NBC Revamps Midseason Lineup: Originals, Olympics, 'Tonight'

Pasadena, Calif. -- NBC is looking to change its typical midseason results in 2014 -- with the Sochi Olympics in February and the continuation of original programming from its big hits, as well as a highly anticipated move of Jimmy Fallon taking over as host of  “The Tonight Show.”

NBC finished No. 1 among key 18-49 viewers for the second fall season in a row. But now the tough work starts -- again -- with the high-rated “Sunday Night Football” ending its season and “The Voice” taking a winter break.

There's good news for this midseason period. Come February, NBC has the Sochi Winter Olympics, which will score ratings points, as well as the high-profile 18-day sports event for major entertainment promotional efforts.

But speaking at the Television Critics Association meeting here, Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, says keeping top shows on the schedule with original programming (rather than reruns) in January and February is also important. For example, NBC’s new strong rookie drama “The Blacklist” will continue to air new episodes.

“Sunday Night Football” and “The Voice” aside, NBC still has some major weaknesses to work on, especially on Thursday night.

“Thursday night is a real challenge. Comedy has proven very difficult for us," he says. That's why NBC has picked up new comedies from proven performers/producers Tina Fey (“30 Rock”), Amy Poehler (“Parks and Recreation”) and Craig Robinson (“The Office”).

Factored into all this is a new package being offered by the NFL -- a number of “Thursday Night Football” games, something that increasingly has been causing havoc ratings-wise for broadcasters on Thursday night on the NFL’s channel, The NFL Network. The package has been reported to interest many networks.

Responding to a question about a possible bid, Greenblatt would only say:  “We'd love to have more NFL games. Thursday night games might be really interesting for us."

As with a number of TV networks, so-called limited series and “event” programming remains a high priority. Next Dec. 4, another live NBC musical, “Peter Pan Live,” will air -- following up on the network’s wildly successful “The Sound of Music” in December 2013.

Also forthcoming is a 10-episode series “Emerald City,” a re-imagining of the “Wizard of Oz” tales, including lethal warriors and competing kingdoms. In addition, there is an eight-episode “The Slap,” a small-town family drama that explores what happens when a man slaps another couple’s misbehaving child at a barbecue.

Come Feb. 24, after the Winter Olympics, Jimmy Fallon will take over for Jay Leno as the host of “The Tonight Show” -- closing out Leno’s near 20-year reign. At the same time, another “Saturday Night Live” alumni, Seth Meyers, becomes host of “Late Night.”

With regard to the strength of NBC's sports programming “Sunday Night Football,” Greenblatt says even without this highly rated show, NBC was up 9% year-over-year, tied with CBS among 18-49 viewers. He didn’t disclose which Nielsen-specific TV-viewing metric that performance came from.

NBC's positive results remain on track, says Greenblatt. After over a decade of last-place rating results for the network, he notes: “I always said the turnaround would take three to five years. We are in year three.”

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