NBC: Betting Big on Comedy, 'The Voice'

Greenblatt goes for four nights of laughs and two cycles of reality hit
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STRATEGY: Focusing on flowing audience from established hits to new shows, and doubling down on comedy with five hours.

NBC is doubling down on comedy and its reality hit The Voice on its fall schedule, hoping to use the latter to build momentum for four new comedies joining the lineup as it seeks to broaden its audience after a mostly lackluster season.

“If you take one thing out of here today, it’s that we have real comedy strength that will expand the reach of the network next year,” NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt told the network’s upfront audience last week.

To do that, NBC is relying on classic scheduling, hoping to flow large audiences from Sunday Night Football and The Voice early in the week to Tuesdays and Wednesdays, where it will program its new comedies. “I’m determined to build momentum from night to night, which is something that has eluded us in recent years,” Greenblatt said on a conference call with press.

The Voice returns to Mondays in the fall, with an hourlong episode on Tuesdays. NBC will follow that Tuesday airing with its two strongest comedy pilots—the Matthew Perry starrer Go On and Ryan Murphy’s gay blended family comedy The New Normal—at 9 and 9:30 p.m., respectively. The network will also sample each pilot during the Summer Olympics to drive additional viewers.

NBC’s other top time slot, Mondays at 10 p.m., will go to the new J.J. Abrams drama Revolution, about a futuristic world where all forms of energy have mysteriously ceased to exist. The network is positioning the series—directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man)—as a big event drama that can appeal to the broad audience leading out of The Voice. “If we didn’t love it, it wouldn’t be there,” Greenblatt said of Revolution’s plum scheduling.

The other new comedies are Animal Practice, about a vet who loves animals but hates their owners, which will anchor Wednesdays at 8 p.m., leading into the multicamera Guys With Kids, from executive producer Jimmy Fallon. New drama Chicago Fire, from Law & Order creator Dick Wolf, will follow his other series, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Wednesdays at 10 p.m.

The latter part of the week will house the returning shows, with 30 Rock’s 13-episode final season leading off Thursdays, followed by Up All Night, The Office, Parks and Recreation and newsmagazine Rock Center With Brian Williams at 10 p.m. Both Whitney and Community have been jettisoned to Fridays, where they will anchor a fourth night of comedy leading into time period stalwart Grimm.

NBC will also save plenty for midseason. Do No Harm, about a brilliant neurosurgeon and his dangerous alter ego, will bow on Sundays after football season. Dramas Hannibal and Infamous and three comedies— the Anne Heche starrer Save Me, White House family comedy 1600 Penn and Next Caller, starring Dane Cook—are also poised on the bench. The returning Smash will likewise be saved for winter, a move made to allow the network to run its episodes continuously.

Though Greenblatt said, “We’re not yet where we want to be by any measure,” he predicted that it will be a photo finish with ABC for fourth place this season, raising the possibility that NBC (thanks to the Super Bowl) may finally climb out of the cellar it has occupied for years. It would be a symbolic morale-booster, even if NBC’s overall health remains shaky.

Much of next season’s success hangs on The Voice and its expansion to both fall and midseason, a move Greenblatt said he had no hesitation making now that the show is established, though NBC will keep making changes to the format to keep it fresh. “This year, I think we feel that it really does have the longevity that we hoped it would have,” he said.

Helping The Voice on the reality front will be new series Stars Earn Stripes, Howie Mandel’s White Elephant, Ready for Love and Surprise with Jenny McCarthy, all ordered for the 2012-13 season. Fashion Star and The Celebrity Apprentice will return on Sundays in midseason, while The Biggest Loser and Betty White’s Off Their Rockers have also been renewed, but remain unscheduled.

E-mail comments to amorabito@nbmedia.com and follow her on Twitter: @andreamorabito

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