A few months back I got fired from NBC, for reasons that have yet to be explained to me. When they let me go I made the joke, “these are the same guys who fired Letterman, Conan and Farley, so I guess, I’m in pretty good company.”
According to Facebook (and verified by a quick Google search) NBC plans to cancel fan favorite (and some of my favorite) sitcoms, Community, 30 Rock and Parks and Rec (three of the seven TV shows I actually tune in to consistently). I cannot say this comes as a real surprise. Just take a quick glance at their ratings and, even without a deep understanding of the Nielson Ratings, you’ll see that these shows do terrible for the network (bringing in about a fifth of the viewers that CBS’ Two and Half Men, The Big Bang Theory or Two Broke Girls enjoy).
NBC seems to put itself in a paradoxical quarry, airing refreshingly unique, hip, critically acclaimed shows that cannot muster even a slight fight in its time slot. At the same time CBS thrives attracting viewers for its played out and hackneyed hits. Forcing NBC to cancel said shows, while receiving substantial backlash from the shows’ devoted fan base.
Whoever runs NBC’s talent department owns an amazing eye for comedy, employing some of the freshest and brightest comedians around, whether it’s Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan, Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari or Joel McHale and Donald Glover (not to mention stars that still have jobs like Jimmy Fallon or stars recently departed like Steve Carrell). And NBC seems to give these shows freedom to embrace innovation, hell Community did an entire episode parodying My Dinner with Andre. What’s My Dinner with Andre, you ask? Exactly? Parks and Rec features a character (Tom Haverford) that is obsessed with 90s R&B, 30 Rock makes more pop culture references than -um- someone that makes a lot of pop culture references (although still not as many as Arrested Development).
To be honest I’m surprised a show like Community even lasted as long as it did. After I watched the first half of the first season I was all in, but due to it’s extremely meta tendencies figured it did not stand a chance for survival. When it was renewed for a second season I was shocked (similar to the shock I enjoyed when The Office was renewed for its second season). Similar to The Office, I thought securing a second season would be its biggest hurdle, a second season would allow the show to grow, hit its peak and then, in time, totally collapse on top of itself and become unwatchable(once again, similar to The Office). As for Parks and Rec and 30 Rock, I got into them late, but they clearly featured terrific casts and strong writing (although it seemed that their inevitable collapses were on the horizon).
I digress though, this is not about the merits of the NBC fallen three, but instead its about why strong sitcoms struggle to survive network television. While there will no doubt be online petitions and rants from the blogosphere calling for the rescue of the NBC three, one must understand network television is ultimately a democracy, where the public decides who stays and who goes. And in a democracy sometimes C students beat war heroes.
Winning Emmys and Golden Globes look nice on the mantle, but that’s not the goal of network TV. The goal of network TV, like most industries, is to make money. Networks make money from selling ad space (commercials) at the highest possible price. To merit the highest possible price it’s executives jobs to attract the most eyeballs to their programming. Unfortunately for shows like Community, 30 Rock, and Parks and Rec, they are not the people’s choice. They do not attract the viewers to merit a spot on prime time network television.
In “The War for Late Night” Bill Carter explains how Jon Stewart continuously got passed over by networks, “as great as Jon was…some might argue that he was, of all things, too smart. Would Jon …play at a network level? Was he too New York and LA?”. Jon Stewart, banished to Cable TV, currently puts on the best (and possibly the most important) show on television. Cable TV, a haven for misfit comics (Louie CK, Conan O’Brien) who display the audacity to do something different and creative, allows a place for very good comedy television to survive and flourish without the shackles of appealing to mass audiences (as Jay-Z puts it, “I dumb down for my audience to double my dollars“).
It’s unfortunate that the NBC fallen three will be rendered to Comedy Central syndication and DVD box sets, but don’t blame NBC. Blame me. While writing this I missed new episodes of Community, 30 Rock and Parks and Rec. Why? Because, like most of the population that enjoys these shows, I’m young enough to know I can just catch them online later tonight or tomorrow or, even, a few days from now. And therein lies the true problem. When
shows networks (like, NBC) skew young they get in a fight that they cannot win. A fight with technology. While my parents (and I assume most people over the age of 35) cozy up to the couch at eight to digest their favorite shows, the younger generation are either out or on the internet, with the knowledge that technology (Hulu, TiVo, OnDemand) allows them to enjoy there favorite shows at their own convenience.
So to the NBC Fallen Three, I offer you my sincerest apologizes. I’m sorry.