TV With No CommunityPosted: November 18, 2011
Looking at the current state of NBC, TV, and Community.
By Bryan Berlin and Phil Robibero
Phil: After seeing the ridicule Herman Cain received because of his Libya gaffe, I didn’t think anyone could have had a worse week than him. Unfortunately, the award eventually went to a group of people much wiser and undeserving than him: the fan base of Community. After NBC “shelved” the series, there was an immediate outcry that turned my Facebook feed into a petition riddled corkboard. I haven’t seen this much zealousness for a TV show since announced cancellation of Arrested Development. While, I’m not a fan of Community, I do respect it as a TV series that elevated its material above the usual shitty studio comedies that hit high on the Nielsen ratings.
Now, Bryan I know that you’re a big fan of the show and while it is tragic from an emotional level on a business level was it a good move by NBC?
Bryan: There totally could be a Best Week Ever spin-off spoof show called Worst Week Ever and Cain and Community definitely would have battled it out for the win this week. Ultimately though, Community probably wins the worst week just because they’re coming into their 3rd season being around and the Republican party has a new frontrunner that does something stupid to hurt their chances about every other week.
I understand what NBC is doing from a business point of view, but it’s a risky move. Yes, they want to try out new shows and lineups on different nights (Up All Night is moving to Thursday and Whitney is getting paired on Wednesdays with the new Chelsea Handler show), but they’re doing it in the wrong way. Last year, Parks and Rec was benched, but only for the fall. The new season started in full in January. By breaking up the series mid-season, they’re pulling a Season 3 of Lost. It really screwed up the flow of the season, and made the viewers unhappy. As Vulture stated in this Q+A, Community fans shouldn’t be freaking out as much as they are, but I love when fans band together to support a show.
That being said, Community is a pretty genius show. It deserves the respect from the network, even with the low ratings. I think the bigger issue here is with Neilson and NBC’s overall mediocrity. Do you think NBC is doing anything right these days?
Phil: Thursday’s seem to be a shitty time for anyone that doesn’t have football. It’s crazy how much Thursday Night Football has changed the landscape of TV. I still don’t understand why Thursday is comedy night for NBC. That’s one area they have handled poorly. What did Tuesday ever do to them?
I feel like NBC has tried every tool at their disposal. I remember two years ago when every other day, NBC was touting some new show they had coming. I think Community was the only show that made it out alive. They’re trying so desperately to go back to their golden age by staying fresh and edgy, but those days are long gone. Thing is, you can’t pin it on their acquisitions team. It’s more how much the demographic base and audience habits have changed the past few years. Most NBC shows cater to a younger audience, which at the end of the day is cannibalizing their business. The younger demo is most likely going to catch an episode on Hulu than it is on TV.
The young demo used to be the coveted market, but it can no longer sustain a TV show’s ratings. CBS understood this and that’s why they have so many older skewing shows. Their laugh track comedies are a hit and NBC has no other choice but try to ape the format and in the end you get a regurgitated filth, called Whitney.
There’s no obvious answer here. Its easy to say that NBC is doing a shitty job with their shows, but honestly they have taken more risks then any other network in the past few years. Who else would have given Dan Harmon a shot? The guy didn’t have a hit show under his belt before making Community. NBC took the risks nonetheless and they ended up losing more than won. So the fatigue has set in for them and all they can do now is replicate some kind of success by copying the formats of other shows.
Bryan: The thing about Thursday Night Football is it only lasts for about a month. Right around the time when all the shows start putting up reruns near the holiday season. The only saving grace for NBC at this point is Sunday Night Football. I was looking at the Top 20 shows from Neilson this season earlier today and the only shows NBC has on there are Sunday Night Football and their pre-game show. CBS has 13! You’re totally right about them skewing old and securing the audiences who actually watch shows on the TV instead of the interwebs.
NBC’s big show advertising year happened after The Tonight Show fiasco. Leno wasn’t on at 10 anymore so now NBC had to fill another 5 hours with new scripted shows (on top of all the other time slots from cancelled shows), so they took to the streets (and mostly Entertainment Weekly) to get the word out. It all felt a little too desperate, but it probably had to be.
I definitely agree with you that NBC takes the most risks out of any of the networks. In all honesty, it’s probably because they’re the low man on the totem pole. Where CBS has a failure of a show if they don’t hit 10 million viewers, NBC can have a good show with only 4 million. I would say I generally watch the most shows on NBC, but I always make a point to never fall in love too quickly with them because I’ve lost a lot of good NBC shows after one season. But somehow Whitney was picked up for a full season (Here’s a great article about the public outcry against the show being on air).
Should NBC accept the role as a smaller network but keep it’s (somewhat) fresh ideas? Or should it keep conforming to a CBS-type lineup and lose its small but loyal fanbase?
Phil: Well, at least they’re giving Whitney a chance. There are some people out there with questionable tastes that like the show, so hey. At least those people are happy. I think NBC just has to wait it out and someday hope for another Seinfeld. If Modern Family is any indication, comedies with broad appeal and decent writing can do well critically and financially. NBC needs a breakout series, but it’s not going to come from the usual suspects likes JJ Abrams or Greg Daniels.
Like most breakout shows that have the happenstance to become hits, they deliver something that audiences never knew they wanted. Be it a show about nothing or a show about people lost on an island. Originality can still work, but in network television originality needs to be coupled with broad appeal, something that Community does not have. It was a show that pigeonholed itself into geek culture, while as awesome as that may be is something that doesn’t work on network (but does on cable).
So what future do you think Community has? Any suggestions on how NBC could turn it into a hit?
Bryan: NBC has proven it can have hits post-Seinfeld, but TV may have changed too much overall for them to ever have another Seinfeld. Cable and the internet are huge factors in changing viewership, and Seinfeld worked because it was a perfect fusion of audiences that everyone could relate to. Now if they want more of what Seinfeld did right they can watch Curb or It’s Always Sunny – two cable shows.
And that brings us back to what Community is – a cable show that got stuck on network TV. It happen to Friday Night Lights and it will probably happen again. Community could be the same show on FX with even a slightly less viewership and be a hit. The show constantly toes the line between a ‘normal’ comedy and a parody, and there are a lot of people who can’t get on board with that. To me, that’s what makes the show so great.
The truth is, they shouldn’t drastically change the show to make it a ‘hit.’ If they did that, they’d be losing their core fans and concept. In many ways Community is the anti-show. The other thing is, they shouldn’t try to last 10 seasons. The way Community is built, it’s naturally perfect for four seasons. If NBC picks them up for a fourth, they should make it their last. The study group could graduate and live their lives, and NBC can sell the show for syndication and be happy. Sure, the fans could still want a little more, but the transition out of high school/college is always risky in TV, and there’s something to be said about a show that ends when it’s finished telling its set story.