Innovations, er, “Innovations” from broadcast networks — NBC

Curious as to what this all means? Read my introduction to this multi-post series.

Again, this whole “project” has gone on too long, but with classes finally wrapping up, I should be able to bash out the final post here in a few days. But first: America’s favorite network, NBC!

Did things really go as bad as they seemed to go for the Peacock since 2005-2006?For the most part, yes. But what is most interesting to me about NBC is that it’s not necessarily the quality of new series were so bad, it’s just how the network handled them. NBC had a number of new series over this time that I had initial interest in, but most of them were either mis-marketed or just mishandled so much that they never made it.

Where they started

NBC said goodbye to Friends in 2004 and the spin-off Joey didn’t do much for them in 2004-2005, leaving their comedy slate open for new blood, which came in the form of The Office. On the drama side, Law & Order was getting very old, as ER aged sort of gracefully and The West Wing was just about to depart in May of 2006. So the network didn’t have much of an identity going into 2005-2006, and needed to find one fast.

2005-2006

Total new series: 18

  • Drama: 9; The Book of Daniel, Conviction, E-Ring, Heist, Inconceivable, Surface, Windfall, Medium, Law & Order: Trial By Jury
  • Competition Reality: 4; America’s Got Talent, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart Edition, Celebrity Cooking Showdown, Treasure Hunters
  • Multi-camera Sitcom: 2; Four Kings, Teachers
  • Single camera Sitcom: My Name Is Earl
  • Game: 1; Deal or No Deal
  • Reality: 1; Three Wishes

Total number of series that lasted longer than one season: 4 (My Name Is Earl, Deal or No Deal, America’s Got Talent, Medium); more than two seasons: 4 (same)

Character type count: Lawyers (2), Family (2), Idiots (2), Teachers (1), Priests (1), Military (1), Thieves (1), Scientists (1), Supernatural Girl Power (1)

Thoughts: What a huge developmental slate, and it was mostly full of failures. You have to give the network credit for the series that did succeed, because they all lasted a long time, with two still on the air. But that drama slate, ew. I’m not surprised at all that none of those series made it very far, because I watched E-Ring, Conviction and Heist — and they all sucked. NBC’s reliance on the competition reality and game series will be an apparent trend as we move through the years.

Any innovation? You have to give Earl some credit for being a partially serialized single camera comedy. Some.

2006-2007

Total new series: 18

  • Drama: 6; Heroes, Friday Night Lights, The Black Donnellys, Kidnapped, Raines, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
  • Reality: 4; Science of Love, Victoria Beckham: Coming to America, The Real Wedding Crashers, Thank God You’re Here
  • Game: 3; Identity, 1 vs. 100, The Singing Bee
  • Single camera Sitcom: 2; 30 Rock, Andy Barker P.I.
  • Competition Reality: 2; Age of Reality, Grease: You’re The One That I Want
  • Multi-camera Sitcom: 1; Twenty Good Years

Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 5 (Heroes, 30 Rock, 1 vs. 100, Singing Bee, Friday Night Lights); more than two seasons: 3 (Lights, Rock, Heroes)

Character type count: Media (2), Detective (1), Old Farts (1), Serial group (1), Family (1), Mob (1), Heroes (1), Supernatural Detective (1)

Thoughts: Oh, NBC. This is the season the network should regret the most, not because the development was so bad, but because it was pretty damn good and they just dropped the ball. 30 Rock only survived because of lowered expectations and Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impression. Friday Night Lights is the best series they’ve developed over this time, and they almost canceled it on numerous occasions before outsourcing the costs to DirecTV. Kidnapped was a nice little serialized drama, Black Donnellys was also solid. And we cannot forget Studio 60.

It’s disappointing because if all those canceled series would have aired this season, the ratings would have been enough. But what can we do? Instead, NBC hitched its reputation and success to the Heroes bandwagon and we all know how that turned out for them and us as viewers.

Note the horrible reality and competition reality series. If you were to blindly ask me what network would air something like Science of Love, I’d tell you NBC 100 out of 100 times.

Any innovation? 30 Rock isn’t innovative per se, but I can’t not mention it. I liked Kidnapped‘s nice mix of procedural, serialization and melodrama. The subsequent deal with DirecTV to save FNL was certainly innovative, but didn’t happen until spring 2008. And NBC gets negative points for that reality slate.

2007-2008

Total new series: 16

  • Drama: 5; Chuck, Bionic Woman, Journeyman, Life, Lipstick Jungle
  • Competition Reality: 5; Phenomenon, My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad, Celebrity Circus, Clash of the Choirs, American Gladiators
  • Game: 2; Amen$ia, Celebrity Family Fued
  • Reality: 2; America’s Toughest Jobs, Baby Borrowers
  • Single camera Sitcom: 1; Quarterlife
  • Anthology: 1; Fear Itself

Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 4 (Chuck, American Gladiators, Life, Lipstick Jungle); more than two seasons: 1 (Chuck)

Character type count: Young Pros (1), Geek (1), Supernatural Cop (1), Supernatural Girl Power (1), Girl Power (1), Cop (1)

Thoughts: This was the strike year, but even the stuff developed before January was a little iffy. Chuck is obviously amazing, Life is solid and Journeyman was oh so good and should have never been canceled (notice a theme there?). But good god on the reality, game and competition reality series. Those are all beyond horrible, with My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad truly defining the Ben Silverman era for me. I will never forget just how terrible it was. Notice yet another use of Celebrity “Something,” and remember that Celebrity Circus was one of the worst things to ever hit broadcast television. CELEBRITY CIRCUS!

Any innovation? I like the attempt at an anthology, which supposedly never work. NBC’s going to try it again in the fall of 2010, so hopefully it fares better than Fear Itself. Combining episodes of the online series Quarterlife for television was a bad idea for a bad product. Let’s just move on.

2008-2009

Total new series: 16

  • Drama: 8; Southland, Crusoe, Kings, Knight Rider, The Listener, My Own Worst Enemy, The Philanthropist, Merlin
  • Competition Reality: 5; Superstars of Dance, The Chopping Block, Great American Road Trip, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!, Momma’s Boys
  • Single camera Sitcom: 2; Parks and Recreation, Kath & Kim
  • Secret Camera: 1; Howie Do It

Total number of series that lasted longer than one season: 2*(Parks and Recreation, Southland,* which went to TNT in the fall after the S2 pick-up); more than two seasons: 1 (Parks and Rec)

Character type count: Fantasy characters (2), Government (1) Girl Power (1), Cops (1), Good Guy (1), Spy (1), Hero (1), Supernatural Cop (1), Biblical Underpinnings (1)

Thoughts: As I said early on, you can see that NBC loves the competition reality series just as much as the drama series. The good news is that the network and and associated production companies suck at developing any good ones at either end. Only two of those eight drama series — Southland, Kings — were even watchable on a weekly basis and both still had problems. But of course, NBC canceled them anyway, so who cares!

My lord, those competition reality series are really, really horrible. Did anyone watch Momma’s Boys? I mean literally anyone?

It’s weird that we associate NBC with comedy because of the (relative) successes of The Office and 30 Rock, but they’ve clearly been complacent with those series and barely developed anything to fill in other spots aside from Parks and Rec, which thankfully got its act together here in S2.

Any Innovations? Interesting that Crusoe, Merlin and I believe The Philanthropist as well were all funded/shot overseas, which is any interesting change in business practices, something NBC hasn’t been shy of working with. But they also forget to make the series they air with weird business backgrounds actually good.

2009-2010

Total new series: 9 (as of early March)

  • Drama: 3; Parenthood, Mercy, Trauma
  • Reality: 2; The Marriage Ref, Who Do You Think You Are?
  • Single camera Sitcom: 1; Community
  • Competition Reality: 1; The Sing Off
  • Game: 1; Minute to Win It
  • Talk: 1; The Jay Leno Show

Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 5* (Parenthood, Community, Marriage Ref, Who Do You Think You Are?, Minute to Win It all renewed, no word on other two drama series); more than two seasons: N/A

Character type count: Doctors (2), College (1), Family (1)

Thoughts: It’s kind of humorous that this is has been NBC’s most successful season in terms of the percentage of its new programs being renewed because nearly everyone will label 2009-2010 as a major failure because of The Jay Leno Show failure. It crippled the 10 PM hour, hampered drama development, pissed off affiliates and gave NBC an even bigger black eye to cap off the last five years. And really, no one event could sum up the network’s moves so perfectly. It was done purely for monetary reasons, without concern for quality or the audience and eventually, it made them look stupid. The Silverman-Zucker era ladies and gentlemen!

HOWEVER, as stupid as Minute to Win It, Marriage Ref and Who Do You Think You Are? well, are, you can’t fault the network for bringing them back because they’ve done okay business in a terrible landscape. And I can forgive S2 of Marriage Ref if that means we get S2’s for Parenthood and Community as well.

Any innovations? Well, the Peacock brass tried to innovate the 10 PM hour and some credit is due just for trying it. But Leno at 10 was never going to be a hit and pissed enough people off that it’s ultimately an epic failure.

Final wrap-up

Total number of series: 77

  • Drama: 31
  • Competition Reality: 17
  • Reality: 9
  • Game: 7
  • Single camera Sitcom: 7
  • Multi-camera Sitcom: 3
  • Talk: 1
  • Anthology: 1
  • Secret Camera: 1

Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 17; 22%

Character type count: Family (4), Cops (3), Supernatural Cops (3), Idiots (2), Heroes (2), Lawyers (2), Supernatural Girl Power (2), Media (2), Serial group (2), Doctors (2), Girl Power (2), Fantasy Characters (2), Teacher (1), Priest (1), Military (1), Thieves (1), Scientists (1), Old Farts (1), Mob (1), College (1), Good Guy (1), Young Pros (1), Geek (1), Spy (1), Government (1)

Final thoughts: As expected, NBC has the worst success rate of any of the major networks, and I’d wager that if they didn’t try the Leno experiment this season or had to deal with the strike in 08-09, the percentage would have been lower.

But as I mentioned at the top and throughout the piece, unlike some other networks — sup, ABC — NBC has actually had some quality or at least solid programs on the air over the past five years that they just didn’t believe in: Journeyman, Kidnapped, Kings, Studio 60, Donnellys, hell even Andy Barker. That’s why I’m actually surprised NBC is sticking with Parenthood for another year; they’ve missed so many other opportunities in the past.

Plus, they never figured out how to market Friday Night Lights, got lucky with 30 Rock and failed just about everywhere else.

Speaking of comedy, again, I’m also partially surprised to see that the network didn’t try too hard to get more comedies off the ground. Earlier in this five year bracket, they had Office, Rock and My Name Is Earl, but that 8:30 spot was always a rotating mess of garbage. And yet, there wasn’t an overwhelming attempt to clean it up or even extend their comedy domination to other nights. It’s as if they decided, “well, Thursday is comedy night! We can’t do comedy anywhere else!” which is just stupid.

Not to sound like a broken record, but my oh my, the competition reality, reality and game series. Bleh. Even if NBC did everything else right over this period, we’d still be poking at them for some of these travesties.

We do, however, have to give them some credit for attempt a few different things on the business side. Foreign financing, the DirecTV deal, constant product placement, it’s all becoming more relevant in today’s television landscape and NBC has been there for awhile now.

With The Jay Leno Show out the picture and some sort of commitment to the 10 PM hour, NBC is in prime position to turn things around in 10-11. Because let’s face it, it can’t really get any worse. I don’t think. Let’s just hope not.

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