Monday, March 26, 2012
Last summer I screened all the pilots for the upcoming season. I deserve a medal. The best comedy pilots I saw were THE NEW GIRL for Fox and BENT for NBC. Although I wasn’t knocked out by BENT I thought it was smart, funny, and had a good cast. Amanda Peet was fine, and David Walton as the irascible handyman was a find. Plus, Jeffrey Tambor is in the show. I was surprised that NBC didn’t at least air this show until now. I mean, it’s not like they had anything better. WHITNEY? ARE YOU THERE, CHELSEA? FREE AGENTS? THE FIRM? THE PLAYBOY CLUB?
BENT finally premiered last week – to the best reviews NBC has received all season. Their previous favorable reviews were for SMASH (the show they spent half their entire budget on) and went something like this: “It’s not bad… it has promise… Debra Messing is not as annoying as she normally is.” So not exactly raves.
Meanwhile, the horse that NBC backed (and blanketed the world with posters and busboards as a result) was WHITNEY. Here’s what the critics said about that gem:
"Whitney" as a construct is more spindly than her legs.” “Tepid.” “There's just no compelling reason to throw bouquets at ‘Whitney’." If "Whitney" is bad -- and it is, at least in pilot form, bad -- you have to give the new NBC sitcom credit for coming off the blocks as belligerently bad.”
By contrast, here are some critical reactions to BENT:
“Charming new romantic comedy.” “I absolutely don't believe NBC will come up with any comedies that are better than this in the fall. The network shouldn't be cavalier with half-hours that work as well as this one does.” “We're just going to say it: We love “Bent.” “The dialogue is 75% banter, but it is crisp and tart, and the actors make even the ripostes you can predict sound spontaneous.”
You get the idea. In screening rooms last May NBC couldn’t tell which one was good and which was “belligerently bad”? Which to bury and which to roll out with a huge splashy promotional campaign?
But the point is NBC has no shows to provide a decent lead-in.
So how does NBC tackle this problem and launch BENT? First off, it’s March and savvy TV audiences know March is inventory dumping ground time. It’s hard to get viewers excited when they know that these are the shows that are only airing so the network can recoup some productions costs. Not exactly a sterling vote of confidence.
What they decide to do is put it in a death slot (Wednesday at 9:00 against MODERN FAMILY and AMERICAN IDOL) and since there is not another show to pair it with (smart dialogue indeed doesn’t complement endless vagina jokes) they schedule back-to-back episodes for three weeks and just burn off the series.
By doing this BENT has absolutely no chance of catching on, getting good word of mouth, or building an audience. In two weeks it’ll be gone… forever. Don’t you think NBC knew that going on? Of course they did. How many well-written smart comedies do they have that they can afford to be so cavalier with the one they’ve got?
So how did BENT do last Wednesday? It was NBC’s lowest-rated in-season comedy premiere EVER. And remember, a year ago they carted out THE PAUL REISER SHOW.
Who’s to blame?
I feel sorry for the producers of BENT (producers I do not personally know). They spent a year of their lives busting their asses to mount the best possible show they could – a show they could be proud of -- and all their hard work and passion was just dismissed in three weeks.
Shows get cancelled for not attracting a large enough audience. And that’s fair. Those are the rules. But how many of those shows could have garnered decent ratings if their networks had only supported them?
Will NBC pick up BENT? My guess is no. And they’ll point to the numbers.
By Ken Levine at 5:58 AM