has been shut down, I suspect this will take it’s place. Broad enough to appeal across races and people really like Craig Robinson.


Odyssey –  Traffic-like thriller revolves around three families whose lives are torn apart when a stranded female soldier, a disillusioned corporate attorney and a disrespected political activist are pulled into the same shocking international military conspiracy.

My prediction was that this would get a series order. I think it is a great concept and the type of stuff I like, but I can’t imagine it sticking around for the long-term. It seems like a complicated storyline that will probably alienate viewers. This deserves a slot but maybe better suited as a mini-series.


One Big Happy – Follows gay and straight best friends whose mission to have a baby together is complicated when one of the potential parents finds the love of his or her life.

I didn’t think this should have gotten a series order and it did.

Haven’t we been down this road a lot recently? This is fast becoming a sitcom genre and comedic trope that continues to prove it just won’t work on network television…and yet they show no signs of trying to stop.

Won’t succeed.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – (no pilot, ordered directly to series). Tina Fey produced. ’nuff said.

Won’t be a ratings juggernaut but will be the kind of smart show that sticks around…like 30 Rock.

Will succeed.

Constantine – Based on DC Comics characters about John Constantine, an enigmatic and irreverent con man-turned-reluctant supernatural detective who is thrust into the role of defending us against dark forces from beyond.

I didn’t think this should get a series order. This stuff works in film (for reasons unknown to me) and doesn’t play well on episodic television. It’s also cost prohibitive and dumb.

Won’t succeed.

I had a 62.5% success rate with pilot order predictions.

Not great, but the real test will be on my success ratio.

pilotorder3* Of these 12 new shows, including the shows I am neutral on, I am only predicting 5 to be successful.

pilotsuccessfinal 2_Page_1By my calculations and guesswork, 41.67% of these shows will succeed….stay tuned.

NBC did a fine job of carpet bombing genres during this upfront, primarily because they needed to. There are a ton of holes to fill in between The Voice, Blacklist and Sunday Night Football.

Ultimately, Greenblatt and co. put up some really smart and interesting shows and it’s nice to see the network is beginning to look forward and not backward (Michael J. Fox and Sean Hayes).

The true test will come from their commitment to the creativity and seeing that executives don’t meddle too much (this is Hannibal’s shortcoming), that the shows worth having are given a chance and those that aren’t, aren’t.

Provided all of that and a few of these shows (at least 41.67% of them) are successful, this could genuinely be the year NBC can claim a real turn around.

Showing real creativity in its programming choices proves that Greenblatt and NBC are not afraid to take chances and, it would appear, that while NBC may not be blazing new creative trails they are clearly no longer the underdog.


* Oops….I am aware that I misspelled Aquarius. I don’t want to re-do the table right now.