Monday, November 26, 2012
What would you do to turn around NBC's fortunes?
Let's say you've been tapped to be the network's head programmer. What would you change? What would you keep? What would you do that the other networks aren't doing that would set your network apart?
First off, be it duly noted that NBC just won the November sweeps for the first time in like a decade. So they are going in the right direction. Granted, it's because of THE VOICE, SNF, REVOLUTION, and GO ON, but still -- credit where credit is due.
Now...being the head programmer wouldn't be enough. I'd have to be whatever the title is that I could really make the decisions. So assuming that utterly unrealistic fantasy...
I would cancel WHITNEY. America has voted.
I would stick with PARKS AND RECREATION.
I would aim for quality over zeitgeist.
I would not be afraid of developing sophisticated product. It's always worked before.
I would give the viewers credit for intelligence. Especially the young ones.
I would not do knock-off versions of current sitcoms. No NEW GIRL clones. No MODERN FAMILY wannabes. Not saying NBC is doing that now but that's my philosophy.
I would sit down with Lorne Michaels and see what we can do to make SNL less uneven. Maybe one fewer new episode a month? Some new writers? I don’t know. But along the way they do some inspired stuff. More of that and less of the tired lame material.
For development, I would seek out those experienced writers I admire and let them do the pet project they’ve always wanted to do. Some will come back horrendous, most will come back interesting to some degree, and a few may come back extraordinary. All you need is one.
I would not just hire actors and friends of actors to write pilots. Thinking an actor can just sit down and write a decent pilot is like me thinking I could star in BIG BANG THEORY. This attitude that we can just hire writers at some point to fix these amateurish pilots won’t fly with me.
All young writers must have a sample of original material these days. Most write pilots. I would collect all the spec pilots and buy the two best.
I would hire the best of the bunch of find places for them. You can't stockpile enough great talent.
When pairing baby writers with established showrunners I would select the veteran who is best suited for the material. I wouldn’t hire showrunners because they happen to have a deal at the studio.
Once a series gets on the air I would trust my creative partners. You run story areas by me and that’s it. The outline does not have to be approved. The draft does not have to be approved. Guest actors do not have to be approved. Neither does wardrobe or set dressing. That’s just nonsense.
Notes during production will be kept to a minimum. And no one will give notes until they’ve proven to me they’re qualified.
Single-camera comedies better be funny. Wry and mildly amusing are no longer good enough.
I bet if I ran MASH reruns on Friday night they would do better than rerunning any sitcom currently on NBC.
I would avoid the temptation to air additional episodes of THE VOICE. I wouldn't want to burn it out. Can you say SO YOU WANT TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? kids?
I love Brian Williams, think he’s the best anchor of all the major networks. But I would cancel his primetime show. No one is watching. I don’t care how cheap it is to produce.
I would drop all banners and promos from within the content of shows. They’re distracting, annoying, and completely ineffective.
I would shy away from serialized dramas. Viewers have a tough time jumping aboard in the middle, and current patterns suggest fans of these shows like to binge-watch. They’ll wait until the end of the season and watch the whole year on DVD or Netflix. That does me no good.
I would not get into insane bidding wars over projects. I would not overpay just to be in business with a certain actor or producer. This isn’t baseball. I can win without Albert Pujols. I’ll use my money more wisely.
I would have direct communication with my writer/creators. This idea of a non-writing pod producer acting as a go-between is counter-productive. And if writer/creators have questions I would encourage them to call me directly. I may not get back to them in ten minutes but I will return their calls. I don't want mid-level executives answering questions based on what they think I'll say.
In some cases, opening titles would be back.
I would use research as a tool, not a deciding factor.
I would put shows on the air I don’t like but think the general audience will.
I would keep every executive currently there and give them a chance to work with my game plan. I bet there are some terrifically talented people at NBC and I'd be an idiot to just discard them out of hand. Not to mention what it would do to morale... and I'm a BIG believer in morale.
These are some of my ideas for how I would select, develop, and manage shows... in a perfect world. But that’s only part of the job. Unless you promote your line-up properly and schedule it properly you’re still not going to win. My primary objective would be to WIN. This is not cable. Prestige shows that get no numbers are fine for subscription services. They just want you to be impressed with their slate so you’ll renew every month. Whether you actually watch HOMELAND or GAME OF THRONES is way less important.
That's not the case in the network world. You need ratings. I have a number of promotion and programming ideas that are rather avant garde but I know would WIN. Those however, I’m not just giving out. Those someone will have to pay me for.
I’ll be right here by the phone.
Waiting for your call.
Ready to save your network.
Ready to take you to number one.
Doesn't have to be NBC.
Could be any network.
Waiting for your call.
Could be a cable network.
It doesn’t seem to be ringing.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM