As streaming networks battle for viewers, Peacock’s special weapon is comedy.
It has lots of it – new and old, good and bad, silly and satirical. And it has just added more.
In Television Critics Association sessions Monday (Aug. 10), the network announced two topical shows (with Larry Wilmore and Amber Ruffin, who’s shown here during a regular gig with Seth Meyer), an action-comedy (with Will Forte) and a musical-comedy-drama (Tina Fey producing and Sara Bareilles starring). It also discussed three previously announced shows.
And it broke a tradition of sorts: Networks often base series on movies that were box-office hits; Peacock is going the opposite way, ordering eight episodes of Forte’s “MacGruber.” In 2010, it made only $9.3 million in the U.S. … putting it $400 million behind “Avatar” or “Toy Story 3.”
Peacock assembles shows from NBC, its cable channels (Syfy, USA, etc.) and its parent company (Universal), plus some outside deals.
In the streaming world, it faces networks that are strong on fantasy: Disney+ has “Star Wars” and Marvel, HBO Max has “Game of Thrones” and DC, CBS All Access has “Star Trek,” etc.
There is some of that at Peacock. It has a new “Brave New World” mini-series and is rebooting “Battlestar Galactica.” But the strength is comedy. with “Cheers,” “Frasier,” “30 Rock,” “Will & Grace,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Saturday Night Live” and more. On Monday, Peacock pointed to:
TOPICAL: In August of 2016 – as the ratings for all topical shows were increasing – Comedy Central suddenly canceled Wilmore’s latenight show. “It was very frustrating,” he said Monday.
Four years later, he’ll be back in time for this election. The show (nor yet named) will start in September, with a weekly half-hour. Wilmore will open with his own comments, then have guests and a weekly topic. “Politics (is) endlessly fascinasting …. Trump himself is a living satire,” he said.
Black hosts have been scarce in latenight, but Peacock is adding two – Wilmore and Amber Ruffin.
She’ll continue as a writer and performer for Seth Meyer’s show, then do “The Amber Ruffin Show” – same studio, no desk – on Fridays. There will be no guests, Ruffin said, just comedy and music. “I’m programmed to have a good time. Even if we’re talking about serious stuff, I’m having my fun.”
She’ll do nine weeks, Wilmore will do 11 and then they’ll pause for mid-course corrections. There won’t be a studio audience at first, Ruffin said, but “in my mind, I will hear uproarious laughter.”
ALSO NEW: Bareilles is already key to one streaming series. She produces and writes songs for “Little Voice,” which arrived last month on Apple TV+.
Now she’ll star in “Girls5eva.” Produced by Fey and Robert Carlock, it’s about a girl group that had one hit, faded … then was re-discovered by a rapper.
Also new is the “MacGruber” series, based on the “SNL” parody of a character a lot like MacGyver. The movie was listed by Parade magazine as the second biggest flop of 2010, but Peacock calls it a “cult favorite” and says the series is “highly anticipated.”
MORE COMEDY: The TCA sessions also featured:
“A.P. Bio,” moving to Peacock Sept. 3, after two NBC seasons. The main character – Glenn Howerton as a teacher of advanced-placement biology – remains self-centered, but producer Mike O’Brien said there’s also fresh attention to the principal and his assistant (Patton Oswalt and Paula Pell). “They’re such positive, good-good people. And innocent.”
A reworking of “Saved By the Bell.” Tracey Wigfield, the showrunner, says she loved the original as a kid, but “it was a very sanitary, safe version of high school.” Now kids from another district will be mixed in, creating a good-spirited but “edgier show.”
And “Rutherford Falls,” from writer-producer Mike Schur (“The Good Place”). Ed Helms plays a smalltown leader who resists the idea of moving a statue of his ancestor. An adjoining reservation is key to the show, said Sierra Teller Ornelas, a writer-producer who is Navajo. “You just never see Indians on TV and when you do, it’s just one guy and he has to transform into a wolf.”