This news doesn’t come as a huge surprise. I know someone who is cousins with a guy who is married to a woman who goes to the same Starbucks as someone who works at NBC and who overheard a few months ago that the new management at NBC doesn’t care for the Thursday night comedies on their own network. In particular, they hate Community. As in, they don’t get it; they don’t like it; and they think Community — along with Parks and Rec and even The Office — are ruining the once-great-network. That’s why, according to NBC entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt, the network won’t be making shows like that anymore.
What kind of shows can we expect to see in NBC’s future? According to Time Magazine, more shows with monkeys!
“We’re in a transition,” Greenblatt said. “We’re trying to broaden the audience.” And while he called the network’s Thursday roster–and Community, moving to Fridays, “great shows,” he frankly said: “We just can’t get the audience for them. They tend to be a little bit more narrow and more sophisticated than you want for a broad audience.”
This is why they probably passed on The Mindy Project. This is also why they’re going with shows like Animal Practice (which, admittedly, looks kind of cute, mostly because of the cute animals, and also Tyler Labine, and of course, monkeys are awesome!) and The New Normal, their (shoddy) attempt to replicate the success of Modern Family. But also, Guys with Kids, a moronic-looking laugh-track sitcom about the difficulties of stay-at-home Dads (how edgy!). But that’s the point: NBC is not interested in edgy. They’re interesting in ratings, and they haven’t had them in years.
I see their point, of course. The four biggest sitcoms of the last 30 years were all NBC shows, and they were all somewhat broad: Seinfeld, Cheers, The Cosby Show, and Friends. But they were also original for their time: A show about nothing; an after-workplace comedy that dealt with social issues and recurring themes; the first family sitcom to center on an upper class black family; and, of course, Friends, which doesn’t seem novel now because every show is Friends, but a collection of attractive people who did mostly nothing was novel at the time.
Broader comedies do not necessarily mean successful ones, as NBC ought to know from the revolving door of shows they attempted to pair with Seinfeld and Friends over the years: Does anyone remember Stark Raving Mad or Suddenly Susan, or Good Morning, Miami, Inside Schwartz, Perfect Couples, Union Square, Boston Common or even Coupling? No. Because even the ones that weren’t canceled after a season were completely forgettable. I seriously doubt Anthony Clark is raking in the royalties on Boston Common.
I think this is a mistake on NBC’s part because, for all of its failures, with Community and Parks and Rec, NBC is better positioned than some of the other networks for the future. CBS is the highest rated network, but the average age of a CBS viewer is 52! Those old people are dying off. Nielsen ratings will soon be replaced with a more accurate ratings system. Streaming video on laptops, iPads, and smart phones is the future, and no one is going to stream f****king Two and a Half Men or Mike and Molly on their iPads. Who is going to download episodes 2 Broke Girls on iTunes?
You want to get the most bang out of your advertising buck? You need appointment viewing shows, and shows that are talked about on the Internet (Warming Glow is like a second marketing arm for NBC’s Community. No, strike that. NBC doesn’t actually market Community, so we’re their primary marketing team). Television sets should be considered a way for viewers to sample programming that they’ll get invested in enough to watch in other mediums, where we actually have to 1) buy an episode or download it, or 2) watch on the network websites were commercial skipping is not an option, 3) order seasons on DVD (or digital downloads), or 4) watch on Netflix or Amazon, which will pay huge licensing fees for them (in the future, Netflix and Amazon Instant will be the new syndication money).
The point is, broader sitcoms may fetch higher ratings in the short term, but by the time they’re up for syndication in four or five years — if they’re not canceled after four episodes — the entire system will have changed. No one’s going to be watching reruns of Guys with Kids on TNT in five years. We’re going to be watching Dan Harmon’s new sitcom on our Google Glasses. Instead of preparing for that future, NBC is moving backwards.