One of the biggest broadcast scheduling moves this fall has nothing to do with the positioning of a new series. Instead, NBC is trying an ambitious approach to its Chicago-themed dramas, devoting its entire Wednesday prime-time schedule to the trio of shows executive-produced by Dick Wolf.
As part of the new Chicago Wednesdays block, which kicks off tonight, Chicago Med starts at 8 p.m., followed by Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. Previously, NBC had sprinkled the dramas throughout its schedule (including, briefly, a fourth entry in 2017: the short-lived Chicago Justice).
It appears to be the first time an entire regularly scheduled night of broadcast programming has been devoted to a single franchise.
“We don’t look at it as a big, precarious swing at all. We’ve been leading up to this for the last few years,” said Robert Greenblatt in an interview before he stepped down Monday as NBC Entertainment chairman after seven years. “We’ve needed those Chicago shows to solidify 10 on a bunch of nights, whether it was Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.”
Greenblatt continued: “When it became clear this year that we had a bunch of other strengths at 10, and the other two shows became playable earlier, we said, ‘Wow, this is the perfect opportunity to put three shows that already have their own audiences built in.’ So we thought putting them together is just going to be more than the sum of the parts. I think it’s one of the strengths of our fall season.”
Buyers told Adweek they haven’t altered their media plans for the three Chicago dramas as a result of this season’s new Wednesday block.
“That audience is a pretty loyal audience,” said Betty Pat McCoy, svp, managing director and director of investment at GSD&M. “If you’re looking for that older female who likes to sit down and just watch something just like the old days and not necessarily switch off, it’s probably a good place to be.”
Added Neil Vendetti, president of investment at Zenith: “There is something to be said for a thematic connection between three hours of programming, but there’s also a risk that maybe, as an advertiser, you’re going to hit the same person over and over again, which we would try to avoid.”
Chicago Wednesdays will feature “really organic crossovers” between the three shows, said Greenblatt. “Some of the crossovers will be big, highly-promoted storyline crossovers, but we do so many seamless appearances of cops on one show appearing in the ER of [Chicago] Med, or a doctor appearing on Chicago Fire, that it just hopefully becomes a world unto itself,” he explained.