On the eve of the broadcast upfronts, fans of network television would do well to recall the lessons of the classic Late Night With David Letterman bit, “They Took My Show Away.” A series of lacerating observations about the state of TV programming disguised as a heart-to-heart chat between Dave and a boy who is crushed to discover that NBC has canceled his favorite show (Voyagers!), the faux After-School Special is as relevant now as it was when it first aired back in 1983.
“You know Jimmy, I remembered when they cancelled the Six Million Dollar Man. Boy! I thought my world was gonna end,” Letterman said toward the tail end of the bit. “But then The Fall Guy premiered, and my prayers were answered. Sure, it was a different time, slightly different format, but I adjusted…and you know what? I grew a little in the process, too.”
Take heed, fans of underperforming NBC series Deception, 1600 Penn, Guys With Kids, The New Normal, Up All Night, Whitney, Smash and Hannibal—these shows are your Voyagers!
While NBC has yet to officially render judgment on the aforementioned roster, all eight shows are certain to disappear on May 13, when NBC announces its 2013-14 prime-time schedule. Not a single one of them delivered so much as a 2.0 in the 18-49 demo; in fact, The New Normal was the highest-rated of the bunch, averaging 4.10 million viewers and a comparably towering 1.6 rating in its first season.
Meanwhile, the Not-So-Magnificent Seven failed to scare up a paltry 1.5 in the dollar demo. In descending order, Hannibal and Guys With Kids averaged a 1.4, Deception a 1.3 and Whitney and the on-hiatus Up All Night drew a 1.2 in their respective sophomore runs. Newbie 1600 Penn delivered a miserly 1.1 rating over the course of 13 episodes while the exiled Smash is averaging a 0.8. (Since being shunted to Saturday night, Bob Greenblatt’s Broadway baby is down to a 0.4 rating.)
There is some cheer at 30 Rock, as NBC on Friday announced it has renewed the freshman dramas Revolution and Chicago Fire, while signing on for new seasons of Grimm, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Parenthood.
Thanks in part to its choice post-Voice time slot (Mondays at 10 p.m.), Revolution is NBC’s most-watched scripted series and boasts the highest ratings for a drama on all of broadcast. Per Nielsen, the apocalypse adventure is averaging 7.79 million total live-plus-same-day viewers and a 2.9 in the 18-49 demo.
Chicago Fire also has been a workhorse, drawing 6.85 million viewers and a 1.9 in the demo.
“On the verge of our 2013 fall scheduling decisions, we’re pleased to renew five drama series that will be important to our new season line-up,” said Jennifer Salke, president of NBC Entertainment. “We’re proud and very appreciative of all of the actors, producers, writers and directors who work so hard to deliver such high-quality work week in and week out.”
Revolution and Chicago Fire join a handful of previously renewed freshman series: Elementary (CBS), The Following and The Mindy Project (Fox), and Arrow (the CW).
While no comedies were on NBC’s short list of renewals, the smart money’s on a second season of the Matthew Perry vehicle Go On (5.67 million viewers, 2.1 rating). Thursday night stalwarts Parks and Recreation and Community also are expected to earn berths on the fall slate.
As Letterman noted in that long-ago Late Night sketch, hope springs eternal during the upfronts. (“I’ll show you the NBC fall schedule. I have a feeling we’re gonna find a new show for you that just may turn out to be as good as Voyagers!…Oh, here’s a show called Manimal…It’s about a crime fighter that can turn into a snake and a bird.”)
With 26 pilots to pore over between now and May 13, NBC is going to do its damndest to avoid picking another Manimal. Some of the more promising new projects include the remarkable Michael J. Fox comedy The Henrys (working title), as well as a sitcom from Saturday Night Live scribe John Mulaney and two new efforts starring The Office’s Ellie Kemper and Craig Robinson. Among the more buzzworthy drama pilots include J.J. Abrams’ Believe, a Dracula refresh starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the well-groomed bloodsucker and the Charlize Theron-produced Hatfields & McCoys.
Because this has been such a rough-and-tumble broadcast season, we’ll wrap this up with a last nod to the Letterman skit. “And to think I was sad they cancelled Voyagers!” Jimmy chirps as he pores over NBC’s 1983-84 schedule. “This is gonna be the best TV season ever!”
Dave: “I think it will Jimmy, I think it will.”