The phrase “the new NBC” came up during the network’s executive session with the Television Critics Association today, but not in the “It’s A Whole New NBC” sense the network used to promote its lineup some 20-odd years ago. It was more like “what’s the new broadcast network that can’t seem to keep it together, in spite of having the reach, clout, and assumed prestige of being a broadcast network?” In the 2013-14 season, NBC relieved itself of that particular albatross, by presenting itself as a completely different Peacock. The Blacklist became a breakout hit. The network shifted its comedy focus from Must See TV’s longtime Thursday-night home to uncharted Tuesday waters. (Chariman Robert Greenblatt has no regrets about canceling Community—and why should he, since he’s still making money off of a sixth season on Yahoo!) A network that spent most of the 2010s ignoring falling ratings to foster unique, critically acclaimed programming tasted commercial success, and it figured out how to build on that success. It, to paraphrase one fictional NBC employee, figured out that thing that other networks do where they turn high ratings into higher ratings.
“The NBC resurgence is just beginning” blared the pre-session sizzle reel, but the NBC revolution is seemingly complete. (NBC’s Revolution, however, is complete; no word on whether or not the network’s developing a new series called Resurgence.) The programs featured in that montage, in addition to measurable success that can be touted in flashy video packages, was unrecognizable from that NBC presented even two or three years ago. The energy from the panel of network bosses Robert Greenblatt, Jennifer Salke, and Paul Telegdy, however, felt familiar. After banging its head against the wall for three years, the current NBC administration sounds like it’s still getting accustomed to being the big broadcaster on the block. “I adjust my expectations everyday,” Greenblatt said during the Q&A portion of the session, indirectly acknowledging that this prosperity could disappear as swiftly as it arrived.
Of course, these people are responsible for not letting that happen, and they’re not taking many huge risks in the wake of their windfall. The Voice and The Blacklist are staying put on Mondays, until the latter moves in order to swat at Scandal and the CBS Thursday comedies in February. That latter series and freshman success About A Boy are being used to insulate Marry Me on Tuesdays; new crime series The Mysteries Of Laura leads a whole night of cops and criminals the next night. Beyond the promising Marry Me pilot (from Happy Endings’ David Caspe, with Casey Willson and Ken Marino in the starring roles) and the wilder edges of Constantine, NBC’s fall offerings are bland, but they’re a safe kind of bland. The more exciting stuff—Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s “Ellie Kemper escapes from a doomsday cult” comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; potential future installments of The Maya Rudolph show—is waiting in the wings, for a time when NBC has more wiggle room to experiment.
Like summer. The network’s very good 2014 has extended into the past few months, with unscripted offerings America’s Got Talent, Last Comic Standing, and American Ninja Warrior each earning Greenblatt’s renewal at press tour. The Daring Medical Adventures Of Dr. Road Rash McRugged (a.k.a. The Night Shift) is also coming back next year, the success of which Greenblatt was quick to mention with regard to CBS’ higher profile Extant. (To be fair, Extant just premiered, but the NBC chairman wanted the TCA to know that the Halle Berry sci-fi miniseries debuted to smaller numbers than The Night Shift.) “We used to just throw the shows on in the summer we didn’t have much faith in” Greenblatt said—though neither he nor his colleagues would offer anything conclusive about the fates of summer comedies Undateable, Welcome To Sweden, or Working The Engels.
The one sign of outright confidence in the session came from Telegdy speaking to the looming specter of Thursday Night Football on CBS. “We’ve been counter-programming against football on Monday night,” the president of alternate and late-night told the TCA, suggesting that a handful of Thursday-night in-season NFL games is nothing to sweat. (But he and his colleagues aren’t moving The Blacklist to that night until after the Super Bowl, so make of that what you will.) NBC has its own popular weekly football broadcast in the mix, and it has the Super Bowl this year—something, in a further sign of the network’s recent primetime victories, that came up seemingly as an afterthought during Greenblatt’s opening remarks. Drafting off of another old NBC slogan, the network’s in the place to be, and it’s almost showing that it’s used to being there.
Stay tuned to The A.V. Club for more updates from the Television Critics Association summer press tour, which lasts through July 23. And be sure to follow TV Clubbers Erik Adams, Sonia Saraiya, Myles McNutt, and Will Harris for up-to-the minute commentary on Twitter.