At the end of 2012, NBC was proud as its peacock mascot about its ratings. For the first time since the heyday of Friends, the network stood atop the major networks for the fall season. Sadly, NBC seemed to think that meant they could stop and things would just magically freeze in place.
They didn’t and now the network is back to its former, mangled form. For the week beginning Monday, January 28, the network’s highest-rated show was Chicago Fire with 7.31 million viewers. The Biggest Loser, Law and Order: SVU and Betty White’s Off Their Rockers were the only other shows able to do better than 5 million.
That high is about on par with the low for CBS, which isn’t good since most of CBS’ programming for the week was repeats, some of which still beat out NBC’s new shows. And this isn’t an anomaly. Without the extra juice of The Voice or Sunday night football, NBC’s ratings are disastrous.
How did a network so promising in the fall decline so quickly? Here are five reasons NBC is back in the bottom and some suggestions on how it can return to its brief glory.
Don’t Bench the Biggest Hits
The network’s highest-rated scripted show of the fall, Revolution, was a big success. Sure, it had The Voice as a lead-in, but about against established hits Castle and Hawaii Five-0, the show still managed to hold its own. So what did NBC do with one of the hottest new shows of the season? They put it on a four-month hiatus.
That’s longer than most shows take off in between seasons. Dropping your top scripted show in favor of weak mid-season programming seems obviously foolish, especially since the network’s top cash cow, The Voice, was also taking an extended break (though for that show, it’s understandable).
Even more puzzling, NBC is doing the same thing with Grimm, and while not a huge hit, it does surprisingly well on Friday nights. Letting it vanish for four months can only hurt its momentum. NBC needs to find a way to normalize the winter season so it doesn’t feel like the Peacock is hibernating.
Don’t Remake Failures
Do No Harm is easily one of the biggest failures in the history of the network. If only they had some type of warning, a clue that it would bomb. How about My Own Worst Enemy, another Jekyll and Hyde inspired NBC drama that was quickly canceled. In the world of TV, if at first you don’t succeed, give up and try something new. For instance, it would be very foolish of the network to try and make another veterinarian comedy for next season.
Less Comedy, More Drama
For the 2012-2013 season, NBC has aired 10 different half-hour comedies, not including the February 7 return of Community. That’s more than any other network. And it’s a big mistake.
While CBS and ABC have found ways to make comedies work, NBC hasn’t. The glory days of Seinfeld and Friends and Will and Grace are long gone and now comedy on NBC means averaging around 3.5 million viewers.
I think there can be a place for comedies on NBC’s schedule, just not so many. Compared to those 10 comedies, the network has only aired 7 dramas this season (not including February 5’s premiere of Smash). And two of those seven were given a four-month hiatus while another two are the low-rated mid-season bombs Deception and Do No Harm. NBC needs more drama (good drama) and far fewer sitcoms.
A Need for Star Power
One way to help shows succeed is to cast the right people. You need an actor with a lot of goodwill, someone people like and want to watch. FOX has Kevin Bacon on The Following. CBS has Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis on Vegas. ABC has Connie Britton on Nashville. These are talented actors with solid fan bases.
Meanwhile, NBC’s mid-season line-up boasts Meaghan Good and Steven Pasquale as the leads. No offense to them, but neither is a household name, nor do either of them have tons of fan support. Sometimes you can rely on a great hook and some big-name producers behind the scenes (the power outage and J.J. Abrams for Revolution), but barring that rare exception, you need a compelling star people will rally behind.
Stagger the Success
I admire the fact that NBC cut back to just one installment of The Biggest Loser this season, placed neatly on Mondays to bridge the gap between seasons of The Voice, but the network needs to have a better way of staggering its reality hits. The Celebrity Apprentice may not be as big as it used to be, but it’s still a solid performer for NBC. Instead of waiting to bring it back in March alongside The Voice, Revolution and Grimm, it would have made more sense to bring it back for the winter to try and gain some traction for the network.
Right now, NBC seems content to group its big hits together to form limited time frames of success followed by low periods of loss. Fall was huge for NBC because it had The Voice and football, a one-two punch that could knock out anything. But NBC needs to do a better job of scheduling the between time. It can’t rely on the Olympics every four years to boost its winter ratings. A network can’t just write off the first quarter of the year as unimportant, and that seems to be what NBC is doing.
NBC has the tools it needs to stay competitive all year-round. With The Voice, football and summer’s top show, America’s Got Talent, NBC could be a serious contender. But NBC needs to step it up and not rely entirely on those three pillars to sustain itself.
(Image courtesy of NBC)