NBC just put out its mid-season schedule press release, a flowery document that boasts of the return of “The Voice” and “30 Rock,” the debut of the musical drama “Smash,” a TV series version of “The Firm,” the “Chuck” series finale on January 27th, and many, many, many timeslot changes.
Know what words the release doesn’t contain? “Community” and “Prime Suspect.”
“30 Rock” will be on Thursdays at 8 in place of our friends from Greendale Community College (while “Whitney” lives to laughtrack another day), and “The Firm” will take over the Thursday at 10 o’clock timeslot where “Prime Suspect” has been steadily getting better. NBC says “Community” will be back at some point, on a date and time TBD, while “Prime Suspect” will probably just finish out its initial 13-episode order and go back to the hat store in the sky.
On the one hand, neither move should be a surprise. NBC has many, many, many problems this season, with virtually everything being down from last year’s already terrible ratings, even the returning hits like “The Office” and “Biggest Loser.” “Community” and “Prime Suspect” were just among the lowest-rated of the bunch, with the former getting the once-mighty Thursday lineup off to a terrible start and “Prime Suspect” finishing the night in much the same way (lower than “Community” in the 18-49 demographic, slightly higher in overall viewership). NBC banked heavily on “Prime Suspect,” and the show didn’t open at all, and has gone down since, and this is what happens to new shows like that.
But “Community” has essentially been on a kamikaze mission for a long time now, going up against “The Big Bang Theory” and one of “American Idol” or “The X Factor” for a while now. It aired after “The Office” briefly at the start of its first season and has had to go it alone ever since. “Whitney,” which gets to stay on the schedule – albeit swapping timeslots with “Up All Night” – has done better entirely because of that “Office” lead-in, and has been bleeding viewers almost as quickly as it’s been arousing critical pans. “Community” is a mess ratings-wise, but it’s one of NBC’s few shows that still draws largely unabashed love from critics (and from its shrinking but passionate group of fans). Pulling it off the schedule temporarily given the ratings is understandable; pulling it off the schedule while leaving “Whitney” on is not. Either show is going to do the same pathetic numbers on Wednesdays at 8 – away from its “Office” cocoon, “Whitney” could easily do worse than “Community” would – and one move at least buys continued goodwill from the press and viewers, whereas there’s no one outside the immediate families of Whitney Cummings and Chris D’Elia who will be happy that show continues to air, week after week.
“Community” isn’t canceled. There will still be a bunch of episodes to air for the rest of this season, and while I try to look at the show as living on borrowed time – it’s somewhat miraculous we’ll be getting around 70 episodes, mimimum, of such an idiosyncratic, brilliant comedy – given the way NBC’s fortunes have gone lately, I can easily see the new product failing so utterly that NBC pulls a “Chuck” and decides to stick with a known, albeit small, audience for a beloved show. (It also may help that “Community” is produced by Sony, which jumped through hoops to get FOX to keep making “Til Death” episodes for the syndication money a few years back.)
As for the rest of the schedule (I’ll get to the breakdown in a minute), NBC is still putting virtually all of its eggs in the basket that is “The Voice.” It premieres after the Super Bowl, leads into “Smash” (which may have picked the wrong season to debut, given how ratings for “Glee” and reality singing competition shows have fallen) and will be used to promote the rest of the lineup. If “The Voice” is stable – or, God help Bob Greenblatt, grows – from last season, NBC might be able to recover some dignity and start out on a path to recovery. But if it becomes victim to singing competition overkill, I don’t know what the new Comcast bosses do with the network.
One of the nice things about the tail end of the Jeff Zucker regime was that things were such a mess that shows like “Community” and “Friday Night Lights” and “Chuck” got to stick around much longer than they would have on any other network. But the numbers may be so desperate now that the boys from Kabletown become less patient, rather than more.
Night-by-night, here’s how NBC will look come 2012:
MONDAY: “The Voice” (which debuts after the Super Bowl on February 5) debuts February 6, leading into “Smash: The Brian Williams Story.”
TUESDAY: A new round of “Biggest Loser” starts January 3. “Parenthood” will wrap up its season on February 28, and March 13 will see the debut of “Fashion Star,” a reality competition series hosted by Elle Macpherson.
WEDNESDAY: “Whitney” moves here to 8 p.m. on January 11, followed by “Are You There, Chelsea?” (formerly “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea”), a sitcom about the young life of talk show host Chelsea Handler, played here by Laura Prepon. (Handler has a supporting role as her own sister.) “Rock Center with Brian Williams,” which has been dying on Mondays at 10, will likely do just as poorly here at 9, followed by “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
THURSDAY: “30 Rock” is back at 8 on January 12, followed by “Parks and Recreation” (unscathed in the madness, blessedly), “The Office,” “Up All Night” (which NBC understandably believes in a lot more than “Whitney”) and “The Firm,” with Josh Lucas in the Tom Cruise role.
FRIDAY: “Chuck” will keep going until its two-hour series finale on January 27th. “Who Do You Think You Are?” returns at 8 on February 3. “Grimm,” which seemed a candidate to move after its strong (by NBC standards; decent by anyone else’s) premiere rating, stays where it is at 9, followed by “Dateline.”
SATURDAY: Drama repeats.
SUNDAY: Two-hour “Dateline”s beginning January 8 at 7 p.m. They’ll contract back to an hour starting March 4, when “Harry’s Law” arrives at 8 p.m. Two-hour “Celebrity Apprentice”s debut at 9 starting February 12.
That’s it. (UPDATE: Check that. I somehow failed to notice the complete lack of “Awake” – by far the best new network pilot I saw this season, albeit one that’s temporarily shut down production as everyone tries to figure out how to make it work as a series – in any timeslot, or even mentioned to air later. The release also omitted the sitcoms “Best Friends Forever” and “Bent.”) Begin venting in 3… 2… 1…
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org