No network will come to the upfront table this May with a bigger mixed bag of good news and bad news than NBC.
The broadcaster is on track for an almost-defiant sixth season as TV’s No. 1 among adults 18-49 — but by a slimmer margin than ever, down more than 25 percent in the key demo from the same point on the 2018 TV calendar. Admittedly, NBC lost some year-over-year steam thanks to the absence of a Super Bowl. But one night does not 25 percent make.
Still, it’s a steady erosion across the board — not one or two big failures — that will be responsible for any overshadowing of the Peacock’s latest Madison Avenue victory lap. Looking at its week, there’s still a lot to brag about. Sunday Night Football saw its audience bleed-out finally reverse, the Wednesday bundle of Dick Wolf’s trio of Chicago-set series proved to be one of the shrewder scheduling choices in years and, as NBC so often does, the network launched the season’s top new drama out of The Voice in already-renewed Manifest.
But the year’s losses show where NBC needs to do the most work to maintain its hold on increasingly distracted linear viewers. This Is Us is already showing signs of age. Heading into its likely fourth season, it’s no longer the hands-down No. 1 series on broadcast. It shares that title this season with The Big Bang Theory and Fox breakout The Masked Singer. As for the bigger drama discussion, for every Manifest or New Amsterdam, there are several other launches (Enemy Within, Village) that don’t stack up. In unscripted, The Voice’s decline is hard to ignore, and it can no longer be counted on to prop up the schedule as it has for so many seasons. And comedy is in desperate need of a new hit to aid dependable (if modest) players like The Good Place and Superstore.
The coming season that the network pitches at the May 13 NBCUniversal-wide presentation at New York’s Radio City Music Hall will be the first made by co-chairmen George Cheeks and Paul Telegdy. So perhaps more than anything else, it will be an opportunity to gauge the new regime’s tastes.
Blindspot | The end is in sight for the Martin Gero-created puzzle drama starring Jaimie Alexander and Sullivan Stapleton, which has been picked up for a final season. The drama is owned by an outside studio — Warner Bros. TV — and has, like most other broadcast series, continued to shed viewers. It’s down 25 percent among adults in its fourth season, which recently saw its final three episodes bumped out of May sweeps. Still, NBC likes being in the Greg Berlanti business and the fifth-season renewal will take the drama into syndication territory.
The Blacklist | The James Spader serial is returning for a seventh season as part of a two-season pickup NBC and producers Sony TV quietly worked out last May. With Spader’s deal expiring at the end of the 2019-2020 broadcast season, a final season announcement could be the next thing Red Reddington uncovers.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine | Fox’s loss is truly NBC’s gain. The ensemble cop comedy starring Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher and Melissa Fumero from Universal Television and exec producers Dan Goor and Mike Schur will return for a seventh season (and second on NBC) after drawing stable ratings for its new network. The series remains a revenue stream for Universal TV and allows NBC to keep Schur-produced comedies on well after The Good Place wraps its run. Nine-Nine!
Chicago Fire | The oldest member of Dick Wolf’s Windy City franchise has grown by nearly 2 million viewers over last season, the biggest jump for any veteran series this season. It will return for an eighth season.
Chicago Med | The youngest member of the Chicago franchise has also improved in viewers since NBC stacked all three of the Wolf-produced procedurals Wednesdays, averaging about a million more in its fourth season than its third. It’ll be back for a fifth season.
Chicago PD | The middle child of Wolf’s Chicago franchise has also grown in viewers, albeit not by as much as its brethren. Still, it has added close to 800,000 viewers and will be back for a seventh season. All three series are produced in-house at Universal Television.
Good Girls | A good example of a network showing patience and allowing a critical darling from showrunner Jenna Bans (Scandal) time to grow and find an audience, NBC handed out an early third-season renewal for the midseason drama starring Retta, Mae Whitman and Christina Hendricks. Helping its case was the fact that the ratings-challenged drama (down 27 percent among adults 18-49) is owned in-house at Universal TV.
The Good Place | Mike Schur’s serialized fantasy comedy ended its third season as NBC’s top half-hour in adults 18-49 and earned an early season four renewal. The Ted Danson and Kristen Bell afterlife comedy, from Universal Television, takes up little shelf space (it runs a short 13 episodes every season) and gives the broadcast network a rare awards season player.
Law & Order: SVU | The Dick Wolf-created drama starring (and exec produced by) Mariska Hargitay will officially become TV’s longest-running primetime drama when it returns for its historic 21st season, breaking the record previously held by parent Law & Order and CBS’ Gunsmoke. At this point, can anyone imagine an NBC schedule without SVU? (Meanwhile, another spinoff — L&O: Hate Crimes— remains in the works.)
Manifest | The Lost-like serialized mystery drama about a crop of presumed-dead passengers on a plane who mysteriously return home faded badly in the second half of its maiden voyage. Still, the Josh Dallas and Melissa Roxburgh drama from Universal TV and Warner Bros. TV was the No. 1 new scripted series of the (dismal) season among adults 18-49 and finished second among rookies in viewers.
New Amsterdam | The medical procedural starring Blacklist grad Ryan Eggold proved a solid fit with This Is Uson Tuesdays, coming in as the season’s No. 2 new drama among adults 18-49 (behind Manifest) and averaging better than 11 million viewers after a week of delayed viewing. In a show of faith, the Universal TV-produced drama was NBC’s first rookie to earn a second season.
Superstore | The workplace rom-com starring (and exec produced by) America Ferrera will return for a fifth season as the Universal TV comedy is quickly approaching the 100-episode threshold needed for syndication. The series, which will change showrunners, also boasts a Hulu streaming deal.
This Is Us | Broadcast television’s highest-rated drama is plotting its endgame as the Dan Fogelman-created drama scored a three-season renewal, taking it through its sixth and, what sources say, final season. The stars of the awards season favorite from Disney’s 20th TV — Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz and Justin Hartley — all negotiated new deals at the start of season three. Meanwhile, Fogelman has been vocal that This Is Us is at the midpoint of its run.
Will & Grace | The glow has worn off in the revival’s second season. In its 10th overall season, the Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally starrer has lost almost half its adults 18-49 viewers. Still, NBC handed out an early third-season (and 11th overall) pickup for the multicamera comedy from Universal TV, which has a lucrative streaming deal on Hulu.
Abby’s | NBC took a risk on this freshman comedy. The Natalie Morales-led series is TV’s first multicamera comedy to be filmed in front of a live studio audience and taped completely outside. The Cheers-like backyard bar comedy took its fair share of shots from critics and, despite hailing from current NBC comedy king Mike Schur, didn’t get a second round after posting some of the network’s weakest ratings in 2018-19.
The Enemy Within | The Blacklist-like rookie spy thriller starring Jennifer Carpenter and Morris Chestnut showed decent signs of life following its midseason debut, growing by about 60 percent in both adults 18-49 and viewers with a week of delayed viewing after taking over the prime post-Voice slot Mondays after Manifest wrapped its run. Yet the drama, produced in-house at Universal Television, never really broke out and ended up well below Manifest‘s numbers.
The Village | Last year’s buzziest pilot hasn’t lived up to the hype that it’s the next This Is Us. The drama about the residents of an apartment building and produced by Universal Television struggled to pull in ratings that hold a candle to This Is Us, even after taking over the latter’s time slot. Its cancellaton, along with those of Abby’sand The Enemy Within, meant NBC went 0-for-midseason with first-year scripted shows.
A.P. Bio | The single-camera comedy starring Glenn Howerton as a philosophy scholar who winds up a high school teacher has tumbled 27 percent in its second season. Despite being owned in-house by Universal Television and hailing from studio and network MVPs Lorne Michaels and Seth Meyers, the show co-starring Patton Oswalt won’t return for a third season — according to series creator Mike O’Brien, who opened up about the cancellation on Twitter.
I Feel Bad | The single-camera comedy’s fate was pretty much sealed when NBC opted not to extend the initial order after the Amy Poehler-produced series underperformed its fellow Thursday comedies by sizable margins. Not helping the rookie comedy from Universal TV was the fact that leading lady Sarayu Blue booked a role in CBS drama pilot Under the Bridge. (The latter is still in contention at CBS.)
Marlon | The multicamera comedy, loosely inspired by Marlon Wayans’ life as a loving father committed to co-parenting with his polar-opposite ex-wife, was canceled in December after two seasons.
Midnight, Texas | Based on Charlaine Harris’ book series, the supernatural drama starring Francois Arnaud aired at the end of summer 2017 and helped bridge the network’s schedule to the fall. NBC, impressed by its rookie run, moved the Universal Television drama to an in-season run for season two where the series, with new showrunners, could not cut through.
Trial and Error | Bring back the murder board, NBC! OK, that’s a long shot since the network axed the second-year anthological comedy from Warner Bros. TV in January despite its status as a cult favorite.
Lincoln | Based on the bestselling Bone Collector book series, the drama — a co-production of Sony and Universal TV — stars Russell Hornsby (just off Fox’s canceled Proven Innocent) as Lincoln Rhyme, a criminologist seriously injured in his hunt for a serial killer. Arielle Kebbel plays the young beat cop who helps him hunt the killer while also taking on other high-profile cases. Justified veteran VJ Boyd and Mark Bianculli co-wrote the pilot, based on Jeffrey Deaver’s Bone Collector novels that also spawned a 1999 movie with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.
Perfect Harmony | Bradley Whitford stars in a single-camera comedy from Disney’s 20th TV as a former Princeton music professor who unexpectedly stumbles into choir practice at a small-town church. Speechlessveteran Lesley Lake Webster created the series, with Whitford and pilot director Jason Winer among the EPs.
Indebted | The lone multi-cam comedy among NBC’s four new half-hours, the Sony-produced series (formerly known as Uninsured) stars Adam Pally and Abby Elliott as parents ready to reclaim now that their kids are growing up. Until his parents (Fran Drescher and Steven Weber) show up at their door, broke, and he feels obligated to take them in. Dan Levy (The Goldbergs) created the show and exec produces with Sony-based Doug Robinson.
The Kenan Show | Saturday Night Live Emmy winner Kenan Thompson stars as a father to two adorable girls while balancing his job and a father-in-law (Andy Garcia) who helps in the most inappropriate ways. Thompson is expected to continue on at SNL as his new show may be held for a midseason debut. Lorne Michaels and his Universal TV-based Broadway Video exec produces the single-camera comedy from writer Jackie Clarke (Superstore).
Bluff City Law | The character-driven legal drama follows an elite Memphis law firm that specializes in controversial landmark civil rights cases. Jimmy Smits (L.A. Law) returns to NBC to star as a legendary lawyer. Caitlin McGee plays his daughter. The Universal TV drama is from writer Dean Georgaris (The Brave) and David Janollari Entertainment. The project had been among the network’s buzziest dramas and is NBC’s first new hourlong order of the upfront season.
Sunnyside | The single-camera comedy from supervising producer Mike Schur (The Good Place) revolves around Garrett Shah (Kal Penn), a former New York city councilman, who finds his calling when faced with immigrants in need of his help and in search of the American Dream. Matt Murray (Parks and Recreation) co-wrote the script alongside Penn. The series hails from Universal TV, Schur’s studio-based Fremulon and 3 Arts Entertainment. The comedy is NBC’s first new half-hour order of the season.
Law & Order: Hate Crimes | Picked up straight to series with a 13-episode order, the SVU spinoff from Dick Wolf is, like The Gilded Age, trapped in time. Sources say the network still plans on moving forward with the drama, whose pilot was eyed as a planted episode of SVU — but it’s unclear if the drama is still on track to air in the 2019-2020 broadcast season.
Council of Dads | In the vein of the network’s hit This Is Us, this drama from former Grey’s Anatomyshowrunners Tony Phelan and Joan Rater centers on Scott (Tom Everett Scott), a father of four who’s diagnosed with cancer. He assembles some of his closest allies — best friend Anthony (Clive Standen), AA sponsor Larry (Michael O’Neil) and surgeon Oliver (J. August Richards), who’s also his wife’s (Sarah Wayne Callies) best friend — to be “back-up dads” for every stage of his family’s life. The show is based on a memoir by Bruce Feller. Universal TV produces in association with Jerry Bruckheimer Television and Midwest Livestock Productions.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist | A musical drama from executive producer Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, A Simple Favor) and writer Austin Winsberg (Gossip Girl), the Lionsgate TV series is the first 2019-20 pickup from an outside studio for NBC. Jane Levy (Castle Rock) stars as a whip-smart coder in San Francisco who, after an unusual event, starts to hear people’s innermost wants and desires expressed through songs. After first questioning her sanity, she comes to realize this unwanted curse may actually be a great gift. Skylar Astin, Peter Gallagher, Alex Newell, John Clarence Stewart, Carmen Cusack and Mary Steenburgen also star.