Monday, November 7, 2011
How to Save NBC In 3 Easy Steps
As those of you who pay attention to the Nielson ratings, or if caught today's article in the New York Times, know, NBC is currently perched on the edge of a precipice. The latest numbers have it tied with spanish-language network Univision for viewers in the key 18-49 advertising demographic and were it not for Sunday Night Football, the Peacock would not have a single program in the Top 25.
Now, as I have pointed out before, that is by no means a judgement of the quality of programs on NBC. In fact, on look at this year's Emmy Nominations shows that the network's critical and industry appeal is staggeringly disproportionate to it's commercial success.
Why? The short answer (as I have stated before) is that America loves crap. The longer answer is a blend of of advertising dollars, habitual viewership habits and the fact that the 18-49 demographic (like CBS viewers) skews to an older crowd. Meaning that for every non-hipster like me that can't get enough Community there's four 45-year-old housewives that don't watch anything but NCIS and The Good Wife.
Since I am a glutton for punishment (I'm a USU fan after all), it's only natural that NBC is my favorite network. I was raised in the 90's heyday of Must-See-TV and I'm a nostalgic son-of-a-gun and America's oldest national broadcasting network just seems to have a certain Class to it, no matter how many seasons of Celebrity Apprentice they choose to air.
So, what to do about their misfortune? I have a few suggestions.
1. Enough with two-hour-long reality shows
Sure, counter-programming against CBS Mondays and Fox Tuesdays is a daunting task, but NBC has all but laid down and died on those two days by devoting 4 of the 6 prime time hours to The Sing-off and Biggest Loser. NBC's only other Monday-night offering is the new Rock Center with Brian Williams which has about as much 18-49 appeal as reruns of The Golden Girls and also means that the first time in the week that you get scripted programming on NBC is Tuesday at 10/9c with Parenthood.
As far as I'm concerned NOTHING on prime-time television take more than 1 hour. The Sing Off isn't half bad but it's getting destroyed in the ratings and devoting two whole hours to it when you could have a one-hour drama or two half-hour sitcoms to compete with the CBS comedy block. On that note, for whatever reason Whitney has actually pulled in more viewers than it deserves but is provoking viewer's wrath by feeling out of place in the Thursday line-up. I say, trim Sing and Loser to one hour, add Whitney to Monday night as a counter-point to Mike and Molley (so everyone grossed out by the plus-size love has skinny yet similarly un-funny people to look at) and use the other 30 minutes for a new show. Preferably, something that's actually good.
As for the new hour on Tuesday nights, it's not ideal but it could be the window for the resurrection of Fear Factor, or for the January premiere of The Voice, NBC's one and only hit. In either case, make sure that each week showcases beautiful people in various states of undress (sex sells like chocolate-covered heroin, and this is no time to take the high road).
2. Cut the Dead Weight
When deciding which shows to cut from the lineup to make way for bigger (and hopefully better) fare, the temptation would be to look towards Community or Parks and Recreation which, despite their passionate fans and critical acclaim have underperformed. The smarter move, however, would be to put past-their-prime shows like Law&Order:SVU and The Office out of their misery. Both shows have been running on fumes and have seen their symbolic stars fade and their literal "stars" vanish. Both leads on SVU are either gone or leaving and Steve Carrell has long since set sail.
While both crews are putting in a good effort to keep things lively, the fact remains that this late in the game and without their core cast members, you're not going to attract new viewers and, more likely, you'll just hemorrhage in the ratings for one, maybe two seasons, before fizzling out in obscurity. Take a cue from Seinfeld and get out while the getting is good.
Besides room on the calendar, that also allows NBC to devote attention on their under-performing but otherwise fantastic shows. Prime Suspect, a phenomenal show, would be the logical successor of SVU's viewers and by scrapping the office, NBC could...
3. Reinforce the Must See TV Thursday comedy block
With The Office gone and Whitney moved to Mondays, NBC would be able to repackage Community and Parks with two other comedies for a new block of Thursday comedy. I'll do you one better, Up All Night, NBC's most successful (and promising) freshman show could lead out the pack at 8/7c followed by Community, then the return of 30 Rock and finishing with Tina Fey's buddy Amy Poehler on Parks and Rec.
There is some danger moving UAN to a new night as you force viewers to move with it but NBC isn't going to beat out ABC on Wednesday's any time soon. Thursday are, and always have been, NBC's night to shine. Up All Night, unlike the other shows, offers a more conventional and positive chuckle that mainstream viewers tend to gravitate toward, essentially tricking them into staying around for Community while they wait for the always-fantastic 30 Rock to start. By then they're relaxed and don't feel like changing the channel, so why not stick around for Parks and Rec (it's the peak-and-valley technique).
30 Rock's Alec Baldwin has hinted that this will be his last season, but he's also been saying that for years. NBC's new owner ComCast has reportedly increased the programming budgets so pay Baldwin whatever he wants (seriously) and market the hell out a brand new era of Must See TV Thursdays.