NBC Shrinks ‘Super-Sizing’

May 28, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Next fall, NBC will do its best to keep its half-hour comedies to a half-hour.
With Thursday night comedies struggling against heavy-hitting dramas, the network hopes to dump its decade-old “super-sized” promotions, where sitcoms are stretched to about 40 minutes.
“It was a good idea when we started it. It was very novel,” said Vince Manze, NBC’s president of program planning, scheduling and strategy. “But it’s just not a good idea to have shows starting at 9:23 p.m. I don’t think anyone here thinks, at this point, super-sizing often is good for the shows. We’re going to do our best to not have to do it next year.”
It’s a return to basics for a network whose Thursday comedy block routinely comes in third in the ratings, and sometimes places fourth. When super-sized shows aren’t audience favorites, the practice can feel more like erratic scheduling than a special event. More problematic still, digital video recorders don’t always record super-sized episodes properly.
“We’re not only fooling people, we’re fooling TiVos by being so far off on the times,” Mr. Manze said.
The practice was started when NBC ruled Thursday nights with expensive veteran first-string sitcoms such as “Friends” and “Frasier.”
NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker, then NBC’s president of entertainment, conceived of stretching keystone sitcom episodes with unused footage, thus producing another lucrative advertising break without adding significant cost. Using more of the good material also let NBC rely less on weaker shows in the block.
Not only did the practice make sense to advertisers, “super-sizing” discouraged viewers from changing channels between programs and became a popular promotion in the sweeps ratings-measurement period.
“If you try shows and they are not working, why not just extend the shows that are working?” Mr. Manze reasoned. “Since we couldn’t afford two full episodes, this was a compromise that also gave us a great marketing hook.”
Over the years, NBC has continued to pull out the “super-sized” stunt. The most famous instance took place in 2001, when “Friends” was stretched to combat the second season of “Survivor” on Thursday nights.
But in this difficult year, NBC frequently super-sized its highest-rated comedies, “The Office” and “My Name Is Earl,” sometimes to fill scheduling holes. Even low-performing “30 Rock” had a stretched episode.
Which isn’t to say NBC won’t ever stretch its sitcoms. “The Office” will air five hourlong episodes next season. With ABC’s “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives” working as hourlong dramatic comedies, NBC hopes “The Office” might prove capable of permanently doubling in length … as long as it starts and ends on the hour.

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