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Peacock network regains top spot

No one’s laughing at NBC anymore (except during the comedies)

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It’s a dog-eat-dog dating world: Andrew (Ben Feldman) and Zelda (Cristin Milioti) are at the heart of NBC’s new comedy A to Z.

TRAE PATTON / NBC Enlarge Image

It’s a dog-eat-dog dating world: Andrew (Ben Feldman) and Zelda (Cristin Milioti) are at the heart of NBC’s new comedy A to Z.

HOLLYWOOD — So, a funny thing happened to NBC on its way to the U.S. networks’ semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles.

It stopped being the network everyone laughs at.

This might not be so amusing to its broadcastnetwork competitors — ABC, CBS, Fox and the CW — but for NBC, there was plenty of reason to smile after it won the fallto- spring ratings race for the first time in more than a decade and finished the job of shedding the "mired in fourth place" label that it had worn in recent years.

"We had a pretty great season," NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt said during the obligatory Q&A with press-tour reporters that all network bosses face twice each year. "We’re No. 1 in the (18-to-49) demo; we’re the only network up year to year, almost 10 per cent to date. Even if you take the (winter) Olympics out of our numbers, we would still be No. 1 for the year."

The resurgence of NBC is a direct result of the choices Greenblatt and his programming team have made since he took control of the struggling network’s prime-time schedule three-and-a-half years ago, creating a lineup that includes The Voice, The Blacklist, the Dick Wolf-produced duo of Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D., Parenthood, Grimm, Law & Order: SVU and the TV-sports franchise that has become television’s top-rated program,

Sunday Night Football.

Of course, as big a job as it has been to get NBC back to the top, keeping it there will be an even bigger challenge. The hopes for continued NBC dominance are pinned to a handful of new shows that will première this fall and a cluster of other new titles that will be added throughout 2014-15.

There will be more failures than successes; that’s the simple mathematical truth during the mass-launch frenzy of the fall season. But realistically, all NBC needs is for one or two of its new shows to stick, and for its returning series to maintain their momentum, for the once-again-proud peacock to continue its current ratings ride.

Based on pilots shown to critics in the lead-up to this summer’s TV press tour, one of the rookie offerings most likely to break out of the fall-launch clutter is A to Z , a quietly charming romantic comedy that brings Cristin Milioti (the finally revealed mother in How I Met Your Mother) back in another girlwho- will-meet-the-guy role.

A to Z , which will air in a Thursday-night block with another new comedy, Bad Judge, follows the burgeoning relationship between a

hopeless romantic named Andrew ( Mad Men’s Ben Feldman) and a commitment-averse lawyer named Zelda (Milioti), whose paths cross one day when her work takes her to the office of the online-dating service where he’s employed.

Their eyes meet, and each recognizes something in the other — maybe they’ve met before; maybe they were just meant to meet — but while Andrew embraces the sentiment, Zelda is quick to dismiss, deflect and deny.

What happens next is what the show’s producers, and NBC executives, hope will play out over the span of several seasons.

The chemistry of the two young stars is what makes the series pilot as intriguing as it is.

"I think that chemistry, both as people and as actors, it’s either there or not," said Milioti.

"You can put two people together in a show and put two people together on set and hope for the best and light it in the right way, but I would say that you can tell when it’s there, and it’s from the second you meet someone.

"You know the minute that it’s right, both in life and even in front of 20 executives with notepads. It’s either there or it’s not, and it was absolutely there (at Feldman’s A to Z audition). We had quick rehearsal in an office, and then we went in and it just... I don’t know. It’s not tangible. I don’t think it’s something you can manufacture. You can’t."

Come September, NBC may be counting on that chemistry to support the mathematics of its recent ratings triumph.

 

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2014 C3

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