NBC Plots Comedy-Driven Revival

Peacock schedules four nights of sitcoms

NBC on Monday returned to its Radio City upfront stomping grounds, laying out a 2012-13 prime-time schedule designed to tickle viewers’ funny bones. But before the network could get the ball rolling on its comedy-heavy slate, NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt had some sobering news for 30 Rock fans.

Speaking to a crowd of media buyers and clients, Greenblatt said that the fall run of 13 episodes would be 30 Rock’s last, adding that the series will end after seven seasons with a one-hour finale.

Greenblatt said he thinks 30 Rock creator Tina Fey is a comedic genius. “We hope she has a home at NBC for years to come," he said.

Greenblatt’s announcement was a bit of a reversal of comments he made on Sunday afternoon when he told reporters that a decision on the fate of 30 Rock was still up in the air. During that same call, the NBC exec said that the exiled Community could earn a longer order if it draws a crowd in its new Friday 8:30 p.m. time slot.

While fans may have been surprised by the news, 30 Rock star Alec Baldwin last month intimated that the much of the NBC prime time lineup was on its last legs. “The truth of the matter is that NBC is in its predicament,” Baldwin said at an April 16 National Press Club luncheon. “But unfortunately to [get out of it] they’re probably going to have to cancel most of the shows they have on their air now.”

With 10 comedies on the roster, including four new entries, NBC is practically doubling down on sitcoms. In the fall of 2011, the network had six comedies on its prime-time schedule, although that number would fall to five with the Oct. 5 cancelation of Free Agents.

The crowd reacted generously to clips from the new batch of comedies, with the biggest laughs being doled out for the Matthew Perry series Go On and the antic Justin Kirk effort Animal Practice. NBC entertainment president Jennifer Salke noted that Animal Practice co-star Crystal, who plays “a bundle of mischief named Dr. Zaius,” was the highest-testing new NBC character of this development season.

For the uninitiated, Crystal is a capuchin monkey.

The new comedies will air on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and Greenblatt hopes all four series will get a lift from NBC’s one-two punch of Sunday Night Football and an autumn cycle of The Voice.

That said, Thursday nights remain a bit of an enigma, with 30 Rock retaking the anchor slot, leading into Up All Night, The Office and Parks and Recreation. While The Office is NBC’s top-rated scripted program, the rest of the lineup underperforms. And while 10 p.m. Thursday was once the home of stalwart dramas Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and ER, NBC has thrown in the towel in 2012, slotting the newsmagazine Rock Center With Brian Williams into the former “Must See TV” capstone.

The peripatetic Rock Center is averaging 3.82 million viewers and a 0.9 in the adults 18-49 demo.

Incidentally, while NBC aired just three Thursday 10 p.m. dramas from 1980-2009, this season alone has been marked by three failed launches in the time slot: Prime Suspect, The Firm and Awake.

Clips of NBC’s midseason comedies look less promising. Save Me stars a hypercaffeinated Anne Heche as a woman who braves a near-death experience only to emerge as some sort of latter-day prophet, while frat fave Dane Cook helms Next Caller, a single-camera strip about an edgy satellite radio host.

The most buzzworthy new NBC drama is J.J. Abrams’ Revolution, which inherits the plum post-Voice slot from Smash. (The sophomore musical drama is being tucked away until winter 2013, when it will air in 15-18 consecutive episodes.)

“We went to the man who’s synonymous with ‘outside the box,’” Salke said. Abrams’ previous NBC series, the 2010 spy drama Undercovers, was canceled 11 episodes into a 13-episode run.

Also earning a production credit on Revolution is Supernatural creator Eric Kripke. According to research firm Networked Insights, “Kripke is generating the majority of the positive viewer interest” behind Revolution. That said, J.J. Abrams fatigue may have set in among viewers who sampled Undercovers or this season’s Alcatraz (Fox), and the failure of the recent NBC psychodrama/procedural Awake suggests that complex serial dramas may no longer have a home on broadcast TV.

Wrapping up the network’s drama slate, Greenblatt noted that principal photography on Mockingbird Lane, NBC’s reboot of The Munsters, will begin next month. Instead of a 30-minute sitcom, the new effort will be reimagined as a one-hour drama.

Early in the presentation, Greenblatt sounded a familiar refrain. “I keep harping on how long it’s going to take to rebuild this network,” he said. “But we’re going to do it, I promise.” 

For a comprehensive rundown of NBC’s fall schedule, click here.

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