Pop-Ed: The Fall of NBC

the staff looks at the downfall of one of television’s major networks …

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 Justin Matchick: The NBC of today is a far cry from the ratings dominating juggernaut it was in the 80s and 90s. A decade of poor business decisions and atrocious handling of public relations disasters, coupled with boneheaded programming decisions and a simple lack of foresight has driven the company that was once the highest rated network on television straight down to fighting over fourth place with Univision. When the only aspect of NBC that seems to consistently deliver a quality product is their Sunday Night Football broadcasts, you know the network has to be in panic mode.

Just taking a look at the history of NBC’s “Must See TV” programming block can tell you everything you need to know about why NBC is struggling. From 1982 thru 2006, NBC had at least one show from this block among the top 30 most watched shows on television. From 1995 until 1999, almost every show that aired during this block was one of the top 10 most watched shows on television. An impressive feat made much easier thanks to NBC having quality programming like Friends, Frasier, Seinfeld, and ER to consistently keep viewers watching and coming back for more.

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In the years since the end of “Must See TV” and the start of the newly named “Comedy Night Done Right” block, only The Office and ER have made any significant impact rating wise. The 2009 season of The Office is the last time anything from NBC’s Thursday night lineup was able to even break the list of top 50 most watched shows. Viewing the lineups of the 80s and 90s reveals that consistency and longevity was NBC’s gameplan, with shows like The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, L.A. Law, and A Different World stretching on in the same timeslots for multiple seasons. The Thursday lineup for NBC has been far less fruitful in recent years, a minefield of short-lived failures, unjust cancellations, confusing timeslot switching, and constantly waiting until the last minute to renew shows. This has caused a show like Parks and Recreation to have season finales written to act as possible series finales for almost every season so far. At this point the only hope for salvation for NBC would be either a megahit comedy to help anchor Thursday nights, or a complete firing of those in charge of programming. Neither are likely, but both would help.

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Michael Dworkis: The question may sound shocking. Why is NBC failing? Who would have thought a prominent network such as NBC could ever be described as failing? For years their programming was top-notch, but those days of consistent programming and loyal fan base are over.

Law and Order was the staple for NBC programming for years. The gritty, dark, and often shocking police drama left fans drooling for the next episode. Then came Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Like any good show, in eventually comes to an end. The original Law and Order came to its conclusion in May 2010 due to declining ratings. The show lost its touch just a few seasons before due to the passing of Jerry Orbach and many shifting cast members leading to familiar, long-time characters leaving the show. The new cast never caught on, and ultimately the show ended. NBC was so desperate for a replacement show, they began a spin-off, Law and Order: LA which was a disaster from the start. Inconsistent character appearances, it felt like viewers only saw half a show. Even Alfred Molina could not save the show. Law and Order: LA did not last. Lastly, we have SVU. Special Victims Unit has been on a slow decline since Christopher Meloni left the show, and was replaced by not one, but two detectives. Richard Belzer has been promoted to Sergeant, and his screen time greatly reduced. Dann Florek, The Captain of this crew is either fully involved or not at all seen. The focus has greatly shifted off the mainstay characters portrayed by Ice-T and Mariska Hargitay while pushing hard on newcomers Danny Pino and Kelli Giddush, both characters force-feeding internal drama to viewers.

NBC having an obsession over needing a Law and Order program is proof of their decline. The show has run its course, and over ten seasons we watched different characters face demons and live out drama both in the precinct and in their personal lives. The new characters are being pushed as tormented souls, or at least that is the impression given, due to writers pushing ten seasons worth of personal problems into just two. They tried to make a “new Stabler” out of Pino, and it just does not work. NBC has such a hard time letting go, and suffering ratings is the proof.

It does not get better when they try something new. As evidenced by flops The Cape and The Event. Is it bad writing? Bad ideas? The Event was a concept about the supernatural and aliens living on Earth. It was terrible, yet NBC tried to push it as a ground-breaking new paranormal drama. NBC relied on shock value with death, explosions, and supposed hyper-travel across the globe to keep viewers. NBC forgets that viewers for their station need more than shock, but substance and story. Viewers are turning to ABC and CW for their supernatural fix, because there are stories being told, not bright lights and loud sounds to turn heads.

The Cape was another disaster. I admit, I watched through its abrupt end. It was about a superhero, or so I thought, so I gave it a chance. Maybe there was nothing else to watch. The story about a not-so-dead heroic police officer who has to hide the truth. That he is still alive and he is going after all the corruption in his city. To do so, he wears a cape. The show began with a slight semblance of reality, but quickly turned worse than a C-rate SyFy original movie.

The villains became cartoonish, and even the so-called good guys, were not really that nice and every episode just blended together as there was no development, only repeated morals and glimmers of hope. The main character never grew, just a person with consistent feelings of despair, regret (probably agreeing to the role), depression, and ultimately the predictable feeling of “hey, my life sucks, but I need to be a hero for my son!” Excuse me while I pull the pail of puke closer as these harsh memories are hurting my head. NBC again produced a show with the special effects used for attention-deficit studies and nothing to stimulate the brain cells.

But wait, NBC has Community! Did it not just get renewed? Well, renewals or not, wait and see if it even hits the air. Law and Order SVU just earned a renewal and I pray it is the last. Community, once was a fantastic show with quirky characters, each with their own set of personality dysfunctions to bring to the table. For the first three seasons, showrunner Dan Harmon and his team delivered top-notch humor and comedic drama. The fourth season just flopped like a dying fish. Harmon and the majority of the original writing crew gone, replaced by writers from the failed Aliens in America. The show became more storyline- focused, and viewers were forced to laugh at jokes often repeated over and over to get some sort of punch line across. The main character, Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) became a guy who broke the mystifying stupor the other characters would wind up in, which caused even his witty, unending cynical banter to become predictable. Anything involving the Chang character became ultimately uninteresting, while the outlandish cross-dressing by the Dean turned from a novelty act into boring and predictable.

NBC succeeds with a show, and then runs with it longer than its lifespan should. When a show is great, run with it. When a show begins its decent, you go for as long as it delivers what it expects to deliver. Once the element of a show is gone, you stop the show. Instead, NBC refuses to ever let it go, hoping the once-great attraction will somehow rejuvenate itself. Except it never does, because things change and do not remain the same. NBC at times acts like a skeezy jewelry salesman. Find a quick scheme to gain attention. Forgetting quality, they seek to produce quantity. Using bright flashes and big fireworks to turn heads, hoping the attention is diverted away from the low-quality. Why else have viewers turned to ABC, CBS, and even the CW channels for programming? The majority of shows often deliver what NBC once held in high regard. Quality television. It is as if the other networks took what NBC made famous, and learned from it. Then NBC went and lost sight of what they had. NBC needs to stop, take a breath, and relax. Go back to what worked and take the time and patience to churn out something new and innovative.

While this video is a spoof, it would not be a surprise if NBC actually tried to make a tragedy like this work.

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Dan Cohen: Mad About You. Friends. Seinfeld. Frasier. ER. Yeah … that was NBC’s Thursday night line-up at one point. Remember those days? Before they were the butt of all jokes, NBC was the dominant force of television. It’s been rough going for the peacock these last few years though. So what’s the deal? How did they go from the Yankees to Astros? Now I don’t watch a lot of TV. Ever since the birth of reality television, and the ‘hey, let’s make every sitcom feel like a documentary where we talk to the camera’ trend, television has taken an ugly and sad turn, but that is a discussion for another day.

I’m here to talk about NBC’s laughable ratings. Now with the advent of DVR, Hulu, iTunes, and whatever, TV ratings in general are down significantly from the glory days. But why can’t NBC at least do as well as networks like CBS or ABC. I honestly don’t think it’s the quality. Shows like 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and Community are just as good, if not better then Modern Family, How I Met Your Mother, and The Big Bang Theory. So what’s the deal? Why can’t those shows get similar ratings? Well, it’s the Ben Affleck/Gigli effect. NBC has such a negative stigma right now that people can’t help but associate ‘Bad TV’ with them, and refuse to give their shows a chance. It took years for Affleck to wash the Gigli stink off him. That’s what’s going on with NBC. So, how did NBC get this ‘stink’ on them in the first place? I’m sure there are many reasons,but there’s two in particular I’d like to delve into.

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First of all, the whole Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien Tonight Show debacle in 2010 simply put NBC in a negative light. Remember that whole ordeal? It was reported on incessantly. Remember all the ‘Team Coco’ logos that were plastered all over the internet…cut me a break. And believe me, I was a HUGE Conan O’Brien fan, but the whole Tonight Show thing made me sour on both Leno and Conan. And the Jay Leno 10:00pm show may be the dumbest idea in the history of television. Well, not as bad as ABC’s Cavemen, based on the GEICO Cavemen, but still. The Tonight Show controversy just left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth, and it was NBC that took the brunt of that criticism.

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The other show that put NBC in a negative light was Heroes. I cannot remember a show that was so fricking successful and well-loved, and just months later was the target of such vitriol and hatred. Seriously, an Entertainment Weekly cover on how bad the show got…ridiculous. But even though this was one show, there was so much negative coverage and jokes about it, it continued to hurt the NBC name.

They’ll come a time when NBC is back on top, and other networks falter. These things fluctuate. NBC just needs one massive hit, and they can crawl back. Hey…Ben Affleck did it.

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Luke Kalamar: Oh NBC. What happened to you? You were once such a powerful network with shows like The Office and 30 Rock absolutely crushing in ratings. At its worst, your “Thursday Night Comedy Block” would at least generate a solid hour of great comedy. Non-sitcom shows, like the many variations of Law & Order, were able to get huge followings and keep people clamoring for more. Now you have the most shows not returning from the 2012-2013 season (a whopping 14), 8 of which got canceled in their first season. It’s gotten to the point where low- rated but highly beloved comedies like Community, with its average of 2-3 million viewers a week, look great by comparison and get an order for another season. How could a once dominant network dig itself into such a deep hole of crap?

From what I can see, NBC’s biggest issue is its decision to focus on comedies more than any other genre. NBC premiered a total of FIVE comedy shows during the last broadcast season (1600 Penn, Go OnGuys with Kids,The New Normal, and Animal Practice) and all of them were cancelled. Fox on the other hand only premiered two, Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project, with the latter becoming a real hit and getting renewed over the former. It’s pretty obvious that NBC is trying to strike gold again in light of their success with multi-Emmy winning shows The Office and 30 Rock (both ended this year, which hurts the network even more), but seemingly approving anything that gets pitched is not the way to go. It also doesn’t help when the now weak network tries to compete with the new comedy juggernaut CBS. The person who decided to put Community on at the same time as The Big Bang Theory should seriously be fired. That’s a perfect metaphor for David and Goliath, except Goliath is a four-armed laser shooting giant and David is a double amputee with leprosy.

I’m not going to pretend to know how NBC can fix their woes, but a good start at least is being a little stricter with their programming. I predicted last year that all the new NBC sitcoms would get cancelled in their first season, and it upsets me that I was 100% right. The Michael J. Fox Show is the first new sitcom in a long time that I’m actually really excited for, and if NBC is smart they will promote this heavily. They also shouldn’t put it at the same time as The Big Bang Theory or else the show will suffer from the start. Give it time to breathe and hopefully it can become that next big comedy hit. That, and a little bit of luck, can hopefully pull NBC out of this hole and actually have it compete with everyone else for the first time in years.

Oh, and do a better job with Olympics coverage. London 2012 coverage was ATROCIOUS and you have a year until Sochi 2014. Learn from your mistakes and make it better.

 

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Bill Bodkin:  Let’s face it — from investing in a lot of big budget action flops (The Bionic Woman, Crusoe) to the Conan/Leno debacle, to never truly getting behind sitcoms to replace he vaunted sitcoms from their Must See TV line-up, NBC has been their own worst enemy as of late.

However, I’d like to offer a silver lining after looking at 2013 line-up because I really think NBC Is finally doing it right and going for a schedule of solid programming.

First off, NBC can’t be touched when it comes to Sunday Nights — they’re football broadcasts do absurd numbers no one is going to touch.

Second, the Jimmy Fallon/Seth Meyers late night one-two is going to be an awesome upgrade over Leno/Fallon. Fallon I think Fallon is random enough to bring a young audience in and safe enough to keep Leno’s audience in tact. Meanwhile, Meyers has enough of the edge and wit to keep the old Fallon audience happy.

Third, they’ve done the right thing by bringing back Christina and Cee-Lo to The Voice. It cost them some serious cabbage, but look at what the ratings have done this season — they haven’t been as good as seasons past even when they were going up against Idol. Having them on Monday against the hyper masculinity of Monday Night Football and Monday Night RAW, makes sense.

Fourth, their new shows have garnered more positive press than most of the other networks. The Blacklist, the new thriller with James Spader looks out of this world good. Think The Following, but if Joe Carroll was working with the FBI. Ironside with Blair Underwood, which’ll be teamed with Law & Order: SVU (which is coming off its best creative season in a while), should be a solid ratings gainer. Chicago Fire did well teamed with SVU so I have a strong feeling that this courtroom drama. Dracula, the new Jonathan Rhys-Meyers series should do decently paired with Grimm.

However, the ultimate show this season for NBC will be The Michael J. Fox Show. Everyone loves him and the show, which will openly deal with his Parkinson’s, should be a funny and honest series. The rest of the Thursday line-up should benefit from this and I don’t care who’s going up against MJF, he’s going to win that night.

NBC, for the most part, has chosen to go with a more moderate, meat and potatoes line-up. New sitcoms with familiar faces (Fox, Sean Hayes, Mike O’Malley), tried and true competition series (Voice, Biggest Loser), old standard procedurals (SVU, Chicago Fire) and new series that aren’t straying from formulas the network has already done well with.

No crazy big-budget dramas, no left-of-center sitcoms, nothing crazy … just solid programming. And for NBC, this is the plan they need to do. They need to make the climb back up the ratings chart. By being the network you can always fall back on, you can rely on the Peacock Network when other shows start to go on the snide.

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