A few weeks ago, NBC pulled the plug on The Carmichael Show, a well-liked show that got solid-if-unspectacular ratings from time to time but never quite found an audience. In theory, it would seem pretty logical for NBC to pull the plug on a show that never brought a ton of fans into the fold. It had been three seasons, so it was natural for the network to move on, right? In most cases, the answer would be an obvious “yes,” but with The Carmichael Show, there’s an important question to ask: did NBC ever really give this show a fair chance in the first place?
Consider the extremely erratic scheduling of the show. The initial six-episode “season” took place over a three-week stretch in which NBC burned off episodes two at a time. NBC also aired these episodes in late August and early September – a bit of an awkward time when summer replacement shows are usually over, but the regular fall schedule hasn’t begun yet either. In spite of that, the show still performed reasonably well during that stretch, putting between 3.80 and 4.83 million viewers for each episode.
While that six-episode run had a decent amount of viewers, the show’s second season, which began in March 2016, was where the show really started to enter the public consciousness. The episode “Fallen Heroes,” which focused on the morality of supporting Bill Cosby (and other disgraced performers) in spite of his recently-brought-to-light crimes against women, had 6.49 million viewers, the highest rated episode of the show ever. Later, the episode “Ex-Con,” about a friend-turned-convict attempting to turn their life around, earned 5.40 share. Numbers like these didn’t happen every week, but it was clear that people were at least becoming aware of The Carmichael Show. In addition, the show also earned a great deal of praise from critics. The A.V. Club observed that it had the potential to be “an incendiary comedic voice,” while Newsday praised it as “one crazy-paced show, and one smartly crafted comedy.” Finally, going into season 3, Vulture noted that it was “one of the most honest, least talked about shows on TV.” The chance was there to springboard it into further popularity.
That’s why what happened next was so frustrating. Rather than begin season 3 in the fall, or even during midseason, it was brought back as a summer replacement series, with a full year taking place between new episodes airing. This decision didn’t exactly help the show’s momentum. Equally frustrating was the network’s decision to pull the episode “Shoot-Up-Able,” in which main character Jerrod survives a mass shooting, because it aired the same day as the congressional softball game shooting where Republican congressman Steve Scalise was wounded. When the episode was aired two weeks later, it was clear that there was no need for this. There was nothing violent in the episode, which focused instead on Jerrod trying to avoid confronting his grief while his family attempts to support him. It was a thoughtful, reflective episode from a show that’s had a knack for adroit social commentary since it debuted. Carmichael expressed his frustration at the network’s decision, telling Chelsea Handler that it was a “criminal” move that did “a disservice to the viewer.”
The day after “Shoot-Up-Able” aired, the show’s cancellation was announced, ending the run of a show that never seemed to have the full support of the network that carried it. The Carmichael Show was constantly moved around and rarely promoted enough. NBC missed the chance to capitalize on the success of “Fallen Heroes” when the show was getting the most attention. Additionally, the success of Get Out earlier this year increased the star power of Lil Rel Howery, who plays Jerrod’s brother Bobby on The Carmichael Show. Much like his character in Get Out, Howery provided essential comic relief, and having a member of the cast suddenly become a much bigger name could have done a lot for the show’s visibility. But NBC never took advantage there either, and you wonder how many of the millions who saw Get Out even knew he was on The Carmichael Show. There was chance after chance for NBC to push this show into the mainstream, but they declined every opportunity. Now, a great show that had a lot more left to say has been brought down by a network that never seemed to care about it anyway.