In the days before the Internet and a cable channel for every niche, fans could pretty well set their clocks by the yearly television schedule. As the weather turned hot, the networks rolled out their best material for May sweeps and then abruptly cut off the new-episode lifeline. After a summer full of re-runs and long nights outdoors, viewers could count on once again gathering around their television sets to catch the new fall lineup just about the time the kids went back to school in August.
In recent years, though, while May has remained fairly unscathed, our changing tastes and viewing habits have apparently prompted the big networks to push back their fall debuts, and it sometimes seems that Halloween is bearing down on us before we catch a glimpse of new episodes. Well, for those who have grown tired of exploring the far reaches of the dial in search of innovative material, one network is returning to a more traditional start time, at least partially and at least for one year. In mid-June, NBC announced that its 2012 fall schedule will begin on August 8, when Matthew Perry returns to the network that made him famous, this time in comedy vehicle, "Go On."
Clearly, NBC plans to use its status of host network for the 2012 Summer Olympics to the fullest possible advantage and likely hopes to chip away at the ratings leads that CBS, ABC, and Fox have built up in recent seasons. Perry's new sitcom will ride in on the coattails of a Wednesday night Olympics broadcast, and then NBC plans to dribble out its new lineup over the course of more than two months. "Go On" won't see the light of day again until September 11, but eight other season debuts will be meted out between Perry sightings.
The festivities will continue all the way through October 19, when "Whitney" and "Community" roll out. The game plan here seems to be to pull in a healthy portion of Olympics viewers with a morsel or two, tease fans about the coming season of "Community" and other favorite holdovers, stir up some noise about new shows, and then hope that people like what they see.
This strategy is certainly worth a try, especially given the dismal showing that NBC has mustered in recent years and the fact that the Olympics generally appeals to folks of all types. It will also be fun and interesting to see some new network programming before the summer heat breaks, just like so many of us remember from childhood. Of course, this plan is also fraught with potential dangers. If the early debuts don't click with audiences, then they may tune out before the heart of the schedule ever really gets rolling, and there is a decent chance that early flops will have been pulled completely by the time "Community" shows up. The network also appears to still be counting on "The Office" to become viable again, but its first episode won't air until September 20 and may very well get lost in the shuffle.
Still, variety is always good, and that's especially true when it comes to getting our television fix. With a spread-out schedule of season debuts -- punctuated by the Olympics, NFL football, and the presidential election in November -- there is bound to be plenty to choose from on NBC this fall.
Now, the network just has to hope that the details don't get washed out in the prolonged onslaught.