|Parks and Recreation - the best show no one's watching /|
the best show on network TV.
When you talk to a huge TV geek and ask them about their favorite shows, chances are you'll hear one of the following things: The Office. 30 Rock. Community. Parks and Recreation. Parenthood. Friday Night Lights. Maybe they'll even mention Chuck if they are very geeky (like me or my charming co-blogger Angelle). If asked about new shows, one may even mention the strong, gritty Prime Suspect.
All of these shows have one thing in common: they are all on NBC. With the exception of the first show mentioned, they all have a second thing in common, too - they are all abysmally rated by traditional network standards.
Click through for many thoughts on this.
When I look at the myriad TV shows set up for season passes on my DVR, only the NBC shows really demand my weekly attention. I may fall a week or two behind in great sitcoms like Suburgatory and Happy Endings. If I miss a Modern Family, I won't really cry. But with, for example, Community and Parks and Rec, I usually need to watch those guys that night. There is no waiting until Hulu tomorrow.
As someone who spends more time reading about and watching television than any human being has any right, the negative attention on NBC right now makes me very, very sad. Why must my favorite shows be perpetually on the brink of cancellation? Why is the word-of-mouth that helped make The Office a "hit" (really only a relative term) failing its successor-in-quality, Parks? Where, oh where, did all the viewers go?
It's tempting to look at the country and blame "stupid people" for setting the bar. After all, Two and a Half Men is the most popular sitcom on TV. A show about to be cancelled by CBS will usually have higher ratings than NBC's biggest hit. This is naive scapegoating. Prime Suspect, one of the most heavily promoted pilots of the year, couldn't even find a premiere audience. As a matter of fact, virtually every new NBC show this season, from the great to the terrible, found almost no audience. But then, no one was there to see those ad-infinitum commercials in the first place. NBC's audience is fractured, worse so than any network in primetime history. Most viewers have gone elsewhere. It strikes me as frustratingly un-fixable.
Intelligent shows do seem to do well on other networks. Bad shows often fail. So, I refuse to go the snobby route and just say that the mass of America just has shitty taste. The problem is flipping to the channel in the first place. NBC had a rough few years post-Friends and pre-The Office, so a lot of people made habit out of skipping over it. In those same years, alternative content providers like Hulu, Netflix, and Youtube began to skyrocket in popularity. More and more cable channels emerged and began offering niche programming.
Meanwhile, for the core network-only audience, the other channels kept right on offering decent shows, so those folks' viewing habits changed. CBS, ABC, and Fox had plenty of shows, so they didn't see the need to cram NBC back in. I believe the bulk of the TV audience doesn't "look" for shows, they "find" them on the networks they already watch.
While I don't have a solution in mind, I believe that NBC can kiss those people goodbye. It is practically a new network, much like The CW, and The CW's numbers are so low that nobody even bothers to compare them to the other four.
NBC's fall from grace, though, gets attention because it is the first network to really "fall". If any of the other three networks ever get taken over by a "Jeff Zucker" of their own, I guarantee the same thing will happen. The casual viewer will leave, and will never come back.
What's interesting, though, is that, because the ratings roof is so low, creativity and risk-taking is at an all-time high. A show like Community could never exist on another network. Friday Night Lights would never have been given a chance to finish up with one of the strongest series finales of all time. A cult show like Chuck could never in a million years have run five seasons.
It pains me to watch analysts and ratings prognosticators label NBC a failure and watch new owners and executives try desperately to reach the network's former glory. Because it's not going to happen. The world changed while NBC was down-and-out, and the network regrew into this new world. I'd say it's doing damn well, all things considered.
A lot of us are frustrated that Community is being pulled, but I have to say that nothing that Bob Greenblatt has done since taking over NBC has struck me as hasty, dumb, or reactionary. 30 Rock is coming back, has an established audience, and might be able to bolster some numbers for Thursday's line-up as a lead-in.
He also has given Prime Suspect far more time to find an audience than it had any right to, ratings-wise. Alas, it seems nothing will save that ship. But he did try, programming it several nights a week in order to increase the likelihood of eyeballs landing on it and seeing how good it was.
If this is what the business world calls a failure, I hope NBC keeps right on failing for years, because right now, there's no network I'd rather watch. In fact, I'd say NBC's best hope is to just suck it up and re-brand. They have the most universally lauded line-up on the landscape right now, so call it "Cable Quality. Network Price." Something catchy and simple like that could work, I think.
But what do you all think?