NBC Grooms ‘Must See TV’ Heir

Feb 26, 2007  •  Post A Comment

NBC is rolling out a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to re-brand its Thursday night lineup as “Comedy Night Done Right.”

The promotion is the network’s first nightly branding effort since the famous 1990s Thursday tagline “Must See TV,” which may be the best-known and longest-running broadcast slogan in television history. The new slogan comes at a time when the broadcast networks have largely abandoned national campaign mottos, which once were grandly unveiled every fall season.

“We still have campaigns for individual shows, like ‘Save the Cheerleader, Save the World’ for ‘Heroes,’ but this is the first one we’ve done for a whole night since ‘Must See,'” said Vince Manze, president and creative director of The NBC Agency, the network’s in-house marketing company. “It has all the great ingredients: It says there’s a night of comedy and, of course, it rhymes.”

NBC hopes the slogan will help drive viewers to its Thursday comedy block, which was reconstructed in November after several years of cycling reality shows into the 9 p.m. hour. Though NBC is currently in fourth place for the season, the network has been on an upswing this year and executives see the current Thursday lineup as a chance to reclaim some of the “Must See”-era glory. For two decades, the two-hour comedy block on Thursdays (the most lucrative night for advertising) was a staple on NBC’s schedule. When “Seinfeld” went off the air in 1998, the 5-year-old “Must See TV” slogan was largely retired, although Mr. Manze said NBC still occasionally uses the moniker to help protect its trademark.

When NBC entered a ratings recession in 2004, the network broke up its Thursday-night comedies, programming reality fare such as “The Apprentice” at 9 p.m. NBC attempted to revive its comedy block in January 2006, then retreated when ABC’s powerhouse “Grey’s Anatomy” moved to Thursdays in the fall.

After freshman NBC series “30 Rock” emerged as a critical favorite earlier this season, the network decided to rebuild the block by moving “Deal or No Deal” out of Thursday’s 9 p.m. slot to make room for “Scrubs” and “Rock,” along with Thursday mainstays “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office.”

Since the new lineup debuted Nov. 30, all four shows have hit season highs. Season to date, NBC is tied for second place with ABC in the 8 p.m. hour, and is in third place for the 9 p.m. hour going up against “Grey’s” and CBS’s “CSI.” Although “30 Rock” continues to lag behind the other three shows, critics maintain that the program is gaining creative steam.

So NBC decided to create a Thursday night slogan to tell viewers the network once again has a comedy block, but it was wary of drawing comparisons to the top-rated “Friends”/”Seinfeld” era.

“We wanted a new identity for the night, and we didn’t want to compare the current shows to what came before,” Mr. Manze said.

Before deciding on “Comedy Night Done Right,” the NBC Agency rejected slogans including “Thursday Night: The Joke’s on Us,” “Comedy Night With a Guy Named Dwight” and “Comedy Is a Funny Thing,” he said.

Tim Brooks, executive VP of research at Lifetime, said the verdict is mixed on whether nightly slogans can be effective. In NBC’s case, delivering on the new slogan’s promise could be a challenge.

“If you can brand a night and deliver on it, you might co-opt some of that strict branding that cable does so well,” he said. “But if NBC adopts a slogan like this, they have to stay with comedies on Thursday night, and that can be tough if they decide to put in an ‘Apprentice.'”

Mr. Manze agreed that consistency is key for the new slogan to be effective.

“Whether a slogan is good, bad or irrelevant, the big thing is sticking with it,” he said. “We’re in this for the long haul.”