Monday, March 26, 2012

NBC screws up yet again!

Here’s another example of how an inept network can kill a good show.

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?

Now comes the problem that NBC, by virtue of its lineup of underperformers, can’t launch anything. There’s no BIG BANG THEORY, no MODERN FAMILY.  There's just the Super Bowl, which you can use to promote your new shows once every four years.  Football-compatible SMASH got the lion share (or peacock share) of hits.  Why that and not their other shows?  Even the few promising ones?   NBC sunk a fortune into SMASH, it has Steven Spielberg’s name attached, and by God they were going to promote the shit out of it. Last week SMASH got picked up for a second season. How has it done in the ratings? So-so at best – crappy when you consider the money NBC poured into promoting it, but sill it attracted some viewers and critically it was decently received. We call this a “loss leader, ” which is far different from “a hit.”

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.

58 comments:

Lynne from D.C. said...

I really liked the two episodes of this I watched so of course NBC will cancel. It's so frustrating to see the avalanche of Smash promotion and know that this little charming scripted show could have made it if it had been given support.

Melissa Banczak said...

I took my son to an industry panel on creating tv shows. One of the speakers was a writer from New Girl, don't remember the rest. After they went into great detail on the long list of people a show has to go through, my son leaned over and said, no wonder television sucks.

Mike Barer said...

Whitney is urban comedy and that has traditionally been a strong spot for the Peacock.

Chris said...

2 minutes into the pilot, I really have to ask everybody around here: is it just me or should J.B. Smoove stay away from ANY JOB that requires speaking? The way he's mumbling, he would have been a perfect fit in the Luck pilot.

jennifer J. said...

I liked Bent as well. Didn't see how they'd keep it going after he finished the renovation, but maybe that's part of the joke. It was funny and I actually looked forward to seeing it again. That's a sure death knell for a series in our house.

Whitney is painful to watch, so we don't. It stinks.

Smash...isn't. Just another soap opera with surprisingly unlikeable characters all around. Glee for adults. Yuck.

Steve from Vermont said...

NBC truly is run by morons. Their idea of putting Lay Leno in primetime proved that. And Whitney?! I watched one episode and wanted to puke. It's not even worth the five-cents of electricity it took to view it.

Mary Stella said...

I haven't seen Bent and now that your blog says it's on its way to dying an early death, I don't want to watch and love it. What a shame. Too bad another network can't pick it up and give it a chance.

I love SMASH. I like the characters, even the dastardly ones, love the performances and musical/dance numbers, and think there's some smart writing in the script. I'm already invested in the different storylines and want to see what's going to happen next each week.

Jen said...

I've really been enjoying NBC's "Grimm" and it's been doing well for a Friday night show. So what do they do? Pre-empt it on a more-than-regular basis, so it's never on for more than two or three weeks straight.

OF COURSE it's going to have a difficult time picking up an audience when you do that.

They are such idiots over there. I really hope they can learn how to properly position a show for it to build an audience, because they have a couple good ones that I think could do well if only some moron would give it the chance.

MBunge said...

Why has there not been more public turmoil and turnover at NBC? I mean, I can't recall any network ever before having this long a stretch of both commercial and critical failure. Yet, I also don't remember a series of stories about regime change among the network brass as NBC has dropped into the 1st circle of Hell.

Who is running NBC and how have they kept their job?

Mike

danrydell said...

Ken, why don't the people making these horrible decisions get fired? NBC is doing terribly. Why hasn't there been more changes at the top?

David Schwartz said...

In 1983 I worked on a show called "Jennifer Slept Here," a half-hour sitcom starring Ann Jillian (one of the directors was M*A*S*H alumni Charles S. Dubin). The show premiered about 3 weeks into the season, and it's lead in was a show called "Mr. Smith" featuring a chimpanzee (it may have been a monkey) that had premiered a few weeks earlier. The show featuring the chimp was a real ratings loser of that Fall season. I remember thinking, "How can 'Jennifer Slept Here' possibly do well when it's premiering in the second half of an hour long block featuring an already low rated show as its lead in?" Sure enough, when the show premiered it was a ratings loser and was quickly canceled. Now I'm not saying "Jennifer Slept Here" was necessarily a great show, just that no matter what show was in that time slot would most likely have done poorly. If I, at 25 years old with no network experience could realize that the show didn't have a chance, why didn't the Network executives? If they really wanted to give the show a chance, they could have aired it in a time slot that people actually watched -- with a lead-in that people also watched. To this day I do not understand how a Network can spend all that time developing a show and not even give it a fair chance.

William C Bonner said...

When will DVRs be counted in the ratings?

I saw commercials for BENT and added a seasons pass for it. One of the two episodes didn't have a conflict, so I got to see the first show. I'd probably have forgotten that a new show was coming out if my DVR hadn't been set to get it.

It turns out that I enjoyed BENT more than the conflicting show, but I'm not sure I want to rearrange the show priorities if one is going to go away quickly.

Lucky Punk said...

NBC has some decent comedies, more in that quirky subtle humor category than true sitcoms - 30 Rock, The Office, Community, Parks and Rec, even Parenthood. Other than that, though, they don't seem to have an identity. Everyone knows that CBS is smart procedurals, ABC heart-warming, make-you-cry dramas, Fox salacious mass media. But what is NBC? They can't seem to figure it out.

Tom Quigley said...

From what I've seen of SMASH, it's a night-time soap opera, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES set in a rehearsal hall. Debra Messing actually deserves better.

Haven't yet seen BENT, since I have almost sworn off network TV (especially new shows) and prefer to watch cable shows such as HOT IN CLEVELAND, or reruns such as FRASIER and THE BIG BANG THEORY. But am willing to give it a look based on your recommendation, Ken.

Brian said...

Hey Ken, speaking of new shows, how do you liked "Touch" on Fox?

Brent said...

Ken, I'll tell you what kind of promo Bent had. Your blog this morning was the first I'd ever heard of this show. But now that I think about it, how could I have? I don't think I watch a single show on NBC. I know I don't have any of them set to record on the DVR. The only new NBC show I watched last fall was Prime Suspect, which I thought had promise but (in my amateur opinion) wasn't cast well other than the lead and maybe one other role. Of course it was cancelled.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Not to defend NBC, but the network has had well-written smart comedies for years. That's been their brand since at least 2005: well-written, smart single-camera comedies that don't draw flies (except for The Office and the first two seasons of My Name Is Earl). The network has sort of been caught in a bind of its own making: it was convinced that because Seinfeld and Cheers took a while to become hits, that 30 Rock and similar shows would become popular if they were given enough chances. But it didn't work out that way.

For the last couple of years NBC has been trying to branch out and create more "mainstream" comedy, but they have no idea what the public wants (they thought Outsourced and Perfect Couples had mainstream appeal). But their problems don't come from rejecting smartly-written comedies; they come from an inability to do smart comedies with popular appeal (which I think would mean, given the NBC must-see-TV brand, doing sophisticated multi-camera comedy, but the network has no ability to produce such things).

I do think the reviews for a pilot and a few other episodes aren't necessarily indicative of much. Whitney got terrible reviews, 2 Broke Girls got good reviews for its pilot, and now Whitney is much the better of the two shows (it's also far better than Up All Night, which NBC seems more likely to renew).

Tim W. said...

@ David Schwartz

Wow, I remember Jennifer Slept Here. I looked it up and it only aired for 13 episodes, so I'm not sure why I do, but I do.

As for NBC, it astonishes me that I feel I could do a better job making decisions than many of the people in charge of the networks. It's as if many of them simply don't have the ability for reasoned thought.

kevin said...

Ken-
Do you and writers you work with still get together? Are they still writing for shows?

-bee said...

My guess is that what gets on the air may have a lot more to do more with interpersonal "stuff" than anything else.

Like, maybe the main reason Smash got renewed is Spielberg throws great parties as long as Smash is on the air NBC execs and their major advertisers are on the guest list?

Maybe somebody involved with "Bent" has done something to piss off someone with clout at NBC, or they just don't have much to 'offer'.

A note on Smash: most of those on a discussion board for hard-core NYC theater fans that I read think its laughably bad - so much so that I have not been able to work up much interest in watching it.

Michael said...

Do you think the producers of "Bent" tried pitching it to other networks first? I assume they realized the chances of launching a new successful series on NBC are slim to none.

Rich Norton said...

Until I read your comments, I hadn't even heard of Bent, and I watch NBC a lot. So, I watched the pilot on line, and I have to agree, it was pretty good. It's nice to have brittle dialog that's not all about vaginas. But I'm afraid you're right, it's just not going to last. Another in a long series of shows I liked, but nobody else watched. I'm going all the way back to one with Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss (I forget the name of the show, but I thought it was great).

Ken Levine said...

danrydell -- this IS the new regime.

Rich Horton -- HE AND SHE.

Mike said...

I think NBC has gotten hurt by the switch to HD and digital broadcasting. With analog, the local NBC stations always had a stronger signal, and CBS would be hard to get in many places. This was giving NBC an artificial boost. The digital antennas lessen this advantage, that goes unnoticed for everyone with cable.

Plus there is a concerted effort to promote raunchy material, to look cool. Noone wants to be a censor.

Brian C. said...

I added 'Bent' as a series on my DVR. My wife and I watched it, and like it a lot. Immediately after we watched on old episode of "Chelsea" -- the gay gynecologist on the fishing boat -- and after the second commercial break we looked at each other and decided it was so bad that we needed cancel the show's DVR series and delete the remaining 6 unwatched episodes.

Whitney at the beginning was "really not good", but now it's just "not good".

Lucky Punk said...

p.s., Jennifer J. - if only "Smash" was "Glee" for adults. "Glee" has had some great moments and compelling characters, if they've missed the mark on an episode or two (or half a season, but hey, nobody's perfect). "Smash" is the back-biting side of the theater without capturing the heart. I used to work in NY theater, and am desperate to watch a show that really conveys it, in all of its incarnations. I gave "Smash" a 2 episode chance, but it didn't catch me.

Sebastian said...

I only caught wind of it because it showed up on my favorite Bittorrent site. Not the TV rewiew blogs I read. No. The BT site.

Can't watch it with ads on NBCs website since I am from a far away and distant country (read: my eyeballs aren't monetized but then again so arent 99% of the domestic ones given NBCs marketing for BENT)

Dave said...

I think a viewer's enjoyment of "Bent" will be in direct proportion to their liking of Peet. I find her charmless and the show bland at best. But compared to either of the Whitney/Chelsea shows, it's "The Honeymooners."

And don't even get me started on the horror show that is "Parks and Rec."

Anonymous said...

I wonder if, once SMASH has had its run, there will be a spinoff called AfterSMASH?

gottacook said...

Okay, I admit it: The curse I put on NBC when it canceled Star Trek in 1969 is the reason for its near-complete failure today.

Todd Ayres said...

I, for one, am elated that NBC has terrible ratings. Without terrible ratings, my favorite night would be non-existent. They would have canceled Parks & Rec, 30Rock, Community, and Office long ago (in The Office's case, maybe just this season). So keep on failing with the ratings, because those of us who enjoy our humor subtle and absurd appreciate that we don't have to subscribe to Showtime to get it.

Blaze said...

From what I've picked up in anecdotes over my lifetime is that the decision making process at the networks is anything but a shrewd financial chess game of careful programming choice and placement. it's the most cliche-ridden soap opera ever. Who slept with whom, who hates whom, who is sabotaging the other guy to puff their own status in the race for corner office, etc, etc. Pretty much like any corporation, but at a higher boil because of the number of creative/insane egos in the mix.

RJ Battles said...

I haven't seen "Bent" (or much else of the big 3 networks' shows this year), but I've always thought that the biggest mistake that they make is that they don't give good shows a chance. When it comes to deciding whether or not to renew new shows they should focus almost entirely on merit. Meaning that, if they have a good, quality show they should renew it, even if its ratings are awful.

If you've got a good show, why dump it to make room for something else? Good shows will eventually find an audience, it just take a little time sometimes. "Cheers" would be a good example.

The Ames Family said...

Friday Question: Do shows have a choice which networks their pilot goes to? Can they opt out of certain networks seeing/bidding on it? And if said network wants to buy it, can they refuse, or would that make them complete idiots?

I wonder if Bent would've gotten a better shake on say, CBS, where the viewership is different?

Thanks,
Becky

D. McEwan said...

"It’s not bad… it has promise… Debra Messing is not as annoying as she normally is."

Actually, I've been finding Debra Messing even MORE annoying on Smash! than she normally is. In fact, she's so annoying on it, that she's ruining Will & Grace for me retroactively. Neither is Smash! helped by the fact that Katherine McPhee can not act at all.

Actually, last week's episode of Smash! left me thinking: "Am I crazy, or was this episode not terrible, except for Messing & McPhee?" My lifelong love of Broadway musicals (and Anjelica Houston) will keep me watching it, but hopefully the adopt-a-Chinese-baby plot will go away.

I've watched the two episodes of Bent aired so far, thanks to Entertainment Weekly championing the show. I agree that David Walton is a find. I also thought so when he was on the highly underrated Perfect Couples, where his goofy rageaholic was the funniest of the six principles. For me, on Bent he's a bit subdued compared to how hilariously volatile he was on Perfect Couples.

On the other hand, I have not been warming to Amanda Peet on this show at all. In the pilot especially she was a flat-out bitch, very unsympathetic. She thawed out a teensy bit in episode 2, but hardly enough. I'll keep watching the last 4 shows, but Peet's character will have to turn into someone I could imagine a man actually wanting to be in the same room with pretty darn fast.

@David, Mr. Smith was an orangutan, which is not a monkey but an ape, and he was in the government some way or another, making it a prescient view of the years 2000-2008. I recall Jennifer Slept Here, which struck me then as yet another variation on, i.e. rip-off of, Topper. There was also a new magic genii sitcom that year. All of course were mowed down in the fall of 1983 by the comic juggernaut that was AfterM*A*S*H.

Hey, anything is better than The River.

chuckcd said...

I'm not sure how GRIMM is doing in the ratings, but the fact I like it a lot will surely be it's death knell. (If history is any measure)

Either I have horrible taste, or impeccable taste.

I remember when shows were allowed to build an audience. Maybe not hitting stride until the second season.
Seinfeld is a prime example. These days, it would be three weeks and gone!

chuckcd said...

I remember working on a show called "Mr Sunshine" with Jeffrey Tambor that was written by David Lloyd among others.
Because of the same kind of treatment, it was over after 11 episodes.
Still think it was a good show.

JJadziaDax said...

Thanks for the heads up, I had never even heard of Bent though apparently it is unlikely to matter, I'll check it out though. On a side note I found New Girl over-hyped and annoying but nowhere near as annoying as the other new comedies on NBC so there is that.
I do love Grimm though.

On a side note to the fellow who asked, I suspect DVRs might be counted in the ratings when they stop blocking commercials which actually pay for the shows, just my two cents.

emily said...

Thank the Lord for
Robert Quarles,
Boyd Crowder
and Raylan Givens!

JJadziaDax said...

God I'm halfway through and it's totally decent, probably even good, I couldn't even sit through a full episode of Whitney or the blond chick who's name I'm supposed to know. this was a no-brainer for the fall I don't get it either. Thanks for the heads up though, I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

K.R.B. said...

I missed "Bent" last week, but have seen the positive reviews. It is a perfect example of the absolute ineptitude of the people running NBC. It's as if the decade long slump has resulted in the inability to identify anything that resembles quality programming. It is truly quite sad.

Next month NBC will premiere another new comedy. "Best Friends Forever." The clips I've seen look promising. We shall see. But what's already scary about that show is not only is it getting the April burn off, but NBC has a pilot right now that is basically the exact same premise; two female best friends who can't live without each other, leaving the husband/boyfriend as the third wheel. Is there room for two??

DBA said...

William C Bonner, DVR watches ARE counted in the ratings but only if you watch it within 48 hours of the original airing.

DBA said...

(and are a nielsen household, that is.)

Ralphie said...

I got one word for all of this... "Firefly". Usually this sort of behavior comes from Fox, but apparently the disease is spreading.

We can't even blame Zucker for this one!

-Ralphie

cshel said...

Yup. I liked Bent. The promos for Smash made me not want to watch that, so I didn't. But for the record, I love Debra Messing, at least in Will & Grace. What has happened to NBC? Sheesh. Whitney is so-so, the Chelsea sitcom is bad. Thank god for Parks and Recreation, although sadly it's on some kind of hiatus now. 30 Rock is still good sometimes. The Office needs to end already. Up All Night is good because of Christina Applegate. They need to oust the decision makers over there. I'm looking for work...

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

I'm still upset Action didn't get picked up. And The Tick.

Now, like Charley Sheen in Platoon, I don't even want to know the names of the new shows until they show they've got what it takes to survive. Who needs the tzuris?

cadavra said...

Gottacook: Sorry, but your curse elapsed decades ago. This is the result of the curse I put on NBC after they gave the shaft to STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP.

Another of their huge problems is their obsession with The Demo (i.e., 18-49). Many of their shows do quite well with older viewers (esp. the brilliant HARRY'S LAW), but they all believe that people suddenly stop buying stuff the moment they turn 50. And thus HARRY, which has been kicked all over the sked and had months-long hiatuses, is probably not long for this world and will no doubt be replaced by another dumb drama with a bunch of 20-something hotties spending more time banging each other than doing whatever work it is that they're supposed to be doing. And its ratings will make WHITNEY look like a blockbuster.

L. F. said...

Thanks for the heads up on Bent. It's on my radar now, and I'll be watching it on Hulu from now on.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

richnorton: at a guess the Richard Benjamin/Paula Prentiss show you liked was HE AND SHE. I liked it, too, though I can't remember a thing about it beyond its stars (who I've always liked both individually and together).

Had not heard of BENT, though I will look for it. I believe GRIMM has been renewed for next year.

And a Friday question: what's with all the actors who get producer credits these days? Does it give them any extra control, money, job security, or responsibility?

wg

iain said...

Haven't caught "Bent" yet, but will do so based on the recommendations of Ken& others here...if there's still time.

Also, I can't believe I'm writing this as an almost 50 year old man,
but "Whitney" has a small kernel of potential. The supporting cast is good & the writing can be sharp. The real issue is the star, as Whitney Cummings needs to decide if she's willing to put in the work it takes to be the lead on a network sitcom instead of just being a "reactor." Of course, the network should've required this BEFORE the pilot was even shot, but that's not how it works these days.

gottacook said...

Cadavra: I was only 12 so my curse on NBC required decades to take full effect. Before it did, at least we got more than 100 episodes of Homicide, with a fairly high proportion of great ones.

Mike Schryver said...

I've also pretty much sworn off network TV, but I watched this because Jeffrey Tambor was in it.
Coincidentally, the show chuckcd mentioned, Mr. Sunshine, was the one that turned me on to Mr. Tambor. That was a bold and different (and funny) show, and deserved a better fate.

I really enjoyed Bent, and would continue watching it if the opportunity existed. What's wrong with NBC? Did I say that I've almost sworn off network TV?

L.A. Jim said...

I still hold a grudge against Fox for cancelling 'Get A Life" back in '92... the bastids.

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

I enjoyed Bent quite a bit and agree with your assessment of NBC. But I gotta disagree with you about one thing. I found Jeffrey Tambor to be the weak link.

Brian Phillips said...

A funny short article featuring Tad Quill:
http://bit.ly/HeYm4P

WV: iFunt: The creator of Candid iCamera

Anonymous said...

it blows, the only time I hear people talk about whitney is When the narrator of tmz rails it into the ground for being terrible. Which in spite of itself is actually really funny.

Anonymous said...

It's got Jeffrey Tambor, which means that no matter how critically acclaimed it is, it will get canceled early. It's an unfortunate trend, as he's a great actor. Besides, it's NBC.

JJ said...

NBC did the same last year with Love Bites, which was a great show.

But because it did have that whole hour comedy/dramedy thing going on, they sat on it all season long and then burned it off.

I haven't watched most of NBC outside of the best of their Thursday night comedies for years - and the only thing I catch on NBC these days is Who Do You Think You Are (the rare reality show which is actually interesting to me and/or does not make my skin crawl).

The networks all seem to be in some weird stasis. CBS is either Chuck Lorre style or forensics. ABC seems to have the over the top soapy business covered (and a few comedies) and NBC….well, it doesn't seem to have any coherent identity.