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NBC Upfronts: Six New Shows, And 'Community' On Fridays

Crystal as Dr. Zaius and Justin Kirk as Dr. George Coleman on NBC's new fall comedy, <em>Animal Practice</em>.
Chris Haston
Crystal as Dr. Zaius and Justin Kirk as Dr. George Coleman on NBC's new fall comedy, Animal Practice.

"What are the upfronts, exactly?"

People who write about television get this question a lot. And we're getting it a lot right now, because this is upfronts week for the major networks.

The primary purpose of a network's "upfronts" presentation is to announce its fall schedule and get advertisers interested in buying time on the new shows. Unlike press tour — which happens in late July — upfronts isn't a time when journalists raise concerns or questions; it's a pure marketing blitz from the network. It used to be really primarily for advertisers, but more and more, it's also PR aimed at journalists and viewers. That's why, to many of us, it's not nearly as interesting as press tour, but the fact remains that this is the first glimpse most folks get of the fall shows. Not full pilots — those won't arrive for a while, even for critics. But at least you get a look at what each show is, and particularly how it's being marketed.

NBC kicked things off yesterday, and frankly, the biggest news it made from the perspective of television fandom was that Community, which currently has only a 13-episode order (about a half season), will be moving to Friday nights in a block with Whitney, perhaps NBC's most critically reviled show (of those that are returning).

Fridays are typically considered an absolute dead zone of television, but NBC likely doesn't expect to expand Community's existing audience very much, and its fans are so loyal that they'll probably find it — if not live (and probably not live), then on DVR or Hulu or whatever. It's probably as close as I've seen a network come to keeping a show on the air clearly having almost no interest in how many people sit down and watch it when it's on.

But it's also important to remember that Fridays haven't always been, and aren't in all cases, dead zones anyway. That's where Fox tucks away Fringe, also a show not very many people watch but a certain number of people absolutely adore. It's also a show where, in the past, CBS was able to make money on shows like The Ghost Whisperer. (Not that there seems to be much of a match there demographically, but the point is: where you're placed isn't necessarily destiny.) Questions remain about whether this will be Community's last season, and about whether Dan Harmon will return as showrunner (he's not yet signed) but the biggest takeaway is that it's still going to be on, despite several past cancellation scares.

As for new shows, they rolled out four new comedies and two new dramas for fall.

Revolution (drama)

Revolution is the next show to try to get a piece of whatever people originally liked about Lost, although honestly, its DNA seems to be more a split of the space-dinosaur drama Terra Nova and the militia-dystopia-something-something drama Jericho, neither of which survived as long-running classics. There's certainly some talent kicking around (including Giancarlo Esposito), but hardcore serialized stuff like this appears to still be an uphill battle for networks.

Chicago Fire (drama)

Chicago Fire is from Dick Wolf, who did not call it Law & Order: Big Flames Unit. There's no game here; it's about Chicago and fire. And specifically, it's about firefighters and paramedics. This is a kind of show Wolf has brought to air a bunch of times with varying degrees of success, but we'll see what happens here. A note for the delicate and/or easily overheard: the trailer contains an unbleeped expletive. No idea whether they're going to leave that unbleeped when it airs on NBC. They presumably could, since it's on at 10:00.

The New Normal (comedy)

The New Normal is a comedy about a gay couple (played by Andrew Rannells of The Book Of Mormon and Justin Bartha of The Hangover), who hire a surrogate to help them have a baby. Points of interest: It's produced by Ryan Murphy (Glee, Nip/Tuck, etc.), it co-stars Ellen Barkin, and it also includes NeNe Leakes, originally of The Real Housewives Of Atlanta and more recently of Glee.

Go On (comedy)

People keep on trying with Matthew Perry. He was on Studio 60, he was on ABC's Mr. Sunshine with Allison Janney (remember that?) and now he's got this new comedy, Go On. He's working in this clip opposite Laura Benanti, who was utterly, utterly wasted playing a supposed jealous, fading crone in The Playboy Club last fall. So good for her.

Guys With Kids (comedy)

You know how sometimes, men will try to take care of babies? Isn't that hilarious? If you think that's hilarious, you are the audience for Guys With Kids, a comedy Jimmy Fallon produced (tentatively: boo!) starring, among others, Anthony Anderson and Jesse Bradford (who looks the same as he did in Bring It On) as dads doing their best to overcome biological destiny and actually participate in child-rearing, har har har!

Animal Practice (comedy)

Justin Kirk has kicked around in television for quite a while, and now he's playing what appears to be a really ... weird ... veterinarian? All I'm going to say is this: I'm not proud of the fact that a monkey riding a toy ambulance makes me laugh, but it does.

We're focusing on the fall for now, but midseason will bring even more: a Dane Cook comedy about radio called Next Caller, an adaptation of Hannibal (the dangerous criminal, not the ruler), a competition called American Ninja Warrior (!), a medical drama called Do No Harm about a doctor who apparently goes crazy at night (!!), a comedy about the White House called 1600 Penn, and even more and more (and more). (Seriously, they show 12 midseason shows. If we go into all of them, we'll never get out of here. Look for yourself!)

So: Do any of these appeal? Do you intend to watch any of them? Do any of them seem to be the answer to the ongoing problem that is NBC?

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.

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