It’s that time of year again. Flowers are blooming, barbecues are being fired up, and the networks are announcing their fall schedules.
NBC is of special interest to me because I am looking at the network as part of my dissertation, and the peacock is certainly providing me with a lot of talking points. The most striking to critics and viewers alike is the demise of “Must See TV.” Since the 1980s, Thursday nights on NBC have been dedicated to half-hour sitcoms. Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, Cheers, The Cosby Show, Will and Grace, 30 Rock, The Office, Mad About You… the list is extensive. It was clear last season that the block was in trouble. 30 Rock and The Office ended in early 2013, and Parks & Rec and Community could simply not support the block alone. The freshman offerings last year were weak, and it really spelled disaster. They were too goofy, too cliche, and too lowbrow for a night that previously been awash with highbrow references (George Constanza = Willy Loman), topical commentary (see 30 Rock‘s episode 4.18 “Khonani”), and story lines that have changed the cultural zeitgeist (Seinfeld‘s “The Bet”). While I was raised on “Must See TV,” NBC simply isn’t making shows like those anymore and is wise to let the block go. Finally, this is the first season since the 2011-2012 season where NBC didn’t have an Olympic games to rely on to launch programming. They used the London Games to launch the 2012 – 2013 season, peppering previews of the new shows throughout the end of the games. Sochi 2014 allowed for midseason replacements to get a decent springboard in the 2013 – 2014 season. It was very clear that NBC leaned on the games, and they now have to wait until summer 2016 to have such an opportunity again.
Shonda Rhimes is clearly the darling of ABC, since they consolidated her dramas, including a new offering starring Grey’s alum Katherine Heigel, into one night. Perhaps they are creating their own version of “Must See TV,” but for those who enjoy intriguing dramas and scandalous romance. I’m sure Rhimes’ fans will enjoy having all of their shows in one place. ABC also has a great night of comedy on Wednesday nights (although the omission of Suburgatory makes me a little sad). Modern Family seldom makes a misstep, The Goldbergs is both funny and nostalgic, and The Middle is relatable on so many levels. I see success for them on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
Normally moving a huge hit around on the schedule would be detrimental, but considering that The Big Bang Theory gets the highest ratings on TV, I’m sure it will be OK. It may even lay some audience foundation for 2 Broke Girls (which I can’t believe is still on the air). Thursdays will see the end of Two and a Half Men (finally), and Mike and Molly is scheduled to return midseason. I guess when Melissa McCarthy is one of the stars of a show, you have to give her some flexibility. They also have Thursday night football this season, so CBS should do just fine.
The most interesting developments at Fox include the reduction of American Idol, the “rolling” pilot concept, and the end of Animation Domination on Sundays. Starting with the latter, the Sunday night programming will begin at 7:30 with Bob’s Burgers, which is one of my favorite shows. It has the humor we have come to expect on Fox (a little edgier), but the characters are some of the most lovable on TV. They are using the other animated comedies (Simpsons and Family Guy) to help support critical darling Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the new Mulaney (starring former SNL writer John Mulaney and comedy vet Martin Short). With American Idol, I’m hoping this is the beginning of the end for these “talent” reality shows. Yes, Idol gave us Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, and Carrie Underwood, who are all incredibly talented women, but the formula is just too played out. There are versions on multiple channels, and I am simply tired of it. Finally, the network has done away with a pilot season in order to just order shows as they see fit. I think this model could work. Rather than a mad rush to order shows and scripts, they can have a more civilized discussion about each show and evaluate the needs of the network as they emerge. Head of entertainment Kevin Reilly might just be on to something.
As a concluding thought, while the schedule has a lot of new-ish programming to offer, it also has quite a few “long running” series. It used to be exceptional for a show to run for 9, 10, or 11 seasons. MASH, Cheers, Frasier, & Friends were wildly popular for their entire runs. Kelsey Grammer played Frasier Crane for 20 seasons! However, a lot of middle-of-the-road shows stay on for these sorts of runs. Bones is entering season 10, The Simpsons is entering season 26, Family Guy has been running off and on since 1999, but steadily since 2005. What does that say about TV today? Well, that’s for another post.
– The Lady Americanist.