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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NBC's Thursday Night Shake-Up

If it’s not an old TV truism that the less interesting the shows on the network, the more interesting the behind-the-scenes developments at the network, well, it should be. Despite consistent last place finishes throughout the work-week (they do win Sunday nights with football) NBC is by far the most fascinating network in terms of corporate restructuring and personnel decisions. As the last place network they are forced to do things other networks won’t, and as a cash-strapped entity desperate to look profitable to their incoming corporate overlords, they have to keep their low-rated critical darlings on the air when the numbers say cancellation is in order.

The Peacock’s latest gambit is an extensive re-scheduling of nearly its entire prime-time lineup for after the New Year. Some changes are being forced upon them. (They don’t play football year round, so The Marriage Ref and a two-hour Celebrity Apprentice take its place. I’m sure they’ll pull in the same numbers as Cowboys-Packers.) Others are more experimental, such as pulling The Event for a few months, and sliding Parenthood and the two Law & Orders earlier in the week. But the most interesting tactical shift comes on Thursday night, the former home of Must See TV and current domicile of The Office and Three Shows that Narrowly Beat the CW.

Despite being burned, and scarred, by the failure of Jay Leno’s 10pm show, the network is giving comedy another shot in the crucial pre-local news hour. This time, they’re hoping that the presence of actual humor (if only until 10:30) will make the difference. 30 Rock is moving to 10pm, followed by Outsourced at 10:30. For its trouble, 30 Rock has been given an early pick-up for next season, presumably to quell fears that a disastrous dip in ratings would result in cancellation. Outsourced will be tested by the move, as it will no longer have the cushion of The Office’s relatively high (for NBC) ratings.

Moving into 30 Rock’s 8:30pm slot is a new show named Perfect Couples. The show stars Olivia Munn and is about three couples trying to figure out what makes for a successful relationship. It sounds rather ordinary to me, and its slot following Community may mean NBC isn’t terrifically confident in it either.

Saving the best news for last, Parks and Recreation takes over for Outsourced at 9:30pm. This is the slot the show was intended to have when it was first conceived as an Office-lite. The show’s ratings were abysmal at 8:30, leading it to be shelved until midseason, and it seems unlikely that it will do any better at holding The Office’s audience than Outsourced did, but it’s great just to have it back on TV.

The best news for all of these shows is that NBC is so cash-strapped it can’t afford to produce as many new pilots as the rest of the networks, so ratings would have to be especially dire to merit cancellation. That said, there are some clear winners and losers in the new lineup. Community, Perfect Couples, and Outsourced are all going to struggle. Community is a poor 8pm anchor, especially going up against CBS’ Big Bang Theory, and it is difficult to see people changing to NBC in order to give Perfect Couples a chance. Meanwhile, Outsourced and 30 Rock would seem to share very little, audience-wise, and with the 10pm hour continuing to be a cable-network/DVR zone, the new comedy is likely to suffer without the consideration given to 30 Rock in the form of an early pickup.

As for winners, obviously 30 Rock and its fans should be ecstatic that it will be back for 2011-2012 as any show with its ratings is endangered. The Office neither gains or loses anything by the moves, but they do reinforce the idea that the show is one of NBC’s disarmingly few bellwethers and is unlikely to be removed even with the departure of its lead. The biggest winner is of course Parks and Rec, which will get much higher ratings at 9:30 than it did an hour earlier, even if it does lose a lot of its lead-in.

NBC comes off as, to use one of its own titles, The Biggest Loser. Looking at the entirety of its lineup shifts, it’s clear that they have little idea what they are doing, and little faith in their ability to attract larger audiences. They actually seem to be conceding quite a few nights of the week, hamstrung by their need to save money. There is no way The Marriage Ref, Celebrity Apprentice, and The Biggest Loser should eat up so much of their schedule. The last is the most egregious example. Tuesday night is a big night of TV watching, with NCIS, Glee, and The Good Wife commanding large blocks of viewers, but NBC wastes two hours hoping America wants to watch fat people jiggle. But, as long as its failures allow Community and Parks and Rec to stay on the air, that’s all right with me.

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