It ain’t easy being NBC.
At some point, every network takes its turn in the Nielsen basement. But in the case of the Peacock, it’s been at or near the bottom of the ratings for nearly half a decade now.
Last season, the network placed just one scripted show — "The Office" — in Nielsen’s top 20 among adults 18-49. None of its fall series returned for a second season. And it shed three percent of its overall viewership vs. the year before.
The difference this season is that NBC has installed new management over its entertainment division, bringing in veteran developer and former studio chief Angela Bromstad to run the show.
She was able to put a bit of her stamp on NBC’s series development; more importantly, she’s brought a sense of stability to the network.
In addition, Peacock veteran Jeff Gaspin is now overseeing NBC.
While it’s unlikely he’ll have any major impact on programming, he could help shape the network’s marketing and play a role in determining just how patient NBC is with its new shows.
As for specific programs, bright spots for NBC include "The Biggest Loser," which remains a potent player even at (or perhaps because of ) an expanded two-hour length.
"Law & Order: SVU" still draws big crowds (though it’s moving to 9 p.m.) And, while not cultural giants on the order of "Friends" or "Seinfeld," NBC’s Thursday comedies are solid performers that advertisers love.
Troubled series include "Heroes," which will once again try to relaunch itself but could very well be headed into its final season. And the original "Law & Order" will fight to survive on Friday nights, as will "Southland," when it returns for its second season in late October.
BIG HOPE – "Trauma"
Keep an eye on this "ER"-like medical drama, which will feature big events every week.
It hasn’t gotten lots of media hype, but NBC brass clearly think it’s got a shot: The network took out a massive multipage ad spread on behalf of the show in the fall preview issue of Entertainment Weekly.
"Trauma is a big swing for us," Bromstad told TheWrap. "We haven’t been able to launch a fall drama that’s stuck in two years. With football to promote it in on Sunday. we’re hoping it’s a big, broad show that can attract an audience."
BIG RISK – "The Jay Leno Show"
NBC sure isn’t doing much to lower expectations for its five-night-a-week comedy show. Listings notices for the series all conclude with the sentence, " ‘The Jay Leno Show’ is the first network entertainment program to be stripped across primetime, marking a new era in television."
No pressure, Jay. (For more on the Leno gamble, click here.)
Thursday comedy newcomer "Community" has great buzz and a cushy spot behind "The Office" (at least for its first month on the air). It seems a natural fit with NBC’s comedy lineup, but it’s left-field loopiness could make it a tough sell.
A wildcard for NBC could be "Mercy," the nurses-themed medical hour airing Wednesdays at 8. Promotion has been low-key, but this is the sort of sudsy, straight-ahead drama that could surprise. Or crash and burn quickly.
"We don’t have huge expectations, which is good, because it means we can be patient," Bromstad says.
THE NETWORK’S TAKE
Bromstad’s goal for her first season in charge: Getting a couple of new shows to live beyond infancy.
"We haven’t had a lot of fall shows return for second seasons," she says. "We hope to have two, maybe three shows returning next year. We want to establish some long-term assets.
While NBC’s fourth-place status would seem to suggest that Bromstad can only improve things, the executive sounds anything but relaxed about her mission this season.
"The minute I took the job, I knew the expectations (to improve) would be there," she said. "I don’t think there’s a free pass at all. We have to deliver."
NBC has an uncanny ability to kick off new seasons with momentum, and this year should be no different. Leno seems likely to draw a crowd for at least a few weeks, and shows such as "Mercy" and "Trauma" have broad appeal, if viewers decide to check them out.
While NBC doesn’t have any apparent blockbusters in its crop of freshman, remember that TV hits often spring from the unlikeliest places (few predicted the success of "Grey’s Anatomy," for example.)
Odds are, NBC will once again end the season in fourth place. But we wouldn’t be surprised if it’s fourth with positive momentum.