NBC Chairman Bob Greenblatt did everything but launch into a chorus of "I've Gotta Crow" — a song from Peter Pan, the next live musical on the network's slate (on Dec. 4) — as he bullishly opened the network portion of the TCA summer press tour on Sunday. (One of his buzzier announcements involved naming Christopher Walken as that show's Captain Hook.) Greenblatt proudly touted accomplishments of a season that ended with the once-struggling network ranking No. 1 in the key 18-49 demo and No. 2 in viewers, thanks to the NFL, The Voice and freshman hit The Blacklist — and the NFL will give NBC another boost in the new year with the Super Bowl extravaganza, followed by a special two-part Blacklist that sets up the show's bold move to Thursday in February.
Despite the good news, Greenblatt was unusually candid in describing the challenges of programming a full slate of series with any sense of quality control: "The volume is the killer. ... If you're doing two shows a year [comparing NBC's output to boutique cable], you can handcraft them. ... But when you're doing 15 to 20 shows a year, the volume just gets away from you." He also expressed frustration that when a network tries to approximate the extreme edginess of cable, as in Hannibal, "the minute you try to do something that is dark and subversive and frightening and gets into that territory, you start to peel away the mass audience." And because it's on broadcast and not cable, the Emmys ignore you anyway. (The James Spader snub was prominently mentioned several times during the day.)
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So NBC has the benefit of momentum going into the new fall season, but it may be hard to capitalize on past success with no signs of a Blacklist-sized hit among NBC's new offerings. Especially on the drama side, where a presentation for Blacklist's Monday-night replacement (starting in November) State of Affairs — starring Katherine Heigl as a CIA analyst who assembles the daily briefing book for the president (Alfre Woodard as a Hillary/Obama hybrid) — was sidetracked by Heigl asked to defend her "difficult" reputation and the hiring of her mother Nancy as an executive producer. Heigl quipped that the biggest challenge was "mostly just trying to get people to believe I could actually be a CIA analyst" — but it's no joke. Her character, often so over-styled she looks like she's heading to a cocktail party instead of the White House, oversteps her professional bounds in the pilot, ludicrously making international policy judgments in her editorial decisions. The show's in-house expert admitted "it's all going to be somewhat heightened in terms of the reality, but also I think we've got the spirit of the authenticity down right." Sorry, not buying it.
But State of Affairs comes off like a documentary next to the precious detective comedy-drama The Mysteries of Laura (airing Wednesdays), an adaptation of a Spanish "format" starring Debra Messing as a tough New York cop who's better at wrangling criminals than subduing her bratty 5-year-old twins — who pee on each other in public in one allegedly humorous scene. The Will & Grace veteran praised the mix of genres: "I didn't have to choose. Do I want to do a comedy? Or do I want to do a drama? It's both." Yes, it's two bad shows in one, feeling like a USA Network castoff.
Even NBC's most assured new drama, the freaky demon-fighting comic-book adaptation Constantine (designed as a Friday-night cult companion piece for Grimm), is undergoing a fairly significant change, replacing its more passive original female lead (Lucy Griffiths) after the pilot with telenovela star Angélica Celaya as the psychic Zed, a "dynamic" character from the Hellblazer comics. Described by executive producer Daniel Cerone as "somebody who can go toe-to-toe with [Constantine]," she represents the sort of instant course correction that might make a bystander nervous about the show's direction — unless she's terrific.
In comedy, NBC is doubling down on the oversaturated romantic-comedy genre, and the casts of Marry Me (Tuesdays) and A to Z (Thursdays) launched separate yet rather effective charm offensives to convince the critics their shows were worth falling for. A to Z has the good fortune of featuring two immensely appealing stars — Ben Feldman (the nipple-mutilating Ginsberg of Mad Men) and Cristin Milioti (the ill-fated title character of How I Met Your Mother) — even if their meet-cute scenario is on the generic side. The more raucous Marry Me has a better backstory: the show's creator (David Caspe) and co-star (Casey Wilson), veterans of ABC's defunct Happy Endings, recently were wed in real life. Wilson insisted her new character, the neurotic Annie, "is, I hope, slightly less desperate than [Happy Endings'] Penny and that the whole in general, I think, will be a little bit more grounded than Happy Endings, although with the same hard jokes and great ensemble." It helps that Annie's befuddled soulmate Jake is played by Ken Marino with a warmth that was almost entirely lacking from the all-snark world of Endings.
But no amount of spin could redeem Bad Judge (Thursdays), a tawdry comedy starring the brash Kate Walsh as an irreverent maverick judge who's a slutty mess in and out of chambers, where she's likely to drop robe with reckless abandon. "I mean, it's sort of like the many people who had sex in closets on Grey's Anatomy," Walsh explained with mock defensiveness. "Would they all be busted and like thrown out?" She described her character as "super smart and ... kind of a cowboy," then took it a step too far by likening the judge to "a Peter Pan."
Sorry, judge, there's only one Peter Pan on NBC this season. And this one's not going to fly.
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