What’s the Real Story Behind NBC’s Current Comedy Strategy?

Nov 15, 2012  •  Post A Comment

NBC’s ratings resurgence this season has taken place in spite of — and not because of — one of its traditional strengths: comedy. The freshman sitcom “Go On” is off to an OK start, but in general the network that once branded its Thursday night comedy block “Must See TV” is struggling to re-establish a foothold in half-hour comedies.

TV Guide reports that NBC execs are focused on the problem. NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke talked about it in an interview with the publication that touches on why she scrapped a spinoff of “The Office,” big changes that are in store for “Up All Night” and why the drama series “Revolution” is headed for a long hiatus.

Said Salke: "We just want a different brand. We don’t want a narrow brand in the sense of some of those shows that we inherited here, which we’re huge fans of, [but] have a very narrow audience."

“Salke is referring to critically acclaimed comedies like ‘Parks and Recreation’ and ‘Community’ (which returns Feb. 7), as well as the retiring ‘30 Rock’ and ‘The Office,’” the piece reports. “On Oct. 25, the last time NBC’s entire Thursday four-comedy block wasn’t pre-empted, none of the sitcoms attracted more than 4 million viewers.”

The network finds itself at a crossroads, the story says, with “The Office” and “30 Rock” on the way out and the futures of “Community” and “Parks and Rec” far from certain. “The decisions NBC makes now, and pilots the network orders this winter, will determine their path,” the report notes. “That’s one reason they ultimately passed on ‘The Farm,’ the proposed ‘Office’ spinoff featuring Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) running his beet farm. (The scrapped series’ pilot will still air as an episode of ‘The Office’ later this season.)”

Said Salke: "We love Rainn. But ‘The Farm’ felt like a step towards an even narrower version of what those Thursday night comedies have been for us. A very specific audience would be checking that show out, and that feels too narrow for what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to do big, breakout ideas that are incredibly unique, that invite more than just a few people into the tent."

The network hasn’t given up on “Up All Night,” which continues to undergo creative changes. “The network still believes enough in series stars Will Arnett, Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph (and, perhaps more importantly, executive producer Lorne Michaels) to give it one last-ditch overhaul,” the piece reports.

"You can never underestimate a cast like that," Salke said. "They don’t come easy."

The story notes: “At the suggestion of Michaels, the single-camera comedy will return later this spring completely made over as a multi-camera sitcom, including being taped in front of a studio audience. The characters will remain the same, but almost everything else will be different. Salke says the revamp will save more than $500,000 in production costs per episode.” Salke adds: "But that’s not the motivating factor. We think it will capture the things that we love about [the cast] and address some of the things that are missing to make the show feel relevant."

On the drama side, NBC has one of the season’s few hits in “Revolution.” But the network is putting the show on hiatus for several months after the Nov. 26 midseason finale — leaving it on the shelf until March 25. “That will allow NBC to air originals, uninterrupted, and into the summer,” the piece reports. “Salke says it also means NBC can keep ‘Revolution’ protected behind ‘The Voice,’ which doesn’t return for its fourth cycle until that same night.”

Said Salke: "We’re aware of how rare the miracles of these hits can happen. We wanted to put it in the most protected time slot possible, and we believe people will wait for it. We want to make sure we give it every chance possible to be the hit that we think it can be."

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