Are NBC’s Woes the Peacock in the Coal Mine? Perhaps It’s a Signal That Broadcast TV, as We’ve Known It for the Past 60 Years, Is Going the Way of Brick-and-Mortar Record Stores and Bookstores

Feb 8, 2013  •  Post A Comment

Our headline captures the thesis of an intriguing essay by our good friend — and former top TVWeek editor — Joe Adalian. Adalian, who now writes about TV for the New York Magazine blog Vulture, writes, “It’s impossible to exaggerate just how bad a 2013 NBC is having. Over the last four weeks, the network has debuted three new series (‘1600 Penn,’ ‘Deception,’ ‘Do No Harm’) and watched as viewers rejected each of them. New Tuesday comedies ‘Go On’ and ‘The New Normal,’ which seemed to be finding an audience in the fall, have seen their demo ratings cut nearly in half since losing their lead-in of ‘The Voice.’

"And then there’s ‘Smash,’ which NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt last summer called ‘an unqualified success’ and top lieutenant Jen Salke labeled ‘highly anticipated by its fans’: It returned this week down nearly 40 percent from its May 2012 finale, and more than 70 percent versus its premiere a year ago. In less than 30 days, whatever slow momentum NBC seemed to be building since Greenblatt’s January 2011 arrival has almost completely vanished. Once again, NBC seems destined to finish the season an also-ran, just as it has every year since ‘Friends’ went away in 2004. It’s time to ask the question: Is it possible to save NBC, or has it passed the point of no return?”

Adalian goes on to say that every so often this doom and gloom scenario becomes a favorite of those who write about TV. He also talks about the damage inflicted on NBC by past regimes, and how Greenblatt seems, unfortunately, to be following in this tradition.

Adalian then says, “None of this makes Greenblatt a particularly ‘bad’ head of NBC. [Leslie] Moonves and his team programmed dog after dog during their early years running the Eye; in 1997 they even wasted boatloads of money on an ill-fated scheme to pick up some of ABC’s TGIF leftovers in a bid to become a family programming powerhouse. And former ABC bosses Lloyd Braun and Susan Lyne struck out time and again at ABC, causing Disney chief Bob Iger to fire them both; a few months after they got the boot, three programs they had developed became out-of-the-box hits (yup: ‘Lost,’ ‘Desperate Housewives,’ and ‘Grey’s’).

"It’s absolutely possible that new successes are just a few months away for NBC, perhaps in the form of the network’s new Michael J. Fox comedy or its reboot of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ But the big-picture damage may be irreparable: Even if these shows work, the odds of them being game-changers are slim in today’s TV environment. If they manage to become popular hits, NBC is so deep in the hole that it might not be enough to make a difference. The most it can hope for is that ABC and Fox sink low enough to not make the Peacock seem so dismal. If not for ‘Idol,’ Fox would likely be headed for fourth this season, even with ‘The Following,’ which, though considered a hit, is pulling numbers that would have gotten it put on cancellation watch as recently as five years ago. And while ABC has done a little bit better generating mild successes (‘Once Upon a Time’), it’s not exactly on fire, and its biggest hits are losing viewers quickly. (CBS is almost certain to be the Last Network Standing whenever the broadcast model finally keels over.)"

Adalian then suggests that one way to fix NBC might be for it to cut down the number of hours it programs prime time, a la Fox.

His ultimate conclusion: “Isn’t it worth considering the possibility that NBC’s woes are about something larger than just executive incompetence or the wrong programming mix? Or that massive changes need to be made? Networks can pretend all they want that the broadcast model isn’t broken, but denial didn’t forestall the end of big record-store chains, and it didn’t save Borders Books or Hostess. Five or ten years from now, there’s a good chance we’ll recognize NBC as the Peacock in the coal mine, the first one to fall as the broadcast era came to a close — or, at least, morphed into something far different than what we’ve known for the past 60 years.”

We urge you to click on the link above and read all of Adalian’s provocative essay.


  1. Well, duh, it’s no secret that hardly anyone gets their TV over an antenna, which is the whole “raison d’etre” (look it up) for broadcasting. 91% of homes in the U.S. get broadcast networks from cable or satellite or the phone company. Broadcasting, i.e., over the air, is *SO* 20th Century!

  2. Hey Doug, I get my TV over the air after years of having cable, and I’ve got an extra $125 a month to play with, ($4500 over the last 3 years) thank you very much. I guess peeing away your money is the hot new 21st century thing?
    You would think that I’d miss the programming on cable that’s not available on the air, but I don’t. If there is something that I have to see, I have a computer hooked to the TV and stream it.

  3. If you shoot yourself in the foot, guess who is going to bleed?!
    Remember that nearly ALL of the 500 channels available are owned by 5 companies. They have diluted there own product in the name of “ad revenue” to the point where there are too many selections and most are just repeats of the either crap or good product that has been run so much that it is no longer funny or suspenseful. A company having a few channels is with extremely different programming is the only way to stop the bleeding but then that would require them to charge less for cable and satellite companies to carry them. Cable and satellite companies also assist by fighting ala carte with millions in “lobbying fees” every year.
    If you could buy ala carte you would see 2 things happen for the better. One, a whole sh*t load of channels would disappear and two, because more bandwidth would be available, you would actually be able to see high definition in real 1920X1080 resolution as you can on Blu-Ray discs. Blu-Ray is currently, and sadly, the ONLY way to see true high definition. A by-product of this would probably be the return of real creativity to the media that now has to be searched for and discovered in “the cloud” or buried in some obscure channel that doesn’t get the promotion it deserves from the corporate suits.
    More is not better, it’s just more. Then more turns into too much which makes us all lose our appetite.
    Getting these guys to get smaller is like trying to break up the banks. Too much money has funneled to too few people that have accumulated too much power in the last 30 years.

  4. Doug, let me second Scott comments.
    I would be very interested in where you got your information… especially since it has been widely reported for many years in tech, consumer, and media reporting that TV viewing “cord-cutting” has been steadily increasing.
    Even when I had satellite service about 5 years ago, I used an antenna for watching local TV channels (40+ at that time) because 1) satellite only provided a handful of local stations, and 2) better picture quality as satellite did not provide local HD.
    Since then I have seen local HD programing provided by satellite and it still does not match the image quality of broadcast TV signals.

  5. We are entering a new business model for broadcast and cable television. This next decade will be like the 50’s were for radio. Then audiences moved from radio to TV. Early the shows were moved from radio to TV – westerns, soap operas, sitcoms, etc. And often starred major radio stars, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Benny, Perry Como. The next 10-15 years we will see a similar phenomenon with TV to the internet. As more devices connect to the Television box, people will turn to the internet – HULU, Netflix and many more outlets. Many broadcast networks already realize and have websites, but they are moving slowly to provide the programming that people want there. Broadcast and cable will need to adjust their business models to manage this phenomenon. Like radio, broadcast and cable will not go away, but they will not always be the center of home entertainment anymore. They will need to adjust their business models to adapt to this fact. We are already seeing it with the dramatic drop in ratings this year. That will continue and will result in a different approach by advertisers that will lower the revenue for networks directly from prime time. But the same way CBS and NBC Radio had to adjust to the new wave of television, the networks must adjust to the Internet.

  6. NBC still needs to wake up and com up with some thing NEW and not all remakes they are NUTS!!

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