NBC Blames Internet for Failed Season

I heard this story this morning and after reading the news article (NBC's Cuts Will Alter the Look of Prime Time) I am even more shocked and infuriated. What a stupid move on the part of NBC. I suppose I should back up and give you a summary of what I am talking about. Yesterday the network announced that it was letting go of 700 fulltime positions and converting its eight o’clock prime time hour into all reality and game show programming (like deal or no deal) because they cost less to make and have the potential to deliver large audiences (i.e. the same benefits as scripted shows). OK…so if what they are saying is true…and I have no reason to think otherwise, economically this decision makes sense. But only for the short term. They say something like deal or no deal take less than a million dollars to produce a single episode. Something like Friday night lights, one of their new dramas take $2 ½ to $3 million per episode. The article also states that Fox, ABC and CBS has been able to claim large audiences with shows like American Idol, Survivor and Dancing with the Stars. Another true fact.

But take a closer look.

The success of reality shows and game shows is fickle. There are only so many available time slots. The success of Dancing with the Stars is due in large part to not being on at the same time as American Idol. They can share the same audience without having to compete. What makes Dancing with the Stars successful and Skating with Celebrities lame? One was an original concept. One was a hackneyed copy cat of another network’s show. They might both have a following, but not the same kind that American Idol has. And look at shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? It was so popular that it was on practically everyday of the week. But people get burnt out. Now it comes on at the seven o’clock hour and I only just realized a few weeks ago that those weren’t reruns they were airing.

The critics of this decision make good arguments. The advertisers say they don’t buy time slots, they by programming. It makes sense. People don’t watch TV at 8PM because it is convenient. They make an effort to put their lives on hold to watch Friends. And advertising wants to be able to market specific products to specific people, which means looking at the type of program and the characteristics of the audience. Branding. Another thing that is hard to do with a game show.

The decision of NBC execs is short sighted. NBC blames competition with the internet. I blame their lack of vision, their cut and run attitude and their inability to put together a solid programming. Let’s face it. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is the best show they have in their line up right now. The show can hold its own weight. It has a powerhouse cast, Aaron Sorkin as producer and some of the best damn dialogue on TV today. I would argue that the show is not a success because of its time slot. It could have came on Monday at 8PM. Instead they chose to air it at 10.

Then there are the cable networks and the subscriber channels such as HBO and Showtime. Lets take a minute to look at stations like CW (formerly WB), TNT, USA, Sci-Fi, FX…We are not talking rerun central here. All of these channels have their own primetime programming. And what do you know…it is good. Nip Tuck, 4400, The Closer, Eureka, Seventh Heaven, Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill, Smallville…all decent shows in their own right, all appealing to diverse audiences…all surviving several successful seasons. Seventh Heaven is the longest running family drama and it is a Christian show on an “non-traditional” network..

The beauty of good shows is their longevity. Some of the best syndicated sitcoms took more than a season or two to become popular. Everybody Loves Raymond was not successful its first year. Their were talks of canceling. But they rode it out and now there are reruns on three different stations. Not only that, but once a show finds an audience, that audience is loyal. The network can do things like release DVD sets that generate additional revenue. People don’t want to buy the first season of Deal or No Deal.

If NBC thinks that it can produce 5 to 6 hours of reality tv and game show programming every week and be successful, good for them. I think they are shooting themselves in the foot by not continuing to develop programming that can actually compete with the market. What they need are new stories, new concepts. Instead of being so focused on their second failing season in a row...they should remember that for years they were the big dogs. They dominated Thursdays…with things like the Cosby Show and Friends. But you can’t be on top forever. ABC certainly wasn’t. And it certainly isn’t the reality TV shows that put them their. It was Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Grey’s Anatomy that did it. And they did debut at least two really great shows this season, Brother’s & Sisters and The Nine. I would encourage you to watch it…and look at why they are so good. 1. A great cast. 2. Great story. 3. Great line-up. ABC knows their audiences, they know the segments. They have strong shows as leads for new programs. It’s what NBC did for years. They did it with the Cosby Show and A Different World.

In a nut shell, cutting their staff and throwing away one of their primetime markets is not going to help them get out of their rut. It is only going to allow networks such as ABC and Fox to make stronger footholds on the primetime market.