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.