PREVIOUS: The inevitable happened this morning after another poor showing from NBC’s freshman comedy. Free Agents averaged a paltry 1.0 rating in 18-49 and 3.3 million viewers last night. The underperforming new comedy got a stay of execution last week, when it also posted a 1.0 demo rating, for one more shot at improving — but that didn’t happen. There is no final decision yet what NBC will put in the Wednesday 8:30 PM slot, but reruns of new comedy Whitney are a strong possibility. NBC’s boss Bob Greenblatt earlier this week replaced canceled The Playboy Club with repeats of new drama Prime Suspect for additional sampling. I won’t be surprised if Whitney eventually migrates to Wednesday with originals while 30 Rock rejoins NBC’s Thursday lineup. Production on Free Agents was stopped right away. As one commenter noted, “They canceled the show in the middle of an episode and in the middle of a work day. Actors were just called to not come to set today. Harsh.” Based on the British series of the same name, Free Agents starred Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn as co-workers who start sleeping together. Azaria started the season with two series on the air, Free Agents and The Simpsons. With Free Agents just cancelled and The Simpsons‘ future in limbo over salary dispute with the voice cast, he may lose both in one week.
The broadcast season unofficially kicks off tonight. And just like in a kids board game, the youngest of the networks, the CW, got to start first, unspooling its new series Ringer starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Also launching tonight are the new seasons of the CW’s 90210 and NBC’s Parenthood, marking the unofficial start of the new season, which kicks in on Monday. Here are the networks’ standings going into the fall season:
With Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies on tap for baseball’s postseason this year, along with the heavily promoted The X Factor and new big-budget dinosaur drama Terra Nova, Fox is in a position to significantly outperform last fall when the network carried the National League Championship Series and had two DOA shows, drama Lone Star and comedy Running Wilde. The question marks at the network this fall are the new comedies, New Girl and I Hate My Teenage Daughter, though both are propped up by solid lead-ins, Glee and X Factor, respectively, and whether Glee and House can rebound after a disappointing 2010-11 season. If the stars align and X Factor lives up to its ratings expectations, Fox may win the fourth quarter as it did two years ago when it also had the American League Championship Series and the highly rated freshman season of Glee.
Fox’s main rival for the top spot in the fall will be the epitome of stability, CBS, which will get a ratings boost from the re-launch of Two and a Half Men. The consensus is that CBS has potential breakout hits on its hands with new Monday comedy Two Broke Girls, which is launching behind the much-hyped return of Two and a Half Men, and possibly Thursday drama Person of Interest. The network is getting high marks for taking its aging series such as the CSI franchise and Survivor and relocating them to troubled spots on the schedule that they shore up. The network is expected to accomplish that again this season with the mothership CSI series, which is moving to Wednesday 10 PM, with its replacement on Thursday, Person of Interest, looking to do at least as well as CSI if not better. The only question marks at CBS are new Thursday 8:30 comedy How To Be a Gentleman and where Men will settle after the initial ratings spike.
Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of TCA.
At the NBCUniversal press sessions at Monday’s TCA, not one but two of the new series introduced here are re-imaginings of British shows. In the morning, it was the comedy Free Agents. This afternoon, it was the Maria Bello starrer Prime Suspect, a re-invention of the critically acclaimed British procedural drama starring Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison, a homicide detective with a dark side. This time around, England is New York City, and Maria Bello is Jane Timoney, a brilliant “bad cop” disliked by her squad. She’s all tough and stuff. At age 44, Bello joins the ranks of glamorous middle-aged actresses who have found a place for themselves in TV’s procedural dramas.
Also like the producers of Free Agents, co-executive producer/writer Alexandra Cunningham said the show would be a little less dark than seems to suit British tastes: While the New Jane drinks like the Old Jane, the story lines won’t delve into alcoholism. New Jane smokes like Old Jane — but in the USA in 2011, she’s trying to quit. (Bello also confessed that she is a smoker.) Said Cunningham: “The thing that makes this different from other procedurals is the humor,” which she adds will harken to the style of Hill Street Blues and Barney Miller.
Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of TCA.
TCA: NBC Renews Overall Deal With Greg Daniels, Signs Pacts With Gary Sanchez Prods, Sean Hayes & More From Exec Panel
In his executive session this morning at TCA in Beverly Hills, NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, addressing the idea that NBC wants to raise its stakes in the scripted comedy business, admitted only half-jokingly that introducing a new comedy in any time slot in today’s TV landscape is like “standing in the middle of the 405.” And at TCA, NBC’s new comedy Free Agents, based on the British series, was the first to merge onto the freeway in a late-morning panel.
The Wednesday night show, described by the network as a “crooked romantic comedy” from creator John Enbom and director-producer Todd Holland, stars Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn as two corporate PR executives — read damage control experts — whose own personal lives are more of a mess than the people they represent. Hahn’s character drinks too much to cover her pain over the death of her fiance. Azaria’s character is a divorced dad who apparently is as outspokenly miserable as Ray Romano’s character in TNT’s recently cancelled dramedy Men of a Certain Age. In the series, the two grapple with the aftermath of an unexpected romantic tryst.
Running out of slots for comedy series and striking out with new dramas in the fall, NBC and ABC in midseason expanded their existing two-hour comedy blocks on Thursday and Wednesday, respectively, to three hours, to largely uninspiring results. Going into next fall, the 10-11 PM comedy hours are being scrapped in favor of opening up more traditional 8-9 PM comedy blocks on other nights. In another sign of the resurgence of the comedy genre, for the first time in six years, each of the Big Four broadcast networks will have two comedy blocks on the fall schedule. Interestingly, both NBC and ABC opted to launch their new comedy blocks in the time periods where they most recently ran comedies. And just like the last time, both NBC and ABC populated the blocks with new comedies. In fall 2006, NBC launched 30 Rock and Twenty Good Years from 8-9 PM on Wednesday, the same time slot the network is using this year for new comedies Up All Night and Free Agents. ABC, which is going with the Tim Allen vehicle Last Man Standing and Chris Moynihan’s Man Up Tuesdays 8-9 PM, last tried comedies on the night in the fall of 2007, with then-newbies Cavemen and Carpoolers.
Something else happened this season: the return of the 10 PM drama. Scores of new dramas met their demise trying to get off the ground in the hour over the past few years, with the only shows to make it were modest hits Brothers and Sisters, Castle and The Good Wife. Uncertain about the prospects of 10 PM dramas, NBC even tried a Jay Leno talk show in the slot two seasons ago and had since kept the hour comedy/reality branded. But this season, all four freshman dramas to make it to Season 2 were 10 PM shows: CBS’ Hawaii Five-0 and Blue Bloods, ABC’s Body of Proof and NBC’s Harry’s Law. What’s more, for the first time in five years, all Big 3 networks have scheduled dramas in the 10 PM slot every night Sunday through Thursday.
2ND UPDATE: NBC Picks Up Comedies Parham/St. Clair, ‘Bent’, Chelsea Handler, ‘Free Agents’, Passes On More Pilots
UPDATED: NBC has picked up to pilot REM, the spec by Lone Star creator Kyle Killen which was taken out by 20th TV a couple of weeks ago. Additionally, the network has given the green light to 3 more …