In a plot twist right out of 30 Rock, NBC’s biggest local affiliate groups have decided not to broadcast the network’s upcoming 30 Rock reunion special, meaning at least half the country won’t be able to see it when it debuts Thursday night. Vulture has learned that Gray Television, Hearst, Nexstar, Tegna, and Sinclair Broadcast Group — huge TV-station groups whose NBC affiliates reach about half the country’s TV homes — have told NBC that they are planning to preempt Thursday’s remotely filmed hour.
The apparent reason for the decision, per sources familiar with the matter: The station owners think the 30 Rock reunion, which was produced by the NBCUniversal ad-sales division as a replacement for the usual upfront presentation, is too much of a promotion for the company’s new Peacock streaming platform. Station owners are understandably worried about Peacock siphoning viewers from linear TV, particularly since the new platform will offer next-day reruns of NBC shows on its premium tier (and week-late access to reruns on its free level). Reps for station groups contacted by Vulture, including Gray and Sinclair, did not respond to requests for comment. An NBC rep confirmed the preemptions but declined further comment.
This last-second revolt doesn’t mean audiences won’t be able to see Liz Lemon and the gang back in action. NBC owns its own stations in the nation’s ten biggest TV markets, including New York and L.A., so viewers in about 40 percent of the country can still tune in as scheduled on Thursday at 8 p.m. In addition, NBC will post the full special to its NBC.com website, cable video on demand platforms, and, yes, Peacock on Friday morning. The special will also air on NBCU cable networks USA, SyFy, Bravo, Oxygen, E!, and CNBC that Friday. (Hulu users take note: The special will not stream there.) But Lemonheads living in Las Vegas or South Bend, Indiana (where Gray runs the NBC affiliate), will have to wait a few hours to see what’s up with the Girlie Show gang.
It’s not unprecedented for TV-station affiliates to preempt programming from the network; individual stations do it all the time for sports or news coverage, and every once in a while if a local station thinks the content of a program is too controversial for that city or town. Stations have also at times pulled very low-rated shows from prime time and replaced them with local or syndicated content due to financial considerations, i.e., they think they can make more money with nonnetwork programming. But a boycott of a prime-time special across multiple major station groups is not common at all, and is possibly a symptom of station groups’ unhappiness with NBCU’s Peacock plans.
Earlier this year, station owners pushed back at a decision to have Peacock stream episodes of The Tonight Show and Late Night a few hours before broadcast, though NBCU Television and Streaming chairman Mark Lazarus recently told Vulture that he had been working to address affiliate concerns of Peacock. “The affiliates, they definitely had a reaction to that,” Lazarus said late last month, referring to the late-night early kerfuffle. “We’ve subsequently had many, many meetings and conversations around what Peacock is going to be. They have economic interest in our current season programming and we respect that economic interest. So we’re working with them to make sure their contribution … is recognized. I feel very confident in that.”
As big as this 30 Rock preemption is, NBC won’t feel any direct financial sting from the affiliate decision. For one, the 30 Rock special won’t have any traditional commercials from advertisers: It’s basically an infomercial for all things NBCUniversal — which, again, is why local stations appear to have decided to drop it, even if it means denying die-hard 30 Rock stans immediate gratification over a reunion of characters from the show. The boycott does deny NBC a broad platform on which to promote its non-NBC networks and new streaming platform, which is surely a bit of a loss to the company. On the other hand, by making it tougher for their viewers to watch on TV, the local affiliate groups will, ironically, be encouraging audiences to engage with the very same platforms they’re upset about — including Peacock.