NBC sacrificed “Must See TV” for the sake of “This Is Us.”
The Peacock network had big plans this season to bring back the storied “Must See TV” label by moving “This Is Us” to Thursday nights this fall – along with the return of “Will & Grace”). But NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke told fans at the ATX Television Festival on Friday that the network abandoned those plans in order to air more episodes in the fall. (“Must See TV” may still be resurrected for the night, however, as “Will & Grace” remains there, among other things.)
Now, by keeping “This Is Us” in its Tuesday slot behind “The Voice,” the show will air 10 consecutive episodes this fall. On Thursdays, there was only room for six episodes before “Thursday Night Football” took over the night.
The show’s producer, 20th Century Fox TV, was not a fan of the move from the beginning, fearing that the show might stall by making the move too soon. But Salke said NBC decided to stand down “once [creator] Dan [Fogelman] came in and laid to me what he wanted to do with the second season.”
Salke noted that “This Is Us” would have been off the air for two months after that six-episode run due to the holidays. “We all had to look at each other [and realize] that this is not in the best interest of the show. We have to do what’s right for a show that is ground breaking and incredible in every way.”
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But by now scheduling ten episodes in a row with no preemptions, Salke said Fogelman “looked at me with slight flop sweat and said, ‘I think I’m going to [pull t off].’ I said ‘I think I’m going to is not good enough.'”
Fogelman was originally scheduled to appear at the ATX panel, but stayed back in Los Angeles to continue working on stories.
Salke was joined on stage by “This Is Us” star Milo Ventimiglia and director Ken Olin, none of whom were eager to share any scoop from next season – although Olin admitted that the secret of how Ventimiglia’s character, Jack, died would be revealed “soon.”
Said Ventimiglia: “When it happens, hopefully they’ll be blown away.”
The actor said he’s heard many fan theories about how Jack died, but his favorite is the one where he was killed by his best friend, Miguel (Jon Huertas). Miguel eventually marries Jack’s wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore), hence that tongue-in-cheek idea.
“We all felt bad for Miguel,” Salke said of the character. “People just want to hate him so bad. [These theories] are entertaining, but none of them have come close [to the truth].”
Salke said NBC has resisted the urge to copy “This Is Us” or plot any spinoffs. “No one dares to knock it off, that would be embarrassing,” she said. “These are magical shows. When someone asks me, ‘do you have This Is Us this year?’ I say, ‘no I don’t, I have other things.'”
Olin was asked to compare “This Is Us” to the 1980s show in which he starred, “Thirtysomething.” Like “This Is Us,” that show “explores relationships amongst a group of people that love each other, and they love each other in a way that isn’t contrived.”
Coincidentally, Ventimiglia played a young version of Ken Olin’s character in the 1997 series “EZ Streets.” (See below.)
Asked about their favorite scene of the season, Ventimiglia and Olin both discussed a fight in the finale between Jack and Rebecca that was shot as one take, without edits.
“Dan Fogelman wanted to so a scene without edits, and capture that rawness of a fight, especially a domestic fight between two people who love each other,” Olin said.
Added Salke: “When Dan is passionate about something like that, you just get out of the way.”
“This Is Us” resumes production on July 11. Besides airing ten episodes in the fall, it’s also gearing up for a special post-Super Bowl episode.
The ATX TV Festival runs June 8 – 11 in Austin, Texas. IndieWire will be on the ground throughout, so check back for more coverage this weekend.