Adweek’s week-long look at each broadcast network’s new fall shows kicks off today with NBC, which has finished No. 1 in adults ages 18-49 for the past two seasons. While the network’s most recent demo victory was due in large part to the continued strength of Sunday Night Football and The Voice (as well as the Super Bowl, which moves to CBS this season), NBC's recent development cycles, particularly on the comedy side, have been barren. In May, the network renewed just one of its new shows from 2014-2015, The Mysteries of Laura, while canceling all of its comedies except for Undateable, which it will air live for the entire season.
Counting on Sunday Night Football to propel it through fall, NBC saved some of its most intriguing shows for midseason, including Hot and Bothered, its Eva Longoria comedy, which goes behind the scenes of a telenovela, and drama Shades of Blue, starring Jennifer Lopez. (Its other big midseason series, a revival of ‘90s sitcom Coach, with Craig T. Nelson reprising his role, was abruptly canceled late last month.)
The network's six new fall shows, meanwhile, are mostly still works in progress. Just a week before some of them are set to debut, NBC has a final version of just two series ready to go: Blindspot, which is also its strongest freshman show, and Heroes Reborn, which was made available just two days ago. For the other shows, we’ll rely on the prior versions of the pilots (some shows have undergone recasting or other tweaks since they were picked up in May), which is all that the network has provided to press and buyers, as we look at each new series and decide which are worth your attention and ad budgets.
And while a pilot isn’t always the best way to judge a show’s ultimate potential, it’s often the only episode that audiences watch before deciding whether to stick around or cut bait, especially given all the other new and returning shows also fighting for attention. With that in mind, here are NBC’s fall shows, ranked from least promising to most promising.
Truth Be Told (8:30 p.m. Fridays, premieres Oct. 16)
The plot: Two couples (Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Vanessa Lachey, and Tone Bell and Bresha Webb) are both neighbors and BFFs. As NBC states in the press notes, “absolutely no topic is out of bounds for this wildly outspoken group.” In the premiere, those topics include whether Gosselaar is allowed to say the N-word as he raps along to Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” and whether Gosselaar and Lachey’s new, hot babysitter is a porn actress.
The verdict: NBC’s only new comedy this fall speaks volumes about the putrid state of its comedy development. The “not final” version that NBC provided to press is not only NBC’s weakest new show, but the worst series of the fall. This summer, NBC recast Lachey as Gosselaar’s wife and retitled the show, which was initially called People Are Talking, but the lifeless pilot's problems run far deeper than that. Truth Be Told thinks it’s funny and groundbreaking; neither are remotely true.
Is it good for your brand? Absolutely not, truth be told. Avoid this one at all costs, and hope that this represents rock bottom for NBC’s comedy drought.
The Player (10 p.m. Thursdays, premieres Sept. 24)
The plot: A former FBI operative (Philip Winchester), who now works as a security consultant in Las Vegas, is wooed by Wesley Snipes to play a real-life high-stakes competition. The rich and powerful bet on whether or not he can stop crimes from taking place, with the help of a fancy crime prediction system right out of Person of Interest.
The verdict: It’s serviceable but lightweight, and NBC has had big trouble with this Thursday night timeslot (the former home of Nielsen titans like ER and L.A. Law). Snipes is unlikely to be a big enough draw to pull audiences away from How to Get Away with Murder on ABC. Winchester (Strike Back), is solid as the lead, though it’s strange to put a big action star like Snipes in a stunt-heavy show and keep him far away from the most thrilling sequences. As for the action, the pilot alternated between some competent sequences and others that were shoddily edited (again, some of this might be fixed in the final version), which doesn't bode well for the production value on display in subsequent episodes, where the budget (and post-production schedule) will be much less extravagant than the pilot’s.
Is it good for your brand? Let Person of Interest be your guide, though given NBC’s struggles on Thursdays, this show doesn’t seem to be a safe bet.
Heroes Reborn (8 p.m. Thursdays, premieres Sept. 24)
The plot: NBC has revived its hit series about regular people grappling with the realization that they possess extraordinary powers. In Reborn, the "evos" (evolved humans) have gone into hiding after being blamed for a terrorist attack a year earlier, with many of them being hunted by a pair of assassins. Several original characters will pop up during the season, including Hiro (Masi Oka) and Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) but only Noah Bennet (Jack Coleman, who played Hayden Panettiere’s father) appears in every episode, as the focus shifts to a new generation of evos.
The verdict: The two-hour premiere is solid, but instead of recalling the show's glory days (i.e. Season 1, when each episode was still euphoric), the soundtrack and other callbacks to the original series instead evoke unpleasant memories of Season 2 and beyond, when creator Tim Kring kept promising, and failing, to get the show back on track. Not helping its case: A decade ago, Heroes was the only show on television about people struggling with their superpowers and/or reaching a new stage of evolution; now those programs are all over the schedule, with many of them far more rewarding and thrilling than Heroes ever was, even in its best moments. NBC hopes to win back Heroes fans (many of whom bailed on the show mid-run in frustration) in a time slot that has become toxic for the network. But the premiere doesn't offer enough assurances that we won't all end up flat on our backs again like Charlie Brown, after Kring pulls the football away at the last moment. For now, I remain highly skeptical.
Is it good for your brand? If you advertised on the original Heroes, perhaps, but you could get similar, and likely better, mileage from The Flash, Supergirl, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD or any other superhero series instead.
Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris (10 p.m. Tuesdays, premieres Sept. 15 and moves to 8 p.m. on Sept. 29)
The plot: Based on the British show Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, Best Show Ever is a live, eight-week mashup of a variety and game show with practical jokes and celebrity appearances thrown in the mix. Neil Patrick Harris hosts.
The verdict: At least NBC has an excuse for not sharing this episode: It can’t, because each week the show will air completely live. That means all the pressure is on Harris, who is a master when it comes to emceeing live events (yes, he stumbled a bit at this year’s Oscars, but he killed at the Emmys, Tonys and every other hosting gig he’s tackled). If anyone has the panache to pull this off, it’s him. The curiosity factor of what exactly this thing is going to be should pull in viewers at least for the first week, especially with the America’s Got Talent season finale giving it a huge lead-in. But the biggest boost could come Sept. 29, when the show shifts to a family-friendly 8 p.m. time slot.
Is it good for your brand? Yes, as there will be opportunities galore for integrations and other innovative ways to showcase your brand. Assuming audiences tune in, this looks to be one of fall’s most brand-friendly shows.
Chicago Med (10 p.m. Tuesdays, premieres Nov. 17)
The plot: Executive producer Dick Wolf is doing what he does best: finding new ways to spin off his big NBC franchises. Chicago Fire, which debuted in 2012, led to Chicago P.D. in 2014. Now it’s time for the inevitable third Chicago-based series, which focuses on the doctors, nurses and staff at Chicago Med. The characters were introduced during the April 7 episode of Chicago Fire, which served as a backdoor pilot for the spinoff.
The verdict: NBC hasn’t made an episode available yet, though the show doesn’t premiere for two more months, so there's no pressure to make a September deadline. But April's Chicago Fire episode that launched the new show indicates that Chicago Med should be a solid addition to the Chicago team. So if you like Fire and P.D., you’ll likely feel the same about Med. NBC agrees: It’s already planning frequent crossovers between the three series, including a mega-crossover that will include Law & Order: SVU. Unless something goes very wrong, the network expects this to fare just as well as its counterparts.
Is it good for your brand? See above. If Chicago is your kind of town, this is a no-brainer.
Blindspot (10 p.m. Mondays, premieres Sept. 21)
The plot: A woman (Jaimie Alexander) is discovered naked in Times Square, with her memory wiped clean and her body covered head to toe in elaborate tattoos that seem to be a road map to criminal activity. Like amnesiac Jason Bourne before her, she turns out to be a butt-kicking master. She teams with the FBI agent whose name is inked on her back (Sullivan Stapleton) to unlock the mysteries of her tattoos and figure out who she is.
The verdict: NBC looks to have found the perfect series for the Monday 10 p.m., post-Voice audience that turned The Blacklist into a huge hit two years ago, and then was driven away by last season's flaccid Katherine Heigl drama, State of Affairs. Not only is the show very Blacklist-y—a New York-set show about a superhuman with questionable motives partners with an FBI agent to solve crimes—but the pilot is enthralling. Alexander sells the ridiculous premise, proving equally effective at playing vulnerable and invincible.
Is it good for your brand? A big yes, as The Blacklist showed two years ago. And maybe it’ll be open to a tattoo removal integration!