Cable-pocalypse: NBC

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We start our Cable-pocalypse ratings rants with NBC, a station that pulls down only 1 of the insane 26 television programs that I currently watch on a regular basis (Whitney).  I've flirted with NBC before, though.  In fact, it was the success of the first season of Heroes, that wonderfully conceived, horrifically executed semi-drama, that got me back into watching a lot of scripted TV.  NBC's track record is shaky at best with dramas, however.  Last Fall's Awake was a really intriguing concept that was axed mid-season and ended in the most cliched way possible, souring me simultaneously to the network and to the show's creators, because I couldn't figure out who had a bigger hand in the awful end.  Fellow Opportunity Assassin Jake was a huge fan of Chuck, and although I've never seen an episode I imagine that the show tapped into a niche group that is still wandering in the television ether, not fully content to change the channel to SyFy nor to USA.  And at the core, I think their poor grasp of demographic aim is what fails NBC the most.

An insane amount of NBC's time is dedicated to its comedic shows.  30 Rock, Animal Practice, Betty White's Off Their Rockers, Community, Go On, The Office, Parenthood, Parks and Recreation, Saturday Night Live, Up All Night, and Whitney are comedies that currently occupy programming slots for the network.  Add in this fall's Guys with Kids, and The New Normal and that means a full third of NBC programs are comedies.  When you step back and take stock of these thirteen shows you see that they only aim for a single niche within the comedy audience.  Perhaps best described as the quirky, off-beat comedies that could be arguably loosely based on the original The Office and will be fervently consumed by Arrested Development fans, too much of this block of programming is hit or miss.  Parenthood skates by as a "dramedy", and Go On and Guys With Kids appear to be more traditional sitcoms and that does not bode well for either on NBC.
Saturday Night Live is at a crossroads.  The show's apex in the early '90s will never be topped and it's foolish for us to imagine that possibility, but the heavy political direction of the show in recent years (remember all those politics-themed special half hours?) are edging the SNL crew dangerously close to Daily Show/Colbert Report territory.  And the minds that bring you SNL weekly are more pure comedians and less the expert satirists who work on The Daily Show.
I know, even as I watch the episodes, that Whitney is a mediocre show that fails more often than not, but I enjoy Chris D'Elia and Whitney Cummings both, and were they ever to transition this show to a network and time where they could be a little more free with their subject matter (and maybe get some better writers) it could survive.  Survival is unlikely, however, as the condition of the show has gone terminal.  A dreaded move to Fridays at 8 coupled with the even more dreaded mid-season premiere (Oct. 19) for a returning poor performer likely spells the end for this so-so 3.8% of my TV viewing schedule.

For far too many years, NBC has staked an unsafe portion of their dramas with the various Law & Order procedurals.  They've finally whittled it down to only one, but have done a poor job of replacing it.  Smash, as I've written earlier, is a phenomenally executed concept that provides the network with a chance to make an impact play on Monday nights now that House has pulled the plug.  In the same vein, the surprisingly well-received Grimm may draw viewers who are looking to find a stable replacement for another soon-ending FOX drama, Fringe.  The fall additions are once again luring me back in, as the blackout-aftermath Revolution is the latest J.J. Abrams project to hit TV, and Chicago Fire will get my eyes for at least two episodes simply because Dr. Chase from House is in it.
Depending upon how old you are, dear reader, you might consider Parenthood more on the drama side of 'dramedy' and, bingo, there's your problem.  Saving Hope's problem is that it sounds just like FOX's (detecting a theme yet?) Raising Hope, which is a comedy, not a drama, and way funnier.  Okay, actually the problem with Saving Hope is that I had no fucking idea what it was about until I clicked on it in NBC's show list.

I begin with the full disclaimer that I never watch either of these kind of shows because they're absolute garbage.  That said, it makes a lot of sense to have a few on hand to draw in the lemmings and buoy ratings.  (Or, if you're FOX, keep your schedule alive on the cheap while you cancel all the actual good scripted programming.)
Let's be honest, The Voice should pay royalties to Susan Boyle, because it's a show about how you don't have to "look good" to be a good singer.  HOLY SHIT I HAD NO IDEA.  Appropriately, one of the judges is midget Cee-Lo Green, while the other three people are attractive.  Anyway, this is not some performance-over-appearance TV show, because once the judges see you they're biased (probably).  If NBC really wanted to revolutionize the singing competition, they'd keep all the contestants behind screens for the duration of the show and give them fake names.  Do you know how much internet buzz that would create?  As for America's Got Talent, at least they let you show off doing something other than singing or dancing...although I've never watched an episode so I don't know if that actually happens.
Stars Earn Stripes was obviously conceived by someone looking to exploit patriotism and troop appreciation (and get Dean Cain back on TV), and whoever that was should be immediately turned into an IED.  Not to be outdone, NBC is somehow on a second season of a show called American Ninja Warrior, and when I clicked on this link I got really confused, and then sad, trying to figure out what it was, so you should probably only view it as punishment for a seriously original sin.  Speaking of original sins, Love in the Wild, anyone?
Fashion Star is either a spin-off of Project Runway or a secret social experiment to see if there's any time I would not sleep with Jessica Simpson (hint: yes, on this show).  I think the fact that the Celebrity Apprentice money goes to charity is cool, and when Adam Carolla was on I almost watched it.  I say almost because it was more exciting listening to him talk about it on his podcast than it would have been to actually watch the show.
The show I have the biggest issue with, however, is Biggest Loser.  Now, the premise is great.  As someone who struggles routinely to counter his fatass tendencies, I know that sometimes you just need a serious kick in the ass to change your ways, and man-boobing my television is an embarrassment on that level.  I once had a roommate who cried regularly during this show, and I couldn't understand why.  She said something about being happy for them or whatever (not really sure, I was probably mesmerized - not in the good way - by another topless weigh-in).  But my point has always been this: If I was morbidly obese, say 500 pounds, and I went on a show where they basically told me that they were going to shame me into losing weight, and that the result would be that I lived a longer, better life and they were footing the bill, it would be really fucking difficult not to succeed.  What I would like to see is Biggest Loser:10 Years Later and see how many people who lost over half their bodyweight have put 50 pounds back on.  I'm not saying the show isn't positive for some, maybe even most, of the contestants.  What I'm saying is the spectacle of self-congratulation that people take from watching this show is sickening.  It's like The Hunger Games, or The Running Man but in real life, shilled as captivating prime-time television.  Oh the humanity.

After the great Conan Debacle of 2011, Jay Leno is back hosting The Tonight Show.  I rarely tune to any talk show, but he and Letterman still land the biggest guests per capita so they usually get my eyes every once in a while.  Leno sadly might be the only place NBC is able to pull in the senior citizen demo, which, in fairness, is horribly underrepresented on all networks.  I haven't watched Carson Daly do anything since he was playing 43 seconds of each music video that a bunch of nubile teenagers "voted" on.  I also don't watch Jimmy Fallon, because I personally don't think him that funny.  He definitely has a fitting personality for talk shows, however, and hopefully people that really enjoy this genre tune in to him or Jimmy Kimmel (by far the best host on TV) instead of Conan, because....UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT...Conan O'Brien isn't funny.  Like at all.  Weird how that turned out to be the shrewdest move NBC has made in years.

To be honest, NBC's sports coverage is pretty good.  Sunday Night Football and its lead-in, Football Night in America, are both great shows if you take a bathroom break when Peter King is on and have the mute button handy depending on how blowhard Costas is being on a given day.  NBC would get huge points for not overexerting themselves and excelling at one show if they hadn't summarily tanked their coverage of the London Olympics.  Sadly, I don't see them growing their sports coverage much (it was pulling teeth just to get the Stanley Cup Finals onto network TV) and that means that my dear Michelle Beadle has gone on to a network that will hide her much more than they should.  Hope they paid you well, Beads.

I'm not even sure who hosts Today because I don't get up before noon, but they probably get paid too much to do it, and the show lost any hope of my viewership when I saw on the webiste that they were boasting a live performance by Train.  At least the flesh-eating virus girl got top billing and Days of Our Lives is still kicking.

I don't watch any news save Sportscenter, but Dateline rings a bell with me and Rock Center with Brian Williams seems to be what John Stossel wishes he could have been but cooler, so I'm down with that even though I'll never watch.

Overall, NBC appears to be the network of "good enough".  They have a few genre and demographic niches that they pull in with stunning regularity, but unlike the cable stations (primarily AMC, FX, and USA) they are loathe to experiment in any serious way.  It seems as though they are waiting for a weakness to be exposed with one of the other rival major networks and jump at it, but I don't see that happening any time soon.  NBC's most unique characteristic – and the one that may just pull it out of the cellar one day – is how often their scripted TV features elements of fantasy or supernatural literature writing (i.e. Grimm or Revolution).  But try as they might, stations like FOX (Fringe) and ABC (Once Upon A Time) seem to hit home runs effortlessly while NBC is endlessly striking out.  With the last season of comedy flagship The Office set to premiere (amidst steady ratings drops the past three years), it could be a long Fall/Winter for the peacock.

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