Though NBC may have been the last network to announce its fall schedule, it ranks first in audacity of future programming.
The network, which is perfectly willing to have its schedule called a "blueprint," is evidently following Ralph Waldo Emerson's adage that . . . consistency is the hogoblin of little minds . . ."
NBC is offering, as are ABC and CBS, the regular schedule of series. But it is saying at the same time, that it will offer "events" that will frequently preempt its regularly scheduled series.
Whether this pattern of programming will be what NBC Televisions president Robert T. Howard described as "the schedule of the future," remains to be seen and tested. But NBC, which finished third this past season, is obviously blowing on the dice and rolling for high stakes.
At present, ABC is the network with the hot hand, with programming chief Fred Silverman completing more passes than Fran Tarkenton. It is said by his detractors that Silverman is merely lucky. But luck, as the late Branch Rickey used to point out in discussing his success in baseball, is usually the residue of design.
In an ironic way, it was ABC that broke the programming rules with the scheduling of "Rich Man, Poor Man," the 1976 Winter Olympics at Innsbruck, the Summer Olympics in Montreal, and more recently "Roots." These shows represented programming decisions that said, in effect, if there are rules in scheduling, they are meant only to be broken.
NBC, which over the past several seasons has had a weaker lineup of regularly scheduled series than ABC and CBS, has obviously decided to go against the grain of conventional programming. In the industry, it is called, "counter-programming."
NBC has some strong multi-part movies and adaptations of novels it can use to preempt its regularly scheduled series. In addition to "Godfather Saga" (which is made up of the two movie plus footage which director Francis Ford Coppola never used), NBC also has on hand adaptations of Arthur Hailey's "Wheels," James T. Farrell's "Studs Lonigan," Harold Robbins' "Seventy-Nine park Avenue," Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," William Goldman's "Boys and Girls Together" and others.
It may be that the appetitie ABC satisfied - with "Rich Man, Poor Man," both the 1976 Olympic Games and "Roots" - namely the hunger for continuing as against episodic narrative, is still unappeased and anxious for more nourishment. My own guess is that it is. If that's true, then NBC may be in a position to pass CBS and give Silverman and ABC some disquieting moments in the ratings race.
Talk about who finished first in the ratings is important to network executives and to advertisers, but probably of small moment to the average viewer. Yet the challenge that NBC has mounted in its new schedule, while aimed at the advertisers and moving the network up in the ratings race, may also be of some importance to viewers.
It may, if successful, cause in the television industry some second thoughts about the traditional forms of programming. NBC's fall schedule is a marked departure from what has gone before. And in the long run, it might turn out to be the equivalent of shooting craps when you've had a cold hand all night and suddenly you get hot. We will have to wait and see.