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Ellie Kemper needs to be the star of a TV comedy. People tried to make that happen earlier this year with a pilot called Brenda Forever, but NBC eventually passed on it when it came time to start ordering pilots to series. Fortunately, NBC’s still interested in Kemper, apparently as The Office actor is set to star in a new comedy from 30 Rock’s Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, and just to ensure that this one will actually happen, NBC’s ordering the untitled project straight to series.
Deadline reports that NBC has given a 13-episode straight-to-series order for Fey and Carlock’s project, which will star Kemper as a woman who escapes from a doomsday cult and starts life over in New York City.
NBC could use some winning comedies. The network once thrived on its top-notch must-watch sitcoms, but they’ve fallen behind networks like CBS and ABC, the former of which dominates in the ratings with its comedies (and dramas for that matter), and the latter posts strong numbers for its Wednesday night comedies, Modern Family (usually breaks 10 million viewers) and The Middle (breaking 8 million viewers per ep this season) included. NBC’s only veteran comedy on Thursday night is Parks and Recreations, which has been posting three million viewers and change each week this season. Michael J. Fox’s new comedy has been surpassing that at NBC on Thursday nights, but its recent numbers (3.76 million for last Thursday’s episode) have dropped substantially from what it brought in when it premiered (7.5 million). Welcome to the Family has been cancelled, and Sean Saves the World is hovering in the 3-4 million viewers range. Where does that leave NBC in terms of comedies ? Well, we have Community’s return to look forward to, but the series will still be up against ratings juggernaut The Big Bang Theory on Thursday nights, and given NBC’s current Thursday night state, it’s hard to be optimistic that the series will perform much better than the 2-3 million viewers it was bringing in last season (or the second half of the third season). In other words, it's not looking like this year will be NBC's comeback season for comedies.
So NBC needs a flagship comedy to draw in viewers on Thursday nights. Assuming that’s where they’re planning to put Kemper’s show, maybe this will be it. I wouldn’t describe Kemper as a mega-star, so her name alone might not guaranty an audience, but her performance on The Office and Bridesmaids gave us good sampling of her adorable charm, and that’s definitely something Tina Fey can work with. I also like the doomsday cult side of the story, as Kemper seems like she could pull off a character that's vulnerable enough to fall victim to something like that, but optimistic enough to climb out of it -- and be funny in the part. Or maybe I’m just picturing a combination of her Pixar-loving Bridesmaids character and her sweet but sometimes sad Office character Erin. There’s just something about Kemper that’s not like anyone else, and seeing what Tina Fey’s done with female roles in 30 Rock and Mean Girls, I’m optimistic that she’ll find a way to build a show that plays to Kemper’s strengths. If it clicks, maybe NBC will have the winner it needs with this series.