NBC builds up 'Blacklist,' scales down comedy ambitions

NBC has come to an important realization: Comedy isn't always pretty.

In the 2014-15 schedule unveiled Sunday morning, the network backed away from its aggressive Thursday night comedy block after years of sub-par ratings. Instead, starting in February the hit crime drama "The Blacklist" will anchor a night kicked off by "The Biggest Loser."


Comedies will remain in the 9 p.m. hour but will be newcomers: the family sitcom "Bad Judge" followed by the dating comedy "A to Z."

Broadcast TV is cyclical, and NBC - which is leading this season in the 18-to-49 demographic, according to Nielsen, thanks largely to the Sochi Olympics - is clearly in a rebuilding mode with comedy. The network recently canceled "Community," and the vehicles for Sean Hayes and Michael J. Fox - announced with much fanfare last season - have gotten the boot too. "Parks and Recreation" will be saved for midseason, when its final episodes will air.

With NBC the only major broadcaster now lacking a full season marquee comedy, the network is instead focusing on building up "The Blacklist," which was the top-rated new program this season. Programmers are also salting the schedule with a few new dramas, including a light whodunit called "The Mysteries of Laura," which stars Debra Messing and will open Wednesday nights, and the superhero epic "Constantine," pegged for Fridays.

NBC will use its airing of the Super Bowl to help promote "The Blacklist" - a special episode will follow the big game - and its switch from Monday to Thursday. The political thriller "State of Affairs" will replace "Blacklist" on Mondays. However, the programming mix could prose some problems for NBC: "Blacklist" will be sandwiched between "Biggest Loser" and "Parenthood," neither of which possesses much ratings mojo.

"The overall goal was to maintain stability from our growing number of anchor shows, while, at the same time, striving to make every show an event — a guiding principle of our development strategy," NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt wrote in a statement (he and other NBC executives did not make themselves available for follow-up questions).

"And reinvigorating Thursday was a top priority, made possible by moving 'The Blacklist' there in the 9 p.m. time slot after exposing it to the audience watching the Super Bowl," Greenblatt added.

NBC may have had little choice in shaking up Thursdays. The night is a critical TV showcase because advertisers spend top dollar there to lure customers making weekend plans. NBC tried for years to revisit its "must-see-TV" glory days of the 1990s, when smash hits such as "Seinfeld" and "Friends" ruled Thursday nights. But the network ended up relying too heavily on niche shows such as "Community" that might have worked better on a premium cable network, not a broadcaster hunting for a big-tent audience.

But NBC executives are also taking pains to send the message that they are not abandoning comedy - even if they happen not to have any leading prizefighters at the moment.

"Comedy is very important to this network," NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke wrote in the news release accompanying the schedule announcement.

On Tuesdays following "The Voice" comes "Marry Me," a romantic comedy that will lead into the returning comedy "About a Boy."

And waiting in the wings for later in the season are a trio of comedies with big names attached, albeit behind the camera, not in front.

Tina Fey is an executive producer behind the offbeat urban comedy "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," and Will Ferrell's production team is behind "Mission Control," a comic spin on the 1960s space race.

Ellen DeGeneres will serve as an executive producer of the unconventional family comedy "One Big Happy."