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How 'Must See TV' Devolved Into 'Must Flee TV' on NBC Thursday Nights LA Times

NBC's once-proud Thursday lineup has crumbled, with ratings for the evening plummeting after a series of missteps such as scheduling "Rock Center with Brian Williams" in the marquee 10 p.m. time slot, reports Meg James in the Los Angeles Times.

"Rock Center," which took over the slot historically held by flagship NBC dramas such as "ER," drew only 4 million viewers an episode. But even though NBC execs had reason to think things could only get better if they pulled the newsmag, they got worse: The medical drama series "Do No Harm," which replaced “Rock Center” in the slot, delivered even lower numbers and was canceled after two episodes, the story says.

"NBC now attracts 5.2 million viewers Thursday, a fraction of its audience a decade ago, according to Nielsen," the story notes. "From the late 1990s to about 2003, NBC generated as much as $800 million in annual profit from its 'Must See TV' lineup, which boasted such defining shows as 'Friends,' 'Seinfeld' and 'Will & Grace.' 'Friends' drew more than 17 million viewers an episode in its last two seasons."

The night generated almost 60% of NBC's prime-time revenue during its heyday, the piece adds. Now it is estimated that NBC's entire prime-time schedule is losing more than $150 million a year, the story says.

When NBC put together its fall schedule a year ago, it decided not to focus on Thursday, because of concerns that new shows wouldn't get sampled given the aging comedies "30 Rock" and "The Office," which weren't attracting new viewers, the story says. Instead, it focused on building the network's first half of the week.

That helped bring about "Revolution" and "Chicago Fire," but NBC's schedule suffered when "Revolution" went on hiatus, the story notes.

The network has ordered 10 drama pilots and 17 comedy pilots, more than any broadcast competitor, as it seeks to rebuild in the fall.

"Thursday needs a new anchor," Jeff Bader, NBC Entertainment's president of program planning, strategy and research, told the publication. "There is going to be much more of an emphasis on Thursday night for the upcoming season than there was last year."

The network hasn't yet decided whether to renew two comedies with small but loyal followings, "Parks and Recreation" and "Community," the story adds.