Well I’ve been following the entertainment industry trade news sources very closely for the past two weeks or so and trying to put together an educated guess on whether or not Law & Order: Criminal Intent will be renewed.
Here is the evidence and my analysis of what each tidbit of information means [my comments are in brackets]
This exerpt is from the latest article to hit Variety
NBC pines for mass with its class
New slate puts focus on women, dramas
By JOSEF ADALIANNBC
Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly is fond of describing his programming strategy for NBC as “mass with class.”
With shows such as “The Office,” “30 Rock,” “Friday Night Lights” and “My Name Is Earl” snagging Emmy noms, Peabody Awards and critical kudos, he’s doing OK on the “class” front.
[If a show has won awards or the support of a significant number of critics it has a better chance of being renewed…since CI has neither, this does not bode well for CI. Contrast this with the mothership, the original L&O which has 2 Emmy award winning actors in its cast. Advantage: The Mothership]
As for the “mass”? Despite having launched the season’s most impressive ratings winner with “Heroes,” NBC will finish in fourth place for a third straight season, last week sliding to its lowest in-season weekly ratings since … well, since Nielsen started keeping track. [This is a wash for both CI and the mothership…both have slipping ratings]
“It’s a process. It’s brick by brick,” admits Reilly’s boss, NBC West Coast prexy Marc Graboff. “We’ve said all along that we’re just at the beginning stages of the recovery. It starts by bringing quality shows back … (and) Kevin has done a great job with that.”
In other words, there may be some signs of light in the distance — but NBC ain’t out of the woods yet.
For Reilly, the good news is that his superiors seem pleased with the course he’s set for the network.
The exec’s contract was recently renewed, which means that almost for the first time since he returned to NBC, Reilly will be able to set a fall sked without an axe hanging over his head. What’s more, uberboss Jeff Zucker has won his bid to run NBC — giving him a honeymoon period in which to turn the network around. [This means that GE will allow Reilly and Zucker to decide what to do about renewing CI and/or the mothership and probably not interfere too much with their judgment.]
“One of the things that’s been troubling is that there was always uncertainty inside the building and outside,” Graboff says. “We have clarity now.”
In order to get more hits like “Heroes,” NBC made a shift in the kinds of dramas it developed for next season, according to Katherine Pope, the exec VP who serves as Reilly’s No. 2.
“We wanted to get a little more female and a little more hopeful,” she says. “Quality doesn’t always mean gritty. We don’t want to sacrifice authenticity for what we think people might like … (but) people want to have some hope in their shows.” [This is a wash for both CI and the mothership…both have tended towards being authentic and gritty although of late with CI’s new production & writing staff, the shows are less authentic and gritty…I think this is a bad thing in terms of CI’s quality but this might help CI get renewed. The mothership on the other hand has not really changed its level of grittiness and authenticity so it is at a disadvantage. The (in my opinion questionable) advantage goes to: CI]
Pope says she and Reilly encouraged creators to submit “the thing you always dreamed of writing but were afraid to pitch.”
Reilly calls his roster of potential dramas “slightly more accessible franchise ideas,” particularly compared with the darker ideas NBC greenlit last year (“Kidnapped,” “Raines,” “Studio 60”). And while there are serials, the Peacock is determined to find a new generation of solid procedurals to replace warhorses like “Law & Order” and “Crossing Jordan.” [This is a wash for both CI and the mothership…both are seen as (old) warhorses]
“I’d like to find our ‘House,’ ” Reilly says.
On the comedy side, “We’re sticking with the playbook,” Reilly explains. “We’re predominantly single-camera, we’re loud tonally and we’re distinctive with ideas.”
While NBC has an equal number of drama and comedy pilots, there’s a sense that drama continues to be key to the Peacock’s plans. Alternative development is also a big part of the mix, though NBC, like all nets, is keeping a tight lid on many of its ideas.
NBC’s femme focus on the drama front can be felt in fare such as “Lipstick Jungle,” a sudser about professional women toplined by Brooke Shields. It’s based on the novel by “Sex and the City” author Candace Bushnell, and while NBC is mum, media buzz is high.
Peacock hasn’t programmed a straight-on sudser in years. Finding the right slot could be tough, but Pope believes “there are plenty of places this could fit on our schedule.”
Another big female player on tap is NBC’s remake of “The Bionic Woman,” which is being overseen by David Eick (“Battlestar Galactica” exec producer). Pope says the net’s goal is to launch a show that women like because of the strong female at its center, and that “appeals to men because she kicks ass and there are a lot of fun gadgets.”
Then there’s the Famke Janssen starrer “Winters,” a female take on the cop genre from “House” creator David Shore. The Peacock has two more cop contenders (“Life” and “Fort Pit”).
“Everyone is feeling that there’s going to be another great cop show, and that it could happen soon,” Pope says. “That’s why we have three cop shows.”
NBC also has some fantasy-tinged contenders that, in addition to “Bionic Woman,” seem like possible companions to “Heroes,” the Monday hit that became the net’s top new drama in years.
There’s the time-travel hour “Journeymen,” while “Chuck,” from “The OC” creator Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak, is about a reluctant action hero.
Comedy-wise, the web continues to mine the U.K. for ideas, such as “I’m With Stupid” and “The IT Crowd.” Latter is a workplace comedy, as are three other contenders (“Area 57,” “Business Class” and “Wildlife.”)
But just because they’re set in an office doesn’t mean the wannabes are all like “The Office.” “Area 57,” for example, focuses on people whose job is to guard an alien (played by Paul Reubens). And “Wildlife,” from exec producer Conan O’Brien, takes place in an animal park.
Despite another year in which single-camera pilots dominate, NBC’s traditional multicam possibilities are high-profile. In addition to “The IT Crowd,” the net has Molly Shannon and Natasha Richardson playing sisters in a serialized comedy sudser that, like the 1970s “Soap,” will feature a laugh track.
THE QUESTION MARKS
Having renewed one low-rated critical fave (“30 Rock”), one of the toughest calls facing NBC execs is what to do with “Friday Night Lights.”
To passionate fans of the family/football drama, it’s a no-brainer: Skein’s gotten the best reviews of any frosh series, it’s relatively inexpensive to produce and it won a Peabody Award.
Reilly’s heart is clearly telling him to bring the show back, and the net did just order six scripts for next season.
“We’re trying to figure a way over the top with this thing,” he says. “It’s a function of the time period.”
In other words, NBC wants to bring “Lights” back, but it doesn’t know where to put the show.[Unless you count Epatha’s relatively recent Emmy for the mothership, this is a wash for both CI and the mothership…neither has much recent critical support or awards/award nominations. Slight advantage to the mothership here]
Another nail-biter will be whether to renew the original “Law & Order” and spinoff “Criminal Intent.” Both have taken major ratings hits this season and carry high pricetags — making it very possible one might not be back.[This may not be quite a wash for both CI and the mothership…as CI is only in its 6th season while the mothership is in its 17th season, CI’s production costs are lower for reasons I’ll get into later…I have to cite other articles to run the numbers and show you which show is easier to profit from: CI or the mothership]
“We’re in the middle of a negotiation now,” Reilly says. “I think ‘CI’ has shown it can still be competitive. The mothership is a real discussion. Nothing goes on forever.”[AHA! Here’s where we have to work hard to decode network executive speak. CI’s competitiveness has to do with what kind of ratings and which audiences it can deliver in comparison to how much it costs to produce per episode. If *Reilly* were picking *only one* show on this basis, he would choose CI over the mothership. However the fact that Reilly is having a ‘real discussion’ with Dick Wolf over the mothership is worrisome…I think what this means is that Wolf will have to make the kind of financial concessions on the mothership he made with CI last year: ie hold the line or cut the salaries or number of positions for producers / writers and possibly the actors. It was this brutal cutting that in my opinion changed CI for the worse and I understand that the lion’s share of the blame lies with NBC for screwing up my favorite show. But if Wolf refuses to make enough *meaningful* concessions for the mothership I could see Reilly drop *BOTH* shows rather than just one show. And then there’s the possibility that *if the choice is left up to Wolf*, he will choose his ‘firstborn’, the mothership, over CI even though CI is more profitable than the mothership. So this too is really tough to call…I really wish I had a better insight as to who will really be making the decision but I don’t trust Wolf so I’m going to give the advantage to the mothership and not CI.]
As for Aaron Sorkin’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” Reilly says the net won’t make a final call until May. But barring some sort of miracle, network and studio insiders agree: The show is toast.
THE BOTTOM LINE
After kicking off the season strongly — credit the return of the NFL, strong numbers for “Deal or No Deal” and the launch of “Heroes” — the net suffered a spring swoon this year. Its midseason shows didn’t click, it programmed too many repeats and its hope for a big reality tentpole, “Grease: You’re the One that I Want,” bombed. [This is a wash for both CI and the mothership…both have had way too many repeats]
As a result, NBC’s pre-upfront planning will likely focus as much on how to program its new shows as what shows to pick up.
“We have to figure out how to stagger your fall so that you have some things in the first quarter,” say Vince Manze, the longtime NBC marketing maven who just took on a new gig as head of scheduling and strategy. “We need out-of-the-box thinking about getting as many originals — and original material — on the air. And we need to figure out how to do that without spending another billion dollars.”
Despite the late-season downturn, Reilly’s team can still point to a number of positive signs, from lowering the net’s median age by 1.2 years to narrowing the gap separating it from CBS and ABC.[This is a wash for both CI and the mothership…both have older audiences]
[I cut the last paragraph of the article for brevitiy’s sake]
So if I add up all the advantages and disadvantages, CI only comes out ahead for switching its style, for being the entertainment division president’s choice and for being ‘competitive’ in a financial/profitability sense. Every other factor either favors the mothership or favors not renewing either show
Now comes the really fun analysis…how do you determine profitability and what other factors migh be at stake…for this I will continue in another blog posting.