When NBC’s hugely-popular family drama This Is Us recently announced a switch from its Tuesday night slot to Thursday, and then back to Tuesday again, viewers might have been forgiven for thinking something was amiss. But the back-and-forth move was actually a testament to the success of the show that features three generations of one family with Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia in the central roles.
“You get some pressure in that we wanted to build another night,” Jennifer Salke, NBC’s president of entertainment, said during a panel discussion at the ATX Television Festival. “We do have a big show that we feel like no matter where you put it, the audience will follow.”
While trying to get a stronger foothold on Thursday with a hot show like This Is Us, NBC would’ve put a strain on the serialized family drama’s narrative by airing it for six weeks before benching it for two months for Thursday Night Football and the holidays. “We have to do what’s right for a show that is groundbreaking and incredible in every way,” Salke said. “It would be a disservice to not treat it that way.”
By staying on Tuesday behind The Voice, This Is Us will be able to kick off its 18-episode second season with a run of 10 uninterrupted original episodes in the fall, Salke said.
As for the reason for This Is Us’ success, executive producer Ken Olin said it was emotional authenticity. Comparing This is Us to his almost-legendary late-’80s show Thirtysomething in which he starred, he said, “There are similarities, because it’s a show that explores relationships amongst a group of people that love each other, and they love each other in a way that isn’t contrived. The interesting thing is I don’t think [creator] Dan Fogelman in any way modeled his show after Thirtysomething. When a show like Thirtysomething is created, if it’s created from an authentic voice and a person that is writing honestly and authentically, I think that is the thing that separates a show like This is Us from a lot of other relationship dramas. It has a unique voice and I think Thirtysomething had that.”
Salke added, “This is Us, shows like that are a once-in-a-lifetime thing. They’re the shows you look back on in your career and in your life, that you’ll remember. To me, they’re not knock-offable, they come out of someone’s soul and experience and in the case of this show it was beautifully cast, it was executed at the top of its game and it is just an incredible breakthrough piece. You can’t copy it, it would be embarrassing to try.”
As for Season 2, Salke was reticent to comment in Fogelman’s absence, but said, “Season 2 I know will be bigger than Season 1. There’s a lot of things happening, the show isn’t going to settle down and get quieter. It’ll maintain all its authenticity and soulfulness, but there’s a lot happening and I’ve got to tell you, it’s incredible.”