Community “Benched” — Why NBC isn’t the ultimate bad guy

NBC sucks.

This is something that you all pretty much know. The feathers are off the proverbial Peacock. The once-powerful network has been suffering an extended ratings nadir for nearly a decade and if you take a look at this recent New York Times piece, there are few good signs to pick out among the muck, at least in a financial or ratings sense. But because of those awful ratings, many great series, such as Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Chuck and Community, have survived a lot longer than they should have.

Today, tremors were felt throughout the Twittersphere when NBC announced its “spring” schedule (January through March) and one of those above series wasn’t on it. In case you didn’t hear the collective screaming of a bunch of people who probably aren’t Nielsen families, Community is “benched” after it finishes its fall run in December. NBC assures us that this benching is only for a short time, though it seems many take this news as the first step towards cancellation.

Literally seconds after NBC sent out the press release, Twitter exploded with rage towards NBC. There were so many expletive-laden tweets in my feed that I’m not even sure Storify would prefer me to document them for posterity’s sake. When I sort of jokingly asked what we should buy or consume to get NBC to keep Community around, more than a dozen people told me that we should shoot NBC headquarters with paintballs. In short, people are very much ready to blame NBC for taking Community off the air for at least 12 weeks come 2012 and because of that, they’re also ready to assume that NBC’s executives are dumb, misguided fools who all need to be fired.*

The whole “Network X sucks for cancelling my favorite series” routine drives me nuts. In certain cases, like FOX with Firefly, the network is definitely to blame. But FX wasn’t really to blame for Terriers, FOX isn’t really to blame for Fringe or Dollhouse and NBC isn’t really to blame for Chuck or Community. It’s the easy way out.

Unfortunately, not all of that is actually true and, shockingly perhaps, I’m here to defend NBC. Well, sort of. I know. I’ll let you catch your breath.

Now, I don’t want to be super-judgmental because I understand where all the vitriol is coming from. I’m right there with you, in theory. Community is, without question, my favorite current television series and it’s very close to becoming my favorite series of all-time. I freaking adore Community folks. If you’ve read this web site for more than two weeks, you probably know this. I sort of expected this to happen (I’ll get to this in a second), but that doesn’t make me any less sad. If there is no fourth season of Community, I’ll be extremely, extremely sad.

Nevertheless, this isn’t really on NBC guys. I hate to be that guy, but this is one of those times where it is easy to forget the fact that above all else, television is a business. NBC has been terrible at the business side of things for a long time now and that’s been beneficial for so many of our favorite series, but that doesn’t mean that NBC stopped caring about being a business. In fact, with the new Kabletown, uh, I mean Comcast overloads in charge, I’d bet that NBC is even more worried about the business side of things than they were in the last few years.

Looking at this from a business perspective, NBC probably had to do this. By the time it ends its December run, Community will have aired just over 60 episodes of television in two-plus seasons. Although I think NBC could and should have moved it somewhere else on the Thursday night schedule (like 8:30 last Fall), the network has still given Community all the time in the world to become a substantial or even middling hit in the Nielsen ratings. We love the series, but it has not accomplished that goal. Basically anything on NBC is going to get hammered at Thursdays at 8 p.m. and while it might suck that it’s been Community that’s had to be the sacrificial lamb, it’s also kind of nice that NBC hasn’t bothered Community until now.

Sure, now sucks. Having no Community for a few months and probably longer definitely sucks. Having no Community and more Whitney especially sucks, hard. However, NBC had to try something. They clearly and rightfully want to see what Up All Night can do on a better night and they obviously want to stay in the Tina Fey business, so 30 Rock needs a plum slot. Community isn’t going to help save NBC, no matter how much we love it and how much we complain, bitch, moan and cry about this news. Up All Night likely won’t save the network either, but frankly, it has a better chance of doing so right than Community and that’s probably all that really matters.

NBC consistently makes dumb, baffling decisions. Shelving Community for an extended period of time is tremendously frustrating and on a creative front, supremely dumb and baffling. Yet, I’m still not shocked nor am I that upset at NBC in particular for making this call. I’m more upset that more people didn’t watch Community during its first 60 episodes. I’m not judging anyone who chose not to watch Community because what we do with our time is our business.

But if audiences choose not to watch a series, it’s very likely that series won’t stick around too long. We might want it to, we might be upset at all those people who didn’t watch while we watched repeatedly, deconstructed it with 2,000 word reviews and created hash-tag memes, but there isn’t a whole lot we can do. And turning all our rage and hatred towards a fledging network that’s been relatively supportive of a series that literally would have been canceled on any other network feels counterproductive to me – especially when Community isn’t officially cancelled.

The good news is that Parks and Recreation’s benching last year didn’t prevent it from coming back and moving Whitney to Wednesdays and pairing it with the Chelsea Handler sitcom more or less confirms the network is not interested in keeping those two around. I won’t say that keeping Community off the air is beneficial to the series’ well-being, but it could be worse, I think.

So yes, NBC sucks. 99 percent of the time – including this time, in so many ways – they’re thinking is flawed, misguided, what have you. Community shouldn’t be benched, especially not for Whitney. That’s obvious. But…NBC has to try…something. This, like all their other recent moves, will probably go horribly wrong. But if it does, that probably means that Community will be back on the air by St. Patrick’s Day and all this rage will be for naught. Hopefully.

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10 thoughts on “Community “Benched” — Why NBC isn’t the ultimate bad guy

  1. I suppose the only counterargument I have–and it’s not exactly rock-solid–is that while NBC may have to try something, I’m not sure how much sense it makes to try…THIS. No question, Community’s ratings have never been amazing and will likely never be amazing. But some of the shows they’re saving or moving just don’t make sense, such as Harry’s Law and Rock Center.

    While I’m sure the latter is very cheap, its ratings are an insult to the definition of the word “anemic.” The same could be said of Harry’s Law, which is probably as expensive as Community is, with even worse ratings. I know that you can’t replace an hour with a half-hour, but having comedy on more than 3 hours a week isn’t the worst thing in the world. From a business standpoint, I know that Community has survived longer than expected, as you say. But NBC is a sinkhole these days. I guess I wish Community wasn’t the latest victim (even if it’s temporary).

  2. Well Harry’s Law – despite its atrocious demo ratings – actually has the highest total viewership of any NBC scripted show. So it makes some sense that NBC would keep it around, given their sorry state.

    As for Community, it actually seems like there’s a fairly obvious timeslot for the show: Parks & Rec’s spot. 30 Rock has a full 22-episode order and is running without repeats. If Parks were to run all its 11 new episodes without repeats it would wrap up by the end of March and allow Community to take its place. And as long as it doesn’t get burned off in the summer, then I’m not sure a 4th season is any less likely than before.

  3. But the demo ratings are more important, aren’t they? I mean, I love Parks and Rec and Community, and I like 30 Rock, but those shows’ overall viewerships are something like half of Harry’s Law. I just find it odd that such a show survives in this climate. Of course, how NBC hasn’t been gutted completely at this point is beyond me.

    I guess I’m just stymied at how the network responds to its embarrassing ratings. I don’t just mean its current treatment of Community, but its moves in general this year and for the last few. And, related to this announcement, I scratch my head at NBC essentially sending Whitney to a long, long road to cancellation. Why not just cut it now, and put repeats of The Office in front of Chelsea? Or Community? Or anything?

  4. I disagree with it not being the networks fault these days. All you see is talk about ratings on actual broadcast tv. I, like many people have cut the cord and watch most of my shows online at sites like hulu because cable prices are outrageous and we live in an on demand world. The Networks have been slow to catch up and have only started to really embrace the online culture but what they have not done is put effort into tracking it and using those numbers to make decisions. With Community I believe there is a very large following because the show appeals to many age groups and especially to the younger crowd who probably watch it online. So until they really start to take into account the online numbers combined with broadcast then I simply have no sympathy for the networks.

    1. @Trevor: they’ve tried. NBC repeatedly highlights Community’s numbers on DVR’s and internet viewing, but the networks have yet to turn those sorts of ratings into a viable advertising model. They simply aren’t able to command much ad revenue from that.

  5. What about the fact that Community is aired at the same time as The Big Bang Theory? Those two shows command similar audiences and I think Community would do a lot better in a different spot where it doesn’t have to compete with that show.

  6. You’re right that the problem isn’t the NBC executives. Like may commentors, I agree it’s this ridiculous affair against the internet. Ratings ignore online viewing, while media giants like Time Warner lobby the crap out of the government to pass online piracy laws. Everyone is running around trying desperate measure without realizing the underlying problem. Rating are bad and piracy is high because people want a better service. That’s why the view-ship ratings are so off from the demographics. At 21 I’m in the ‘hot’ demographic, and guess where I watch my shows? Online, like every other person under 30 on a budget. If the service is there then I always use the channels web sight, but if not…..well. If a channels just focused on offering a competent service like hulu, and ad agencies realized it’s the 21st century for crying out loud, we wouldn’t have this problem of good shows being sidelined by outdated policies.

  7. Whomever this reporter is, he must be in apogee to the perigee of Community fans. His words make a lot of sense, but I don’t care. Where is Community? NBC, that was bought by the worst company in the world, Comcast, must and I mean must die. Comcast is the worst piece of crap cable company in the world and they and NBC must die into dust. I hate them with every fiber of my being.
    HBO, pick up Community. Let this good show be on a real network, not crappy Comcast stuff.

  8. The networks also ignore a huge audience that watches online shows that aren’t available in their country. for example, If I wait to watch new episodes of my favorite show on cable tv here in India I would have to wait for months! They air shows of a new season here only after the season is over or has one or two episodes left. Which means instead of having watched Castle’s, or TBBT’s or HIMYM’s new season when they aired in august-September I would have to watch all my favorite shows in april next year. SO I tend to wake up at 5 or 6 in the morning to watch the show online. And this isn’t only me. I know plenty of people in my country who do this. My facebook live feed after new episodes of community or HIMYN or BBT is filled with references to the days episode from my friends all over the country. and Community has a king sized following here. We might even send a bomb to the network if they cancel it.

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