2010’s over — but for the broadcast networks, December marks only the halfway point of a season-long campaign to capture viewers. Before the ratings race starts up again next week, Vulture is taking a look at where each of the Big Four broadcasters stands at mid-season. Today: NBC.
The Numbers: The good news for the network: It’s no longer in last place! Among viewers under 50, it’s actually tied with Fox for second; overall, its average 8.2 million weekly viewers is about a half-million ahead of fourth-place Fox. And compared to last season, NBC is up about 3 percent. Happy days? Not quite: Much of the year-to-year gain can be chalked up to the impressive performance of the NFL on Sunday and the fact that Jay Leno is no longer stinking up the joint at 10 p.m. (though the shows the network is now airing at 10 p.m. aren’t doing much better). Still, like the national economy, NBC seems to have found its bottom.
What’s Working: As mentioned, football is massive for NBC: Sunday’s showcase is up 10 percent versus last year and ranks as the No. 1 program in prime time. The network should be thanking the fans and bloggers who shamed the network into keeping Chuck alive: While no ratings giant, it’s now NBC’s Monday anchor. Parenthood is splitting the quality-TV vote with CBS’s The Good Wife on Tuesdays, but it’s also the freshest, hippest 10 p.m. show on NBC these days. And while the glory days of Must-See TV Thursday are but a distant memory, we agree with Peacock scheduling chief Mitch Metcalf, who says keeping the lineup intact “was absolutely the right thing to do. Facing big competition from CBS [and Big Bang Theory], we might have been tempted to back off. But I’m glad we stuck with our lineup.”
What’s Not: Luring big names didn’t produce a big hit: J.J. Abrams’s Undercovers faded fast, while if you blinked, you missed Jimmy Smits in Outlaw. Jerry Bruckheimer’s Chase was also an underperformer, though it’ll be back for more episodes next month. As for The Event, it seems destined to be remembered only as a punch line for journalists making jokes riffing on the unfortunate marketing hook, “What is The Event?” NBC also messed around with the format of The Biggest Loser and paid the price in weaker ratings. And while Outsourced is actually doing an okay job holding on to its Office lead-in, the show just seems out of place on a night filled with awesomeness such as Community and 30 Rock.
The biggest fumble for NBC this fall, however, was the return of the civilian version of The Apprentice. Metcalf insists the show was good, but says premiering it the week before the season began was a mistake. “We didn’t make it the [marketing] priority it needed to be,” he says. “We got the show off on the wrong foot.”
2011 Resolution: “Two words: six comedies,” Metcalf says. NBC is expanding comedy Thursday into the 10 p.m. hour, a virtually unheard of encroachment into a time slot rarely devoted to half-hour comedies. But as shows such as South Park and Archer have proven, viewers will stay up late for sitcoms, and Metcalf thinks the Peacock’s brand is strong enough to support the supersizing to six half-hour shows. “Community, The Office, and 30 Rock are going to provide the base to take the other shows to hopefully another level,” he says. While we’re not so sure about new relationship comedy Perfect Couples, the good news is that Park and Recreation is returning to Thursdays — and it’s getting a much-deserved promotion to the 9:30 p.m. time slot behind The Office.