As NBC counts its holiday blessings this month, the Peacock is getting ready for its toughest assignments of the 2013-14 season.
NBC has seven scripted series on the bench awaiting midseason launches, including high-profile drama entries from Alfonso Cuaron and J.J. Abrams (supernatural drama "Believe"), the "Chicago P.D." spinoff from Dick Wolf and the Dermot Mulroney-Gillian Anderson starrer "Crisis."
The challenge for Bob Greenblatt and Co. is to capitalize on the momentum of the fall and the platform of February's Winter Olympics to get at least some of these shows off to a fighting start. And while all that's going on, NBC has to manage the Jay Leno-Jimmy Fallon transition at "The Tonight Show" and reroute Seth Meyers from "Saturday Night Live" to "Late Night."
The good news leading into the midseason crunch is that NBC's circulation is up signficantly this year, even during the holiday-light period. "The Sound of Music Live" was an early Christmas present of 20 million-plus viewers, and chestnuts specials like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and "Christmas in Rockefeller Center" special have notably outperformed compared to recent years. Those are signs that the overall tide at NBC is rising thanks to "Sunday Night Football," the heat of "The Voice," freshman drama "The Blacklist" and improving viewership for "Chicago Fire" and "Law & Order: SVU."
NBC at present leads the Big Four networks in the adults 18-49 demo for the season to date, with a 3.2 average, flat compared to this time last year. "SNF" is the single biggest contributor to that margin, which is why NBC has been restrained in touting its victory so far.
In fact, NBC was in the same position this time last year, only to see its first quarter numbers crater without football and "The Voice."
This time around, however, NBC is in better shape with "Blacklist" (pictured) emerging as a bona fide success -- ranking as the No. 1 new series of the season with a 5.2 average in adults 18-49 and nearly 19 million viewers in the L-7 ratings measure. The James Spader drama has taken most of December off but will be back on Jan. 13.
"Voice" will also take a much shorter winter break in the first quarter, compared to last year. And with any luck, the Olympics will provide a can't-miss promotional platform.
"It's not like we're going to be out to lunch in the first quarter," Greenblatt told Variety. "Hopefully we'll take the stability from the fall and push forward with some momentum into spring.
"Post-Olympics is almost going to be like a mini fall launch for us," Greenblatt said. "Sunday is a big agenda for us after football ends -- we've got a lot pegged to the night (in midseason). With the Winter Olympics, unlike summer, it's not like there's six weeks between the end of the Games and the start of the season. The week after the Olympics end, the shows we were promoting will be on."
Greenblatt said NBC is still finalizing its promo priorities for the Feb. 7-23 Olympics frame, beyond Fallon's "Tonight Show" debut on Feb. 24. There's a chance one of NBC's new shows will get a sneak peek screening during the Feb. 7-23 Games (carefully timed to avoid a repeat of the 2012 cutaway from an event for the sneak of comedy "Animal Practice").
Dramas "Believe" and "Crisis" are bound to fill the cleats of "SNF" from 9-11 p.m. Sunday, though the premiere dates have yet to be unveiled . Comedies "Growing Up Fisher" and "About a Boy" are headed for 9-10 p.m. Tuesday (getting a lead-in assist from "The Voice"), and "Chicago P.D." is set for Wednesday 10 p.m. as of Jan. 8.
That still leaves comedy "Undateable" and medical drama "The Night Shift" awaiting time slots. Greenblatt acknowledges they may run out of shelf space during the regular season period -- or they may have late-season bows that stretch into the summer frame -- but he remains committed to both projects.
Thursday has been NBC's roughest night this year with weak starts for frosh comedies "The Michael J. Fox Show" and "Sean Saves the World." "Community" moves into the 8 p.m. berth as of Jan. 2, but other than that, Greenblatt isn't planning major surgery on the comedy block, and "Parenthood" is staying put at 10 p.m.
"You're not going to see massive changes right off the bat," Greenblatt said. "As we look to post-Olympics we'll just have to see what makes sense. It's an important night, and it needs a lot of work. We're trying to resist the temptation to just throw things up in the air. That's what makes the audience think 'I'm not going to watch those shows' if everything is moving around. We're trying to be thoughtful about our decisions, and we're working hard on development to turn it around."
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