Andrew Woodberry and Ashish Mehta, contributors to The Tracking Board’s annual Runway series, have been dissecting the pilots, trends, networks and needs for the 2016 TV season. This week, in the midst of the network upfronts, they’re teaming up to discuss the latest updates to the fall schedules of NBC, FOX, ABC, CBS, and The CW.
On Monday, NBC kicked off the upfront presentations in New York with a first look at a few of the new shows that will joining the fall schedule. The network’s drama development season included two franchise spinoffs, a serialized primetime soap, an episodic/serialized primetime soap/legal procedural, a fantasy-mystery-romance, a time-travel action-drama, a procedural action-thriller, and a comedy-drama. The comedy development season, meanwhile, included some familiar NBC names, like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, and some interesting new faces, like Marlon Wayans and Kristen Bell. Click here to see how NBC’s schedule is shaping up.
Take it away, Andrew and Ashish…
Andrew: Some people say NBC is finally turning a corner. I’m not quite as convinced. Dick Wolf is providing a dependable stream of Nielsen families with his Chicago franchise and The Voice can maybe grab a few more American Idol fans, but the rest of the schedule, particularly the new shows, still looks pretty lackluster.
The Timeless trailer promises stupid fun. Maybe more the former than the latter, in my opinion. But The Blacklist and Blindspot proved a high concept, catchy hook can hold viewers for a whole season and beyond. The trailer didn’t alleviate your main script concern though Ashish — why do they have to chase this antagonist?
The This is Us trailer, on the other hand, was getting me a little emotional. But is the current viewing public clamoring for the next Parenthood? Internet commenters have complimented the trailer, but can you really get sampling on a show like that, with a trailer/ads like that? The plum post-Voice time slot is a gamble.
Midseason looks like a time to roll out all the existing IP — Blacklist: Redemption, Chicago Justice, Emerald City, etc. No trailers though, sadly.
On the comedy side, the only trailer and fall scheduling for a new show is straight-to-series The Good Place. Not what I expected from the logline, and it was kind of one-note in its jokes (we get it, you can’t swear in the Good Place!). NBC is announcing that its Thursday comedy block is back, but I think we’ll have to wait until midseason airings to make a determination.
Ashish, NBC is putting a lot of money into the Olympics to advertise these new shows. Is it smart to lead off with Timeless and This is Us as the fall drama premieres? Does This is Us pair well with The Voice? Did The Good Place trailer live up to your expectations?
Ashish: I’m not particularly excited by NBC’s drama lineup this season. They didn’t have many quality pilots to choose from to begin with, and have ordered all their dramas to series except Cruel Intentions and Miranda’s Rights. Though the latter is presumed dead, Cruel Intentions is still in play to be an addition to the fall schedule.
The Timeless slot makes sense to me. It’s been NBC’s drama frontrunner this season, though the trailer leaves me underwhelmed. You’re absolutely right. The stakes and motivation continue to look messy.
This is Us is more confusing. I was moved by the trailer too, but here’s the flip side: I’m also moved by pretty insurance company advertisements about families and birthdays. Will it keep the The Voice’s audience riveted? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s the most unusual script this season, and I’d love to be proved wrong.
I feel like there could be a larger fall scheduling trend in emergence here. Is it a coincidence that both of NBC’s fall dramas are made by outside studios: This is Us (20th TV) and Timeless (Sony)? At Fox too, the better of the two fall slots has gone to Lethal Weapon, the only new Fox series made by an outside studio (WB). Could this be a fall-out of the heated in-season stacking rights negotiations that have dominated discussions between networks and outside studios this season? Can’t wait to hear which slot welcomes ABC’s Time after Time (WB).
As for the comedies, I was quite disappointed by the trailer for The Good Place. Kristen Bell looked she didn’t want to be there, and I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t get sent to The Bad Place pretty quick. I know you wanted them to pick Trial & Error. Though I haven’t read it, that’s easily my favorite based on the synopsis. Which are the shows you’re most looking forward to?
Andrew: I’m quietly applauding your comparison of This is Us to an insurance company advertisement about families and birthdays. Dan Fogelman basically did the same story manipulation (SPOILER ALERT) “these seemingly disparate characters are actually all related” (/END SPOILER) in CRAZY.STUPID.LOVE. That type of reveal to the audience works well in features, but on a TV show, you only get that bump once at the end of the pilot, then have 12 more episodes you have to make narratively compelling. That being said, I liked Parenthood and thought this pilot was a breeze to read, so I’ll give it a second episode.
Not to digress too much, but the in-season stacking rights issue you bring up is interesting. For readers that don’t know, when a network buys a show from an outside studio, historically they’ve only had the rights to stream the last five episodes in-season. But in this age of binging and delayed viewing, that can really hurt advertising dollars for a network. What does this mean for a show? A presumably low-rated show like This is Us gets a slightly longer leash, and a show like The Exorcist with a bad time slot definitely has a better chance at survival. But you still have to make a show good enough for people to want to watch it on delayed viewing…
Back to the pilots. I think the only NBC show I’m really looking forward to is Trial & Error, just to see if that tone can translate from page to screen, and sustain itself over what looks like half a season. Everything else seems a little perfunctory to me.
To finish off this conversation, what do you think about Miranda’s Rights and Cruel Intentions not going forward? Prior to reading, those are two loglines I thought would have good chances. Are they just on the wrong network? Or were they so deeply flawed that they wouldn’t work at any network?
Ashish: I’m totally giving This is Us a second episode too. The charming cast doesn’t hurt!
Early on in the development season, a soap was absolutely on NBC’s list. Though Miranda’s Rights is dead, Cruel Intentions still has a heartbeat and we can’t rule it out just yet. Though Greenblatt seems quite relaxed, I strongly suspect Cruel Intentions remains a top priority for NBC. Just a matter of getting the right deal with Sony. Miranda’s Rights might’ve worked better on CBS, but Cruel Intentions feels like a fluid property that could work just about anywhere. The pilot script had problems, but nothing that can’t be fixed.
NBC seems headed towards a dry and wet fall. I’m hoping for some scheduling shake-ups.
Andrew Woodberry & Ashish Mehta | Contributors
Ashish Mehta is a freelance script reader, currently reading for a coverage company and a film financing platform, among other individual clients in the US and UK. You can find out more about his services at http://scriptexaminer.com, or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.