NBC Could Be in a Much Better Place This Fall, Thanks to New Shows Like The Good Place

Adweek’s weeklong analysis of each broadcast network’s new fall shows continues with NBC, which slipped to No. 2 among 18- to 49-year-olds last season after two seasons on top.

But the network is well positioned for a strong start this fall as it attempts to recapture the title, thanks to the continued dominance of Sunday Night Football and The Voice—which isn’t the powerhouse it used to be, but NBC hopes the new cycle will be reinvigorated by new coaches Alicia Keys and Miley Cyrus—and the addition of five Thursday Night Football games in a new shared deal with CBS.

On the scripted side, the network is sturdier this fall than it’s been in years, and the freshman shows are much improved from last fall’s lineup, which included misfires Truth Be Told (the worst show of last season), The Player and the disappointing Heroes revival, Heroes Reborn. But Blindspot, last season’s top freshman series in the 18-49 demo, and Chicago Med both became hits. As a result, NBC enters this fall with a schedule that boasts just three new shows, two of which are quite promising.

The network is also giving each show the opportunity to be sampled by the widest possible audience by using The Voice to launch all three.

And while a pilot isn’t always the best way to judge a show’s ultimate potential, it’s often the only episode audiences watch before deciding whether to stick around or throw in the towel, especially given all the other new and returning shows fighting for attention. With that in mind, here are NBC’s new fall shows, ranked from least promising to most:

1

Timeless (9 p.m. Mondays, premieres Oct. 3)

The plot: A criminal (Goran Visnjic) steals a time machine to try and destroy America by altering past events like the Hindenburg disaster. A soldier (Matt Lanter), a history professor (Abigail Spencer) and a scientist (Malcolm Barrett) team up to track him across time as they try to save history.

The verdict: Timeless is one of several new series this season that incorporate time travel or straddle multiple time periods (I’ll discuss The CW’s Frequency later in the week), and it doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from the rest of the group. As was the case with DC’s Legends of Tomorrow last season, the rules about time travel drag down the whole show (which is why The CW drama jettisoned much of that storyline in the season finale), and they seem particularly nonsensical here, given how little in the present is altered by seemingly significant changes made to past events. While it might be able to grab some of the same post-Voice audience that previously sparked The Blacklist and Blindspot, Timeless is an example of a show that I might have stuck with in the pre-Peak TV era, but given my other roughly 450 scripted options, isn’t distinctive enough to keep my attention.

Is it good for your brand? It probably won't do as well as Blindspot last season, but it should appeal to the same audience. If you’re a watchmaker, it’s time to get on the phone with NBC and talk integrations. Other brands could consider partnering with NBC for period-appropriate integrations like Budweiser just did for Discovery’s Harley and the Davidsons.

2

This Is Us (10 p.m. Tuesdays, premieres Sept. 20)

The plot: The drama follows several people—many of them celebrating a birthday—and how their lives intersect. The cast includes a couple going into labor (Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia), an overweight woman (Chrissy Metz) who finds a potential companion (Chris Sullivan) at a fat-acceptance group (a similar setup to Mike and Molly), the star of a crappy TV sitcom called The Manny (Justin Hartley) who wants to do more with his career, and a man (Sterling K. Brown) finally confronting the father (Ron Cephas Jones) who abandoned him as an infant at a fire station.

The verdict: Creator Dan Fogelman, whose baseball drama Pitch is Fox’s best fall show, scores again with this family-themed drama filled with promise, even if it’s not quite in the same ballpark (sorry) as Pitch. There are some standout performances here from Brown, who shows a completely different side from his Emmy-nominated turn as Christopher Darden in The People v. O.J. Simpson, as well as Moore and Ventimiglia. However, the pilot ends on a twist that NBC has so far kept under wraps, and the show’s success will hinge on how successfully it can navigate that reveal. This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. for three weeks before shifting to its regular time slot at 9 p.m. to make way for Chicago Fire, which could throw off audiences who become used to watching it at that time.

Is it good for your brand? Yes, especially if you advertised previously on family-themed dramas like Parenthood and Brothers & Sisters and have been waiting for a drama of similar quality to fill that void. The show’s trailer unexpectedly became a viral sensation on Facebook this summer, which should also drive early interest in the series.

3

The Good Place (8:30 p.m. Thursdays, premieres Monday, Sept. 19, at 10 p.m., with two episodes)

The plot: After she dies, a regular woman (Kristen Bell) finds out she’s ended up in the Good Place, living in the first neighborhood designed by Ted Danson. But it turns out she’s only there because she was mistaken for a much more deserving candidate—a lawyer who got innocent people off death row. She secretly works with the ethics professor (William Jackson Harper), who's supposed to be her (or the other her’s) soul mate, to try and earn her spot and avoid being sent to the Bad Place.

The verdict: Creator and showrunner Mike Schur’s shows (The Office, Parks and Recreation) tend to take the better part of a season to find themselves before shifting into higher comic gear, and The Good Place is no exception. The pilot is good but not great, though there is clearly something promising here. So why is it ranked ahead of This Is Us? While This Is Us had a stronger pilot, The Good Place wins out because NBC sent out five episodes of the show to watch—as of this writing, no other fall broadcast show has provided any episodes for review beyond the pilot—and the series clearly gets stronger and more confident with each episode, as its supporting cast is given opportunities to shine. (Keep your eye on Janet, played by D’Arcy Carden, who is like a human version of Siri.) It’s also a pleasure to see Danson back in a Thursday night comedy on NBC in an unusual role he's clearly relishing (check out how giddy he gets about suspenders in an upcoming episode). This is also the rare serialized broadcast comedy, with each episode ending on a cliff-hanger that propels the show forward. Paired with Superstore, The Good Place could finally help restore NBC’s comedy brand after a multiseason drought.

Is it good for your brand? If you partnered with NBC on their previous Thursday night comedies like 30 Rock or Parks and Recreation, then you should do so again. It should appeal to Superstore fans as well as those of Schur’s other show, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Given that frozen yogurt is the most popular treat in the Good Place, those brands should look into branded content or integration opportunities.