In the premiere episode of 30 Rock‘s seventh and final season, Jack Donaghy greenlights a handful of terrible shows — game show Homonym, Hunchback (NBC’s version of sexy vampire programming), cop drama God Cop (starring Jack as God), and so on — leading Liz Lemon to realize that Jack is purposely trying to “tank” the network. Based on NBC’s upfronts today, it’s starting to feel like this 30 Rock episode was predicting the future.
Maybe that’s a bit harsh; NBC still does have hits like The Voice and Saturday Night Live, as well as cult favorites like Hannibal and Grimm. But, taking a wider view, there’s nothing on NBC’s fall schedule that is immediately grabbing. There are only two sitcoms on the lineup — when NBC decided to effectively kill Thursday’s Must-See TV, they really went all in — including the third season of Undateable, a harmless but forgettable little comedy that will, for some reason, switch to a live-episode format (the series tested one out last week; it was fine, but nothing special).
The other is NBC’s new sitcom People Are Talking (no, that’s not a working title) starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar and a soon-to-be-recast Meaghan Roth. The groundbreaking sitcom will be about couples who like to talk about sex! As far as NBC sitcoms go, it is standard fare: a barely-there premise that NBC hopes will somehow blow up into a Friends-like comedy (NBC hopes every series, comedy or drama, will be Friends-like), but that will most likely fail because there’s not much to build on. The preview is frustratingly bland, with the two men obsessing over a hot babysitter who might also happen to be a porn star. Isn’t it funny, women in porn? Hilarious.
Outside of those two, NBC continues to look toward the past in order to find ideas for the future: After a failed attempt to revive the variety show genre with Maya Rudolph, NBC is trying again by going the white-man route with Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris. This fall, we’ll also see the Heroes Reborn limited series, although no one asked for another take on Heroes five years after the original ended (and seven years after it was any good). And, of course, there is the truly weird sequel to Coach (which was originally intended for ABC) that picks up 18 years later at an Ivy League university. Look no further than NBC’s official promo copy to see how much of an awful throwback this will be: “Between dealing with the eggheads on campus and his hostile daughter-in-law at home, Coach will soon learn that he’s not in Minnesota anymore. Talk about a Hail Mary!” Bringing back Heroes and Coach are desperate maneuvers from NBC, a sign that the network is trying so hard to appeal to everyone — past and present — that they’re managing to not appeal to anyone.
The drama side is just as messy as the comedies. Remember The Mysteries of Laura, about a brave woman who managed to be both a mom and a cop? It was so awful, so backwards-thinking, so steeped in stereotypes and tropes and a low-key, subconscious dislike of women that it had to be seen to believed. NBC renewed it, of course, and also added Shades of Blue, in which Jennifer Lopez stars as a “sexy New York detective and single mother.”
As for the new dramas airing this fall, only one manages to muster up a bit of intrigue. Blindspot has a somewhat interesting trailer, including the image of a woman climbing out of a body bag in Times Square, but it’s going to be hard to view this series as anything more than Memento, but with a hot woman. The Player, starring Wesley Snipes and Philip Winchester, is a Las Vegas thriller about rich people gambling on crime or something equally ridiculous. I can’t see either of them becoming a huge hit; even if Blindspot starts off strong, NBC will likely fumble the landing.
But by far the worst of the bunch is Heartbreaker. Not only is it unbelievable — it resembles 30 Rock‘s and Community‘s fake shows more than an actual, greenlighted series — but it’s the most indicative of NBC’s clueless, backwards approach to television this season. It is yet another series about a woman who manages to have both a career and a personal life. (Has NBC ever met a woman?) This time, she’s a doctor, but not just any doctor: she’s a heart surgeon. The trailer is unintentionally hilarious, a pitch-perfect parody of a medical show that is unfathomably not a parody:
“I like long walks on the beach, hot bubble baths, and the sound of cracking a patient’s chest open like a lobster,” Dr. Alex Panttiere (Melissa George) coolly says to someone (and not just anyone, but a man!), so you know that she contains multitudes. (I suspect that plots will include her running out on a great date because she has to do emergency surgery, or getting down with a doctor in the break room, or maybe performing heart surgery on one-half of a loving couple who remind her that maybe, just maybe, she should make time to find love for herself.) She’s a smart doctor but flawed human (she spits when she talks!), she gets covered in blood when a man kills himself, she looks great in a dress and also plays basketball, she pounds on a glass window and exclaims, “I am not leaving without my heart!” It is a brilliant comedy sketch; it is a piss-poor excuse for a medical drama.
But the biggest problem is that Alex, a “stubborn and fearless” doctor who “always operates on her own terms,” is just NBC patting themselves on the back for creating one of those mythical strong female characters — making it seem like strong women are the exceptions, not the rule. It’s a series that feels like it was pulled out of the past. It’s decades old before it even begins, but it’s something that NBC is proudly promoting because it believes this is new and original, and this is what should represent NBC. Along with everything else on the fall schedule, this signifies that the network is on a downward spiral, completely out of touch and going nowhere.