• A look at NBCs new comedies after one month
  • A look at NBCs new comedies after one month
    Written by battye
    Fri Oct 09, 2009 3:18 pm

    NBC are in trouble, there is no denying that. They are in a pit about 40 billion times larger than the one featured in their struggling sitcom "Parks and Recreation". Of the big 4 networks, the Peacock is dead last by some margin. Fortunately for NBC, comedy has traditionally been their forte. They have been behind some of the biggest hits of the past 2 decades in Seinfield, Friends, Cheers and Frasier. If they play their cards right, it could be their Thursday night line-up which gets them out of this hole. It wouldn't be the first time.

    There is no need to comment on The Office this season. For a start, I haven't seen the episodes yet so I would be guessing, but more to the point it is well known that The Office is NBC's top performer and - you would hope - won't be going anywhere as long as the cast are happy to continue. From my understanding, Steve Carell has signed on for at least 2 years which should see us through to the end of the 2010-11 season, but hopefully longer.

    30 Rock is NBC's other solid performer. It hasn't pulled the numbers that The Office has (average of 9.2 million viewers for 2008-09) in the past, but it does have a growing fan base (from 5.8 million in 2006-07 to 7.5 million in 2008-09). There is no doubt that NBC will be eagerly anticipating 30 Rock's season four premiere on October 15th as not only will it mean more dials tuned to NBC, but it will give a boost to the other comedies which are still finding their feet.

    Let's look at the new comedies:

    Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Thursday

    It was fantastic in 2008-09 in the lead up to the US presidential elections, and its ratings were brilliant for NBC (10.9 million, followed by 8.8 million in both of the following two episodes). It was brought back for 6 episodes this season (split into two groups of 3, the first of which have already aired and the second of which will presumably air around May next year), and hasn't done so well, hovering between 4 and 6 million viewers.

    Is there a place for W.U. Thursday? Of course there is! 2008 showed us that the format can be successful in prime time. Was 2009-10 the place for it? Probably not. I personally enjoyed the 3 episodes aired over the last month or so, but looking at it from the perspective of the US viewing public - W.U. Thursday had no purpose this time around. Even though I like it a lot and would love for W.U. Thursday to be an annual thing, I think for the integrity of the format the W.U. Thursday specials should be restricted to times when there is a true purpose. Perhaps NBC could tentatively order one or two optional episodes every season - ready to produce the moment something extremely newsworthy happens, particularly if there is a long break before the next Saturday Night Live episode. Here's an idea, it could take half an hour of the Leno hour! Thank you. Thank you.

    Parks and Recreation

    Most likely: gone by seasons end. I really like the series, but the numbers declare that this show won't last. Averaging just over 4 million viewers this season, not even NBC can afford to keep Parks and Recreation on air for too long.

    What NBC were probably banking on, which is becoming ever more unlikely with every passing week, is that The Office took a while to catch on. The Office averaged 5.4 million viewers in its first season, eerily similar to Parks and Recreation's average of 5.35 million. However, The Office's second season shone with 8.8 million viewers on average. Parks is losing viewers.

    The cast have good chemistry, and the show is genuinely funny. Especially the supporting cast in Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman). There is no doubting Amy Poehler's ability as an actress, and her character Leslie Knope draws so many parallels to Michael Scott. The difference between the two is that, while Michael was cringeworthy at the beginning of The Office, there comes a point where you accept his behaviour and you stop cringing and start laughing. It was probably at that point that The Office became a hit. Parks doesn't look like hitting that point soon, and time is not on its side. Things like Leslie saying "No, noo!" in The Stakeout and acting too naive are what I am talking about. It almost seemed like she had turned the corner in Beauty Pageant - showing her intelligence with regards to US political history, etc - but "Practice Date" undid that good work by having Leslie show up drunk at the house of her date.

    As I said, I like the series. I try not to overthink it and accept it for what it is, although I have to look at it from a broader perspective and in doing so I can't see it being renewed. The only question is whether NBC will give the show one last crack - by extending the order to 22 episodes - or wrap it up after the 13 already ordered.

    The "Amy Poehler factor" might give Parks a final chance, just as the "Tina Fey factor" no doubt helped 30 Rock battle through poor ratings early on. However, if I had to make a prediction - unless there is a dramatic turnaround in ratings - I think Parks will conclude after 13 episodes this season (19 in total), allowing the mid-season replacement "100 Questions" (a sitcom in the traditional format not seen since the days of Friends and Will & Grace on NBC) to step into its place.


    I have a good feeling about Community. It has the makings of a show that could stick around for a long time with great success.

    Starring Joel McHale with a very strong ensemble cast including Yvonne Nicole Brown (of Drake and Josh fame) and Chevy Chase the signs are good so far. The storylines in the first 4 episodes have been interesting, but the real test has just begun. It has recently been moved to 8/7c which is a tough timeslot. Ideally, it would have spent the entire season following The Office - but if it can hold its own leading the night off then NBC could be on to a winner. How it fares without the lead-in of The Office will be this sitcoms true test of character.

    It's ratings have been reasonable so far, and there is still ample time for the series to pick up new viewers. Fortunately, the series has generated a bit of buzz. Like all of NBC's situation comedies, it doesn't attune to the traditional sitcom format. There is no laugh track, many of the jokes are subtle or require a good general knowledge.

    There is reason to be optimistic about this show, it's simply a matter of maintaining good ratings.

    * P&R and W.U. Thursday are not technically "new". Both aired 6 and 3 episodes respectively last season.

    So overall, what should NBC be doing on Thursday night? With little else going for it besides Sunday Night Football, which is hardly helping the prime time ratings, Thursday has to be NBC's number one priority.

    The Office and 30 Rock must be retained at all costs for 2010-11. You would expect that they will close out the decade reasonably well. That is 2 of 6 spots filled.

    Jay Leno won't be going anywhere. He's locked in for at least 2 years, and the Jay Leno hour is more about profits than ratings for NBC... 10-11pm isn't much help for the NBC comedies anyway. All of NBC's hits, whether they be Must See TV or Comedy Night Done Right have come between 8-10pm and it will stay that way. 4 of 6 spots filled.

    Parks and Recreation will probably be given a graceful exit come May next year. I wouldn't be surprised to see the show get a full 22 episode order, by virtue of the fact that there is virtually nothing to replace it. 100 Questions is a new sitcom which is going to debut mid-season. Trailers show it adheres strictly to the traditional sitcom format, which doesn't really fit Thursday's. But if Parks bombs badly in the next couple of months, there is a chance 100 Questions will feature on Thursday.

    Community, at this rate, deserves to be retained. It's still early days, but as I said the signs are promising.

    Come next season, we should see The Office, 30 Rock and Community filling Thursday prime-time, in addition to a new series. Hopefully it is not 100 Questions - it appears unfunny and bland, but it could just be a poor preview - but whatever it is NBC have to pour money into and move Heaven and earth to make it successful. The Office, one would imagine, is closer to its end than beginning, and 30 Rock is still only 58 episodes old. In order to safe guard the future, NBC need a massive hit.
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