After a quick glance over at Netflix for some new House of Cards, let’s resume our mid-season look at the state of TV. Today we’ll be examining Fox and NBC, and we’ll wrap this series up with some thoughts on other places around the dial later in the week.
Fox: In the last couple of years (and in an even more pronounced fashion this year), Fox has seemed to turn into NBC of the mid-2000’s: A network with a ton of critically acclaimed shows that no one really happens to be watching. This is a shame for a number of reasons, the most notable of which is that it seems to be putting out consistently better shows than the other major networks.
What’s Working: It’s been a strong season in terms of debuts for Fox. Sleepy Hollow became a sleeper hit right off the bat and Brooklyn Nine-Nine took home a pair of Golden Globes. Even their B-tier debuts, like Enlisted (a show that really needs to find it’s way to Tuesdays as soon as possible because it truly deserves a larger audience). Fox has also managed to find a Tuesday comedy lineup that is Fox’s strongest ever (Dads excluded).
Finally, Fox still finds strength in the perpetual motion machine that is it’s Sunday night block. The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Bob’s Burgers all saw renewals in the fall and American Dad will find a second life on TBS, as no conglomerate loves their Seth McFarlane reruns quite like the folks at Turner.
What’s Not Working: First and foremost, Dads was a total train wreck despite the network putting a ton of effort into advertising it, a pretty star studded main cast, and giving it the lead-off slot in said Tuesday comedy lineup. However, Fox’s real problem is actually the opposite of CBS: It’s older shows seem to be tailing off. This is particularly notable on Wednesday and Thursday, as The X-Factor met it’s maker earlier this month, while American Idol now lacks the cache it used to have as a TV powerhouse.
Another problem Fox did not see coming was the nosedive in the ratings The Following took. This is an issue as one could probably guess that The Following is one of Fox’s most expensive shows, yet it’s ratings have been on a downward trajectory from minute one this season as the show’s writing has only gotten worse over time.
Overall Prognosis: Fox is actually in a pretty decent place for the future and could very easily carry the next decade or so under Kevin Reilly’s leadership when the rest of TV reality comes crashing in on CBS and many of it’s flagship shows age out. Additionally, it’s the network least affected by CBS’s Thursday Night Football deal, as Fox’s schedule has been regularly disrupted for over a decade now courtesy of the MLB playoffs, so all it takes is some mild shuffling and a reserving the now open Thursdays (due to the end of the X-Factor) as it’s designated big November premiere night.
NBC: This year seems to be the year that NBC slowly corrected their ship. They’ve figured out how to leverage their trademark properties best, and the one-two punch of Sunday Night Football and The Voice are not only keeping them afloat, but helping to ensure the network doesn’t always stay a punchline.
What’s Working: I mentioned this before in the open but because they are so central to the network’s success, let me reiterate them again: football and The Voice. Almost everything the network does right comes from those two spokes, and unsurprisingly, the further away you get from them the weaker the schedule looks. NBC also managed to find a hit drama in the form of The Blacklist.
NBC has also quietly steadied the ship on Wednesday nights with Dick Wolf coming to the rescue and a strong block of cop procedurals from 9 to 11. Revolution’s survival is still a toss up, but considering the amount of effort the network is going to have to put into fixing Thursday it would require an insanely strong new drama to unseat it.
Finally, NBC has figured out another way to expand an event lineup that currently tends to be very sports-centric: The return of the musical special. The Sound of Music Live! pulled in an astronomical amount of viewers on it’s December 5th showing, and it’s not implausible to see NBC go to this trick two to three times a year in order to boost ratings.
What’s not working: NBC has done well with The Voice and it’s dramas, but it’s comedy block has fallen into near complete disrepair. After a year in which not a single comedy got picked up for a second season, NBC is perilously close to duplicating that feat for the second year in a row. A large part of this seems to be due to Bob Greenblatt copying the one network even more mismanaged than his: ABC. Family comedies are not working on the peacock, and the complete and utter failures of The Michael J. Fox Show, Sean Saves the World, and Welcome to the Family are certain proof.
NBC is still very low rated all around, and Sundays still seem to be a lost cause when football is not in season, often relying on a mix of Dateline and spackle to fill the lineup. Thursdays are a mess too, (mostly because of the comedy debacle) but I could see a resuscitation if they find two more passable comedies and anchor around Hannibal.
Overall Prognosis: NBC is in a very weird place. For half their lineup, they seem to be doing all the right things, and for the other half the peacock looks like a barren wasteland that seems to only succeed in padding the episode count of Community and Parks and Recreation (I like both of those shows but it says a lot about NBC’s ability to develop comedies in a post 30 Rock, post Office world that the two shows the network keeps trying to kill keep living on).
Next Time: We hop around the dial, looking at the CW and anything on cable worth my attention.