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NBC Gets a Jump on Upfronts with J.J. Abrams, Lots of Comedy

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You may have heard that the NBC network has had a touch of trouble in the ratings lately. A slew of its new shows failed this season; Smash and Grimm will be back but have been, at best, far less than a smash and just better than grim; and its once must-see Thursday now does ratings that would be just respectable on basic cable.

But the upfronts are next week, the festival in which the major networks announce their fall schedules for Madison Avenue and hope for next year is as abundant as the free cocktails for ad buyers. NBC goes first, next Monday, but it’s not wasting time announcing next year’s big hopes. Already, NBC has picked up a high-profile drama and a few comedies for next season, among them:

* Revolution, from producer J.J. Abrams and starring Giancarlo Esposito, about a future in which the Earth’s energy sources are no more;

* The New Normal, a comedy from Glee’s Ryan Murphy about a gay couple having a baby with a surrogate;

* 1600 Penn, a family comedy that happens to be set at the White House (and happens to be written by a former Obama speechwriter);

* Animal Practice, with Justin Kirk as a veterinarian who can’t stand people;

* Go On, picked up last month, because Matthew Perry has got to have another hit someday and who’s to say it can’t be a comedy about a sportscaster recovering from a personal loss;

* and Save Me, a comedy with Anne Heche as a woman putting her life back together after a divorce, because two comedies about people and their personal tragedies = twice as funny!

You may be noticing that that’s a lot of comedy. A lot of comedy, which means that some of us with certain favorite low-rated NBC sitcoms may be a little more nervous about their futures. I’m not going to predict the fates of any individual shows—all that will be clear enough in a week, or less—but one possibility that’s been floated is that NBC will give more, but shorter, initial orders to new and returning comedies, so the bloodbath may not be as bad as you fear. (Or, depending on the show and your point of view, hope.) You may wish to start pre-drafting some angry e-mails just in case, though.