Monday, May 14, 2007

Ruffled peacock feathers

Earlier this season NBC logged the least watched week in its history (which is really saying something considering they once had SUPERTRAIN and PINK LADY & JEFF on the same schedule). And the following week they did even worse. So it was somewhat surprising (although I should no longer be surprised by anything) that they just announced their fall schedule and renewed most everything.

MEDIUM, which finishes a distant third will be back. Dick Wolf managed to get all of his LAW & ORDERS back (although one of them, LAW & ORDER I.U.D. – one of those -- will air first on NBC owned USA). The one poorly rated renewal decision I agree with is FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS but that’s about giving a worthy show a chance to find an audience. I’m still mad at ABC for canceling MY SO CALLED LIFE. Meanwhile, ER limps along. (Oh, and they scheduled FNL in a death slot -- Fridays at 10. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS OUT.)

New programs include a reality show from producer (?) Randy Jackson about the fresh arena of dance competitions, and a song lyric competition that will rotate with game shows. Yes, you can breathe easy. Bob Saget will be back!

But what’s glaring about the new NBC schedule is that there are NO new comedies. None. Nada. One back-up. Whoopee!

This is clearly the path they have been taking the last few years and look at the result – their lowest weekly ratings EVER. How can comedies do much worse? (I mean, they had to have a couple of good pilots. right? Don'tcha think? Two or three? One that they recast with a caveman?)

They have renewed the comedies they have, ordered extra episodes of some (thus really taxing those creative staffs), and then dumping them all on Thursday night where they know they'll get killed by the competition. Not a rousing show of support. More like program fodder. And those are good comedies. They deserve better.

There was a great article Monday in the New York Times proclaiming that comedy is what could SAVE the networks. A good sitcom gets big numbers, and in success has a much bigger payday than any other genre.

In time, some new sitcom will connect. The other networks will immediately order comedy clones. Network execs will say in interviews that “America has told us they like to laugh” (as if it’s a shocking revelation. Who knew???) , and the pendulum will start to swing the other way.

In the meantime, NBC, good luck turning to Randy Jackson as your savior.

29 comments:

Scott said...

ok, let's not knock NBC today. They renewed SCRUBS.
so perhaps they didn't have any new comedies but they did save one of the best.

Anonymous said...

Ken,
Do you know how many sites I've checked to see if Alec Baldwin is back of "30 Rock?"
About three.
Do you know how many sites have said Baldwin's not coming back?
Just yours. Thank you for the 'exclusive.'
Keep up the great work.
lohur

Jeff said...

At least now people won't have trouble remembering which night FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is on.

Will Teullive said...

The Office and Earl will each produce more episodes in the upcoming season. Thirty shows for The Office including five hour long episodes. Earl is on the hook for twenty-five new shows.

I guess the writers can scrap any previously scheduled summer vacation plans!

Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant only made twelve of the original The Office for the BBC over two seasons. Of the twelve shows , I'd say eight were classics. All of season one (or series one as they say in the UK) was great. Season two was good, not great.

Gervais said if he went any longer with the show it would have lost it's edge!! So, show thirteen would have sucked. That means if it was a American show it would have started to suck right after the new year in season one!

Six episodes a season seems fairly stress free compared to the production schedule of shows in America (22 or more).

They were smart enough to sell their series to NBC, and collect Executive Producer's checks while moving on to other projects like Extras; which also had a twelve show two season shelf life.

Anonymous said...

"And Alec Baldwin offered Kevin Reilly his personal apologies for all his I’m-leaving-showbiz shenanigans on “The View.” And he promised to honor his contract to “30 Rock”!"

New York Times
http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/05/14/tv-upfronts-getting-the-8206492-on-alec-baldwin/#more-25

A_B

louis said...

How do the British manage to make a living on just six shows a season? DVD sales? Television licence fees? Co-productions with WGBH and HBO?

Americans seem to be more interested in lovable characters rather than in plot. So some series can go on for 22 episodes a year if the characters are endearing, even if the plots seem repetitive.

It's too bad that the deficit economics of American network television requires a large fixed number of episodes. How do studios make money on the single two-hour dramas that occasionally appear as the Hall of Fame or the like? What are the chances of a network bringing back a Playhouse 90?

Maybe the pattern is changing. Heroes Jr. is only slated for six episodes. And cable usually does fewer episodes per year.

Mike Barer said...

No
Body
Can watch NBC

Ken Levine said...

I was unaware that Baldwin had decided to return to the show (i.e. I bet he got a couple of lovely calls from network lawyers). Have made the correction. Thanks.

jd said...

"30 Rock" - what a waste. It started off being funny, when Tina Fey was writing the episodes (although Tracey Whatever is a casting nightmare and a horrid character) but the suits at NBC decided to make it more sitcom-like and now it has become unwatchable. It's just another wacky, stupid formula TV comedy and it lost all the initial charm. Way to go, NBC.

Anonymous said...

Well, Ken, did you enjoy Roy Scheider on L&O CI last night?

Nikki

brian t said...

The UK's penchant for short seasons is the way it's always been there: "Absolutely Fabulous" has 6-ep seasons, for example. I suspect Gervais is aware that only 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers were ever made - quality, not quantity.

PS: I live in Ireland, and didn't know about "30 Rock" until now. We do get "Studio 60", which is twice the show for the same price, if the reviews are any guide. We're a bit behind, though - the latest ep shown here was the one in which they tore up the stage to get the coyote they sent after the ferret they sent to catch the snake...

John said...

NBC sucked as a comedy network as well back in the 1970s, when their ratings cratered the first time. It really seemed as if the execs there decided comedy should only be done after 11:30 p.m. EST, and the prime-time lineup should be nothing but dramas sold to them by Universal.

NBC's comedy lineup basically boiled down to "Sanford and Son" and "Chico and the Man", and they lost both of those when Redd Foxx got into a contract battle and Freddie Prinze ... lost a gun battle (I suppose). It wasn't until the mid-1980s, with "Cheers", "Family Ties" "The Cosby Show", "Night Court" and a few others that the network got back on top in the ratings, when they finally found some sit-coms that people would actually watch.

At least now it won't cost NBC as much to subcontract all their prime-time line-up out to Universal for dramas. Merger synergy showing its awesome effects.

Anonymous said...

I have had pilots with NBC in the past few years, as I have had with other networks and they all have EXACTLY the same problem. The execs who are in charge of "comedy development" are completely unqualified for their jobs. They are former assistants to execs... usually chosen to move up based on three criteria.

1. Their ability to sound and act like their stupid bosses, while at the same time being perceived as no real threat to replace their stupid bosses.

2. They are either gay, african-american, or female... or any two of that three.

3. They are arrogant and humorless.

And anyone who is really in the sitcom business will agree with that in private, never in public.

VP81955 said...

Good Los Angeles Times piece on the end of "The King Of Queens," which nay not quite have been a classic but was solidly crafted and written, with plenty of heart:

http://www.calendarlive.com/printedition/calendar/cl-et-king14may14,0,3688650.story?coll=cl-calendar

Christopher said...

INT. CLASSIFIEDS - RIGHT NOW

Hetero men seeking sitcoms written for hetero men. Knowledge of Old School, Anchorman, and Wedding Crashers DVDs a must.

Jokes about our affairs with the bottle, hooking up with fast women, and/or getting hit on by gay dudes welcomed.

References to sports, movies, and video games are an absolute must.

Also - all episodes must be available online.

(And yes - it honestly is that simple.)

RAC said...

I'm also going to miss the blue collar characters of The King of Queens, which my girlfriend and I simply refer to as "The Funny Show," which tells you what we think of most other shows these days.

As for network execs, there should be a Humor Quotient test before they're allowed to wear suits and sign million dollar contracts. I'm working on an MBA and love great comedies--Why can't I run a network? Oh, yeah, I'm 1) really clumsy with corporate ladders, 2) I don't want to get a rash from kissing ass, and 3) I'm old enough to know better than to live in L.A.

VP81955 said...

Christopher said...
INT. CLASSIFIEDS - RIGHT NOW

Hetero men seeking sitcoms written for hetero men. Knowledge of Old School, Anchorman, and Wedding Crashers DVDs a must.

Jokes about our affairs with the bottle, hooking up with fast women, and/or getting hit on by gay dudes welcomed.

References to sports, movies, and video games are an absolute must.

Also - all episodes must be available online.

(And yes - it honestly is that simple.)


Interesting, but I think the sitcom format can do better than merely adapt the "Maxim"-beer commercial mentality. At least I hope so.

Great Big Radio Guy said...

Well, NBC has to do SOMETHING. Because ABC's coming right at them with NATIONAL BINGO NIGHT.

It's Bingo - only bigger and louder! But you still win a candy bar.

Christopher said...

Re: vp81955 -

You're absolutely correct. The sitcom format can do better that merely adapt the "Maxim"-beer commercial mentality. In fact, I think they already did. They called it 'Cheers' - which did everything I mentioned in my Classifieds ad, sans the video games reference.

Blarneyman said...

NBC really needs another FRIENDS. God knows JOEY wasn't it.

I still miss that show. I grew up on it. From 13-23. God what a great show.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:28,

I've worked at a studio (as well as on shows produced by the same studio) for the past three years and this is absolutely true. To be fair, there are a handful of smart/talented execs out there, but in reality most have gotten to where they are by being just sharp enough to wait around to move into their bosses' positions and not sharp enough to do anything else. My agents are a sending out my pilot for off-season development and I am frankly scared shitless. I'm afraid I might donkey punch the first person who gives the "can we make him more likable?" note.

jd,

I have to disagree. 30 Rock was solid for the first few episodes, then got borderline awesome around Ep. 10. The Source Awards Episode is probably my favorite 1/2 of TV this year that didn't involve Steve Carell.

christopher,

You're on the right track, and I feel your pain. However, until the execs get a fucking clue and TV writers get less hacky, even shows like the ones you've proposed aren't going to be good.

Finally, I have seen the Cavemen pilot. Do yourselves a favor and check it out. It is so much worse than you could ever imagine. So. Much. Worse. It gets everything wrong. Everything. The fact that it has the lowest production values of ANY network show I've ever seen is a cherry on top of the shit sundae. It is a perfect storm of shittiness. It makes me think God hates us all.

Tracelator said...

I think the running Condi Rice joke on 30Rock is reason enough to renew. I dont mind if it feels old-fashioned or wacky because it has JOKES! (remember those?)

This in contrast to the much over-rated "Ugly Betty" which is nothing more than stylish PC (and hypocritical) posturing. Much like Desparate Housewives it seems to get by on its gay sensibility, attractive cast and occasional smirk-worthy moment.

benson said...

Off Topic for this post, but we've been talking about it recently...

From Rob Feder's column today...
It's going to be a Memorial Day to remember when WLS-AM (890) turns back the clock to its Top 40 heyday and brings back some of its greatest stars.

From 5 a.m. to midnight May 28, regular programming will be pre-empted for a Memorial Day spectacular starring Superjock Larry Lujack, Fred Winston, John Records Landecker, Jeff Davis, Chris Shebel and Tom Kent. All were part of the '70s and '80s rock era at WLS.

Also appearing throughout the day will be WLS news veterans Lyle Dean, Catherine Johns and Gil Gross and sportscaster Les Grobstein, among others.

Anonymous said...

Ken, can you give your take on the upcoming writer's strike/dispute?

re: Cavemen -- Props to anyone after the season starts that takes a tape of the show and substitutes funnier dialogue.

Miles said...

It's always cyclical. I remember when the sitcom was considered doa and then "cosby revived it". What goes around, comes around.

If everyone in this town would stop running around, flapping their arms, pretending their hair was on fire when the wind shifts, the town would be a lot saner.

English Dave said...

You are my preferred 'between crap and coffee' site There is no higher accolade.

Paul Duca said...

John...I have felt that the reason NBC remained in second from the 1950's to the 1970's was their inabliltiy to develop successful sitcoms consistently.
They were #1 in the early days of Uncle Miltie and YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, but then I LOVE LUCY changed the game and CBS came up with one series hit after another, being able to adapt with the times, to move from ANDY GRIFFITH and BEVERLY HILLBILLIES to ALL IN THE FAMILY and M*A*S*H. Even ABC built a solid bench strength in sitcoms over the decades (not super smashes, but steady performers) before breaking through with the HAPPY DAYS/LAVERNE & SHIRLEY/THREE'S COMPANY trifecta. NBC could pull off the occasional HAZEL or GET SMART or JULIA or SANFORD and CHICO, but they couldn't build on them.

John said...

Paul --

You're right about NBC's hopelessness with the sitcom format stretching back past the 1970s. Aside from "Get Smart", the only other comedy off that network anyone remembers today is "I Dream of Jeannie", and that was a rip-off of ABC's "Bewitched" mixed with the movie "The Brass Bottle" (which Ms. Eden was in), both of which debuted a year before Sidney Sheldon came up with his idea.

Then, as now, the network suits didn't seem to have much of an idea what was really funny. They might try to cash in on a trend, as they did with "The Monkees", but overall either didn't know or didn't care about even trying to put something original on, instead preferring to go with 90-minute dramas the relieved them of even having to come up with a 30-minute comedy show (back when prime time started at 7:30 p.m. EDT).

Eric said...

I know I will be universally reviled for this, but I want Studio 60 back. How in the world do you renew Medium (a one trick pony that was played out by episode 5 or so) and NOT give Studio 60 its chance to find an audience?

Say what you will about the romantic connections in Studio 60 (they are weird even for my taste), the show had some brilliant writing and some very insightful things to say about the world.