What Went Wrong: NBC Comedy

What Went Right/Wrong is a series looking at successes and failures, finding out why they soared or sank, and what the future holds.

NBC: one of the most recognizable and beloved television networks of all time. For almost 90 years, the channel has been around creating some of the most well-known and beloved series of all time. Now they've had many wonderful, groundbreaking dramas ranging from Bonanza to The Virginian, from Dragnet to Law & Order, and from St. Elsewhere to ER, but what some remember most fondly are their comedy classics, including but not limited to: Get Smart, Diff'rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, Family Ties, Cheers, The Cosby Show, Fresh Prince, Mad About You, Seinfeld, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Friends, Will & Grace, Scrubs, 30 Rock, The Office, Parks and Recreation, and so many others. And now, looking at the 2010s, we have...um...ah...hmm...yeah, this decade has not been kind to the Peacock's laughter. Looking at the past decade, only one single comedy on NBC has gotten a third season, 2014's Undateable. So how did this exactly happen? What caused so much of a depression from the former comedy kings?

Well, we first have to look at the beginning. The dawn of the new millenium started pretty rocky for NBC to begin with. They lost the MLB and NBA, CBS was having great Thursday success with Survivor and CSI, and many of their popular programs, like Friends and Frasier, were ending, with only moderate successes and a few hits scrambled together. But one of those successes was the quirky medical comedy Scrubs. The show was praised in its beginning seasons, so many other niche singlecam shows followed suit, like My Name is Earl, 30 Rock, and The Office. While the former three had done decently on a struggling network, the only real standout was The Office, which after a mediocre Season 1 soon had a huge spike in popularity onwards largely due to the success of 2005's The 40-Year Old Virgin. But it still didn't hit the Cheers or Seinfeld levels, and soon hit declines after Steve Carell's departure. Regardless, NBC prompted to continue creating workplace sitcoms: shows that had a bunch of coworkers forced to be together and take part in hi-jinx and hilarity. The aforementioned 30 Rock and Office soon earned companions of Parks and Recreation and Community, but those two shows never hit the heights of the competition or even The Office. But it wasn't so bad, since while these four shows had a small audience, it was one that was upscale and skewed very young.

But since then, there was bomb after bomb after bomb. Perfect Couples, The Paul Reiser Show, Free Agents, Are You There, Chelsea, Bent, Best Friends Forever, Go On, The New Normal, Animal Practice, Guys with Kids, 1600 Penn, Growing Up Fisher, Welcome to the Family, Sean Saves the World, The Michael J. Fox Show, Marry Me, One Big Happy, Bad Judge, and A to Z all were dead after one season. The only shows that have lasted until Season 2 were Whitney, Up All Night, and About A Boy, and the only show to have gotten a Season 3 was former burn-off Undateable. So yeah, things have been really dire. Even in ABC's comedy drought, they still had shows in syndication like According to Jim and Scrubs. Now with that history lesson out of the way, there have been plenty of theories about why these shows have tanked: is it bad writing? Poor promotion? A peacock disease? Well, here's how I see things:

Goin' Broad
While Office and 30 Rock were arguably doing okay, it still wasn't enough for this to last forever. So the heads of NBC were far more interested in making something more..."broad", or something that would be more appealing to the public. But there's just one tiny problem: your current comedy audience would have no interest. If you want to make something more generally appealing, that's nice. But doing so alienates the people watching. Parks and Rec's audience doesn't care about Marry Me; Community's audience doesn't care about About A Boy; One Big Happy's audience doesn't care about Scrubs. By ignoring loyal followers in search of new ones, you hurt yourself in the process, especially when being broad doesn't make your show an inherent success. In fact, it could make the show a creative bomb. Which brings us to...

The Reviews Are In!
Let me say this first: I do not believe reviews impact a show. I hate the argument people have that "this show bombed because it sucked" or "this show soared because it was good". Bad shows have succeeded, and good shows have bombed. But maybe a few opinions could give some reasoning for the debacle, and that is proven by the reception. The average score on Metacritic for every show post-Community has been 52, and the mode has been 68. It averages out to be mixed or mediocre, which is the finest definition I can give. I have seen almost all of these shows. While there were some better than others, the rest had fit into this void of nothingness. These shows weren't good nor awful, but I feel no impact over what had happened. I don't want to come back to these shows to laugh nor to hate-watch. Instead, I forget what the show was even about. Partly because...

Haven't I Already Seen this Show?
For a good chunk of NBC's comedies, they all seem to attempt to copy the competition. Whitney, One Big Happy, and Sean Saves the World? Well, people seem to like those wacky CBS sitcoms full of raunch, let's try and make shows like that! MJF, Welcome to the Family, and About A Boy? Well, ABC's domcoms sure are a hoot to the average American, so let's try and make shows like that! Marry Me, A to Z, and Perfect Couples? Well, everyone loves a good romance, and Fox has New Girl and The Mindy Project, so let's make shows like that, even though they aren't hits! There's nothing wrong with taking inspiration from something, but directly copying the competition rarely works. It more or less feels like a council of businessmen sat in a room together and decided to look at whatever was "popular" and ride its coattails.  And that's not even including these copiers are all completely different from another, which leads us into...

Hey Everyone, Watch Our Crap!
In this identity crisis, NBC has decided to try everything and see what's popular. Romcoms a la How I Met Your Mother or New Girl, domcoms like Modern Family and Blackish, and broadcoms similar to 2 Broke Girls or The Odd Couple. I brought up earlier how going broad alienated the former NBC audience, and this is the same issue here. The first issue is the variety on NBC. It's the spice of life, but trying to appeal to everyone ends up appealing to no one. Why watch The Michael J. Fox Show when I'm interested in Marry Me? Why watch A to Z when I like About A Boy? Why watch Whitney when I prefer Welcome to the Family? That's also excluding the competition. Why watch some dopey multicam, when CBS offers six of them? Why watch some saccharine family sitcom when ABC can give me my fix? Why watch a couple falling in love, when Fox offers that? You get the idea. This pathetic attempt to choose random and see what sticks is bad, as TV channels are practically required to fall into one niche. With the multitude of cable channels and streaming services, it's impossible to give someone everything. There needs to be a specific niche to appeal to a specific hungry crowd. Ironically, NBC's drama department seems to have figured it out. The success of the Chicago series, The Blacklist, and the upcoming Blindspot and The Player show a great niche of younger-skewing, popcorn procedurals which focus on high-octane action and drama compared to that of CBS-although the success of Scorpion and the pickups of Limitless, Supergirl, and Rush Hour point to CBS following suit, but I'm going off-topic right now-and this niche has worked well for them. For comedy, they just keep trying to throw shit at the wall, and hope it doesn't fall off.

So, the comedy scene has been rough, awful even. But will it get better...well, no duh! There will be a day, maybe tomorrow, maybe in a few years that NBC will have great comedy success again. So for this season, NBC has rolled up its sleeve, and has pretty much given up. Hell, Deadline has stated that there are no comedy frontrunners in the race, and looking at the schedule, you can see why. The only new fall comedy is People Are Talking, which does not look very strong. The early buzz has been extremely negative, and seems to fit into the worst kind of NBC comedy: the sitcom that's 10 years too late. In 95, this show would have been considered edgy and groundbreaking, but not today. The midseason lineup consists of Hot & Bothered, Superstore, Coach, and Crowded. Hot & Bothered comes from the lovely and talented Eva Longoria, and is going back to the workplace roots. Superstore is from writers of The Office and is again an attempt to return to the workplace roots. Both shows seem like they could be great fun, but the former, which is considered higher-profile, has the main topic of a telenovela, which is nowhere near popular in the States, and the latter wasn't considered that much of a frontrunner. That's not even including how no one knows where these two shows will go, though my money is on Wednesdays at 8, but that's another story. Coach meanwhile is a sequel to a 90s sitcom that some people remember, but never really watched. It's more or less in the Just Shoot Me! tier of 90s shows people have forgotten about until it's mentioned by a friend at a party. Crowded meanwhile has had its pilot leaked, and was also very poorly-received. Executive produced by Sean Hayes and created by Suzanne Martin, this is another one of those "would be edgy back then" shows, but probably back in the early 90s rather than 1997. So in short, the only one that seems to have great potential is Hot & Bothered, and maybe Superstore and Coach. Hard to give a lot of confidence, but there's nowhere to go but up, right?

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