BEVERLY HILLS — With the Summer Olympics as the tail wind and “Sunday Night Football” the gale to follow, NBC — which presented its programing Tuesday at the TV Critics’ press tour here — wouldn’t appear to have much to worry about this fall. And it really doesn’t. Tail winds are good that way for networks, gales even better. Besides viewers and lots of them, tail winds also give networks latitude — latitude to add shows, or no shows, and latitude to take risks, or no risks at all.
But this is 2016 and latitude can be gone with the wind or down the drain for the network that plays it too safe. With too many options out there in this era of “peak TV” and too much noise, attention spans are brief, or shift instantly. What then is the sort of “latitude” NBC will choose this fall?
This network will launch just three new series — as slight a fall launch in modern NBC history. That’s called “not taking a risk” but maybe also called “not needing to, either.” If most of the incumbent series are working — either live or streamed — there’s no reason to make wholesale changes. That adds to the noise and to the confusion anyway.
But that doesn’t mean this is a risk-free lineup. Two of the newcomers are hours — a safer bet for NBC in recent years. One is a comedy. Those haven’t been a lock.
In fact, the devil (or devils) here may be in the details:
These are not three “traditional” series, at least not in the “traditional” sense. First, there’s “Timeless” (Mondays at 10 p.m., debuting Oct. 3) and as the title indicates, that’s drawn from that vast genre known as time travel. From Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”) and Eric Kripke (“Supernatural”), “Timeless” is less sci-fi, more history, and less about the past (to believe the showrunners) and more about the present. It’s a “visceral grounded attack on history,” Kripke said at the press tour, and “also a commentary on issues that are happening today.” Lucy (Abigail Spencer), Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) and Wyatt (Matt Lanter) battle a guy (played by Goran Visnjic — you remember him from “ER”) who wants to change human history.
What’s different here, potentially anyway, could all come down to perspective and interpretation. Maybe taking a cue from Oscar Wilde (“the one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it”), these three won’t necessarily see history the way it’s been handed down to us, but from a different perspective, and maybe from a perspective that yields a different outcome, too.
Then, there’s that “comedy” — “The Good Place” (debuts Sept. 19 at 10 p.m., then moves to Thursdays at 8:30 p.m.), from Mike Schur (“Parks and Recreation”). It’s about Eleanor (Kristen Bell), who is dead. She was hit by a truck (carrying an ad for erectile dysfunction products), went to heaven, and there meets Michael (Ted Danson) — likewise not among the living — who tells her she’s arrived to the good place (as opposed to the “bad”) because she helped get people off death row when alive.
The only problem — she didn’t. There’s been a terrible mistake. Now, how to get back to the world of the living?
The third series, “This Is Us” (debuts Sept. 20 at 9 p.m.), has a through line that’s about as simple as through lines get — it’s about people born on the same day. Then come the complications: Showrunner Dan Fogelman told critics the series — which stars Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia — is sort of the “dramedy version of ‘Lost.’ [The cast’s] stories are all interconnected, and the only way I can describe [the interconnection] is that I have out there a great-great-great-grandfather who I never met, but in his own way, he affected me. . . . There are four interconnected storylines that get equal time, and one affects the other as we jump around in time.”
He adds, “Hopefully it’s a groundbreaking series” that will “explore the human family.”
And speaking of tail winds, “This Is Us” already has one. The show’s trailer has been viewed more than 7 million times on YouTube since May — a huge number for what is essentially a commercial — and the critical response here appears to be positive as well.