Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Best/Worst of 2011 #4: NBC

Man, remember when NBC was good at stuff? Had I done this list last year, I’m fairly certain these guys would’ve been on it, for the fiasco that was the Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien affair. This year, they’re on it because of comedy.
Well, intentional comedy.

NBC is weird. In the past couple of years, they’ve decided that programs like Outsourced and Whitney are things that the American public was clamoring for. Also, they put a program on the air about a superhero who had a fancy cape? I’m not really sure what that was about. I mean, it wasn’t considered a comedy, but I think it’s indicative of NBC’s decision-making process, namely, “let’s throw some shit on the screen and hope something sticks.”
"We're going to run this forty hours a week, guys."

At the same time, NBC has continued to nurture an under-appreciated gem in its Thursday night comedy lineup. In the past few years, said lineup has featured The Office, Parks & Recreation, Community, and 30 Rock. Granted, one of those shows probably needs to be mercy-killed at the moment, but still. How do you not win with that lineup? First of all, I’m not sure when the last time was that those four shows were all on the schedule at the same time. To be fair, that’s not always NBC’s fault (30 Rock wasn’t on the air this fall in part due to Tina Fey’s pregnancy). But when you have four really good-to-great shows, you should do everything you can to get them going at the same time.

Instead, NBC is moving 30 Rock back into the rotation, and shelving Community (and doing a bunch of other stuff to its schedule, but these are the important moves for our purposes). Part of the reason is ratings-related, yes, and that speaks to a broader point about why we don’t have nice things, but focusing back on NBC—right now, they own two of the best network comedies on the air. Heck, I’d argue that they’re among the best comedies on TV, period. These are Community and Parks & Recreation. They’re not very similar, outside of the fact that they both employ excellent ensemble casts, but they’re both great. And they’re both adored by the Internet (n.b.- you might want to let that first link load for a while). You know, the Internet, where all the young people are? But instead of using Internet adoration to build up a following for the network, NBC is dicking those shows, and their fanbases, around.

It comes down to branding. The big broadcast networks never had to worry about such things; they were the only stores in town, period. When Fox came along, they needed a way to distinguish itself, so they featured programming that was hip and edgy. That's been watered down a lot since they first showed up, but it's still what sets Fox apart from everyone else.
Well, that and dicking Joss Whedon around.
Allow me to make a completely obvious statement that has been made hundreds of times by now: the television scene has only gotten more and more fractured since then. Each channel tries to position itself in its own niche, though those niches manage to shift around a bit as time passes.
Original mission: programming for history nerds. Current mission: conspiracy theories and WWII.
Network television channels need their niches, too. I’d argue that CBS has already figured this out, positioning themselves as the home for broadly-pleasing television. Fox is still edgy and sexy and all that. CW is television for angsty teens, and so on. NBC, on the other hand, continue to show that they are the network that Just Doesn’t Get It. And as long as they don't get it, they won't understand that when they have quality programming, they should move mountains to get people to watch it. This approach doesn't always work (see: Arrested Development), but it's better than bumping Community because by God, Whitney needs to stay on the air.

Yes, NBC, because you can't recognize a good thing when you have it, you're the Worst.

Tomorrow: the #3 choice could use a shower. Among other things.


  1. AAAARRRRRGH! Thanks for reminding me that Community just got Arrested Development'd.

    Do you have access to the Cloo network? As if we didn't have enough reruns of the 30 different flavors of Law & Order...

  2. Cloo? Erm, haven't heard of it. Then again, I don't have cable so it's a moot point.