Is it time to swap Community and 30 Rock?

Full disclosure: The following post is spurred on by my die-hard love for NBC’s Community. In less than 30 episodes, it is already my favorite comedy of all-time. That might be an irrational statement, but it’s the kind of series that’s tailor-made for my interests and sense of humor. It’s certainly not the best comedy of all-time or even the best on the air right now (well, it is until Parks and Recreation returns), but I love it.

In any event, I just wanted to put that out there, but even detached from my Community lust, the question I pose in the headline of this post is also coming from a place of logic. I fully believe that NBC would be better off if it decided to swap Community and 30 Rock on its Thursday night schedule, moving the former to 8:30 p.m. and the latter to 8 p.m. I tweeted this suggestion after Thursday’s ratings came in and because I had so many people asking me “Why?” I figured it was time to put those thoughts and ideas down in a post.

Thus, the following is my reasoning for why these two great NBC comedies should switch places on the schedule:

First of all, five years in to its run, hasn’t NBC figured out that the 30 Rock audience is the 30 Rock audience? If we take a quick glance at the series’ ratings over the first four seasons, the average number of viewers in millions shifted from 5.8 million in season one, 6.4 million in season two, 7.5 million in season three and 5.9 million last season. The average thus far this season (though it’s bound to dip as the season goes along)? 5.7 million viewers. Moreover, last year’s average 18-49 demo figure was 2.8, so far this season it’s 2.4.

Now, it’s important to note that 30 Rock is a rare and weird type of series that saw ratings increases in both its second and third seasons, but we know that the Emmy wins (season two) and Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impression (season three) helped guide the series to bigger numbers, particularly early in those respective seasons. The drop between seasons three and four was totally expected since Fey didn’t have Palin and critical opinion had soured on the series just a bit.

And before you chew me out for saying the audience is the audience when the numbers are still decreasing, remember that declining ratings, in both the 18-49 demographic and total viewership, is endemic of the entire broadcast television landscape. It’s a natural thing.

In its fifth season, away from all the critical praise, Emmy love, Palin jokes and its comfy (but obviously now not that important) Office lead-in, 30 Rock is doing just fine at 8:30 p.m. Its premiere numbers were rock-solid and it was the only Thursday series to not drop in week two of this dastardly season. The series is not in any danger of being canceled, because even the numbers dip more, 30 Rock is a touchstone of the damaged, weakened NBC brand.

With all that being said, if the audience is the audience, would moving 30 Rock to 8 p.m. be such a bad thing? If Community is such a ratings dud that it “appears” to be, doesn’t it as a lead-in for Rock actually hurt the Tina Fey-starring series more than it helps it?

Moreover, let’s take a closer look at Community. It’s highest-rated episode, by far, is the pilot, which had the glorious Office lead-in. Even with that number factored in (a data point that is skewed 2 million viewers higher than the general average), Community still only averaged 5 million viewers and a 2.1 in the 18-49 demographic in its 25 episodes last season. It obtained those averages in the 8 p.m. timeslot, leading off the most jam-packed night of broadcast television on a weak network. This is the same timeslot it finds itself in now, where through three episodes, it’s averaging 4.77 million viewers and a 1.9 18-49 figure. Expected, albeit disappointing, results.

I’m still confused as to why NBC didn’t just keep Community in the post-Office timeslot in the first place. It’s not like 30 Rock needed much “protection” in its fourth season, or at least needed more than a brand-new series. I know people have been discussing the validity of the lead-in, but I almost guarantee the networks still take value in it, and I thought the number one rule of programming was to put new series behind your biggest and best bets so they can have some of that success rub off. Community showed that in its pilot airing, and then NBC ripped it all away. Of course, they’re doing it this season with Outsourced because they know absolutely no one would have watched that series at 8 p.m. Or at least I hope they wouldn’t have.

It might just be me, but how does it NOT make sense to move a series that did its best in a timeslot that had a decent lead-in to back to a spot where it will have a decent lead-in?

I understand NBC’s reasoning for keeping Outsourced behind The Office, even if it I hate that series and the fact that it is keeping Parks and Recreation off the air. But the Peacock should take some of its own advice and apply the same logic to Community. This is a young series only just starting its second season, but it although it gets tagged with some sort of Arrested Development-style reference-fest, it is actually way more accessible than even 30 Rock or Parks and Recreation — and it’s certainly better for the overall “brand” than the horrible, deplorable Outsourced. The characters have heart, some of the actors are familiar and the stories have a wide appeal. Community deserves some nurturing — nurturing NBC is obviously very willing to give it.

NBC obviously wants to get something out of the series, as they were more than willing to exploit Betty White’s stardom in hopes of drawing in new viewers for the premiere. They also made good use of Community‘s online fanbase by creating that goofy, though admirable Twittersode that led up to the premiere and are clearly okay with the marketing advantages that comes along with space travel, zombie and stop-motion episodes.

Therefore, if NBC realizes that they have something special on their hands in the way that I think they do, it just makes sense to take action and make sure there is some sort of return on that investment. The buzz for the series has only grown over time and it seems like NBC should be willing to take advantage of that and turn it into a relatively successful series. And just as moving 30 Rock to 8 p.m. won’t lose that series much viewers, I can’t imagine why the people who watch Community now would somehow stop watching because of the timeslot change. They might, but it’s not an obvious outcome.*

*Updated: As Jaime Weinman rightfully pointed out on Twitter, the 8:30 timeslot is generally more-viewed than 8, so if Community scores the exact same ratings that it does at 8 p.m., it would be even more of a failure than it is now. This is legitimate point that cannot be avoided, and perhaps the most glaringly obvious reason to ignore my whole post.

Do I think that moving Community to 8:30 would turn it into some sort of televisual super-hit? Absolutely not. Do I think that moving the series to 8:30 would turn it into a steady performer that provides numbers good enough that NBC couldn’t really take the risk in replacing it with an unknown. Absolutely. I’d be willing to bet that with the 30 Rock lead-in, Community could keep its overall viewers above 5 million and maybe even into the mid-5’s and would certainly have a better chance at keeping its 18-49 figure consistently closer to 2.0.

The problem is, this all makes too much sense. So when Community gets canceled in December and NBC stupidly replaces it with Parks and Recreation just so it can pull in similar (and thus bad) numbers, all the while keeping Outsourced on the air, don’t be surprised. Be very, very angry, but don’t be surprised. NBC, please prove me wrong.

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One thought on “Is it time to swap Community and 30 Rock?

  1. I agree with you that 30 Rock’s audience is unlikely grow. But swapping them still would not lead to a justifiable increase in Community’s ratings. TBBT killed the 8pm for all comedy shows in that hour. Even if they swap, people will still be lazy to change the channel, especially to one that is famous for having bad programming decisions the last 5 years. And even if the ratings do increase after the swap, like you said, it will only increase to mid-5’s. I don’t think that is a sufficient increase to justify the swap which would involve more ad dollars to advertise the time change and telling the advertisers about the change and other costs.

    “8:30 timeslot is generally more-viewed than 8”.
    I don’t really understand this statement, because P&R did worse following Community in that timeslot last year. And 8:30 shows on all the other channels have poorer ratings than their lead ins.

    “If Community is such a ratings dud that it “appears” to be, doesn’t it as a lead-in for Rock actually hurt the Tina Fey-starring series more than it helps it?”
    1) Poor lead-in is still better than no lead-in. 2) TBBT. 3) 8pm is way too early for 30 Rock viewers. This was a show that was moved from 8:30 to 9:30 for the ‘MILF Island’-jokes (amongst other reasons).

    Also the number of viewers that Community got following The Office can’t really be a convincing point because numbers are always higher for a new series in the first few episodes.

    Community, like Arrested Development and 30 Rock, is a show made for DVDs. Too much happening at too fast a rate, especially for people who just finished a long day of work and just want to switch their minds off. It is not accessible because of the amount of meta the show likes to have and the general weird behaviour of most of the characters. In addition, the pop cultural references are really entertainment based compared to Arrested Development and 30 Rock which have a wider range of cultural references from politics to the environment that also date back a few decades ie targets the older side of 18-49 viewers. I do suspect that Community has a much younger audience compared to those two shows who generally don’t watch tv on tv.

    Also If there is one thing that Modern Family has taught us, the general tv audience still likes characters to behave in predictable ways and have time to laugh at the punchline (which is I guess why they chose/have stuck to the mockumentary format even though it does not make any sense for the show; P&R does badly because the subject matter ie Parks&Rec department is not as ‘relatable’ as office or family scenarios) . Characters like Chang, Abed and even Pierce, who to me are fantastic hilarious characters, will never appeal to the general demographic because they act really really weirdly compared to society’s notion of the average tv character eg the last episode had 5 minutes on pop-locking competition ending with a tortured cry for a character who cannot join a study group – don’t think that spells accessible. And Jeff/Britta, Jeff/Annie are not your typical ships like Ross/Rachel, Meredith/McDreamy or Jim/Pam for people to get hooked on.

    Sorry to make such a bummer of a comment but I think NBC would be better off focusing on alternative ways to measure ratings because I really don’t think the Nielson ratings are going to change. Also, release the DVDs earlier so that people have time to catch up over the summer (the multiple repeats during last summer didn’t seem to work). Oh and also spend more money and time courting award voters because that’s how 30 Rock stayed alive in addition to a lot of other important factors eg the industry’s goodwill towards Lorne Michaels, Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin.

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