In an effort to bounce back from years of low-rated sitcoms, NBC has announced that it will be taking a broader approach with its upcoming batch of comedies. The move will leave little room for shows that garner a ton of critical praise, but fail to find a large Nielsen audience, like Community and Parks and Recreation.
Essentially, what this means is NBC desperately wants a bigger slice of the ratings pie, something more akin to what ratings-leader CBS is able to do with its comedies like Two and a Half Men and, of course, The Big Bang Theory. The new NBC game plan now is to no longer approach comedies that the network executives have labeled "narrow" and "sophisticated" – which Community is likely the prime example of, and series such as 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and even The Office (not just in its heyday) were probably also guilty(?) of being.
In fact, NBC president Robert Greenblatt spoke rather candidly about the abovementioned series and his network's confounding inability to find a large enough audience to appease the corporate overlords. Greenblatt stated: “We just can’t get the audience for them. They tend to be a little bit more narrow and more sophisticated than you want for a broad audience.”
That appears to be NBC's new mission statement, and after years of constantly bringing up the rear in terms of ratings, it's easy to see why. NBC is in a state of flux, or as Greenblatt put it: “We’re in a transition. We’re trying to broaden the audience.”
So what does the network have up its sleeve that will alleviate the burden of all that unnecessary sophistication in its low-rated comedies, and bring about the return of a viewership NBC hasn't enjoyed since Friends was still on the air? Well, the first round of sitcoms they have ready for public consumption includes Animal Practice – the promos for which suggest it to be a comedy about a monkey doctor, but in reality it's just a veterinarian-based sitcom starring Justin Kirk (Weeds) and Tyler Labine (Reaper).
In addition, NBC is also premiering The New Normal – or Ryan Murphy's answer to Modern Family – the Matthew Perry-led Go On, and Guys with Kids, which is a raucous send-up of men's apparent collective inability to handle any time spent alone with their child. While no one is saying these programs aren't going to be any good (that monkey could turn out to be Dr. Zaius, after all), or that they won't yield the kind of ratings success NBC is looking for, it's clear they aren't going to take the same approach to comedy as say, Community does.
The problem appears to be that in NBC's quest to mimic the success of its rival CBS, it has done so in a perfunctory manner – or without understanding exactly what the network's demographic is. The term "broad" is just that, and it seems unlikely that NBC will be able to create a definitive identity off of "broad" comedy. Conversely, CBS is keenly aware the kind of individuals that regularly tune in to watch its programs, and that the network's demographic skews older. As such, it has a specific type of comedy that may not be everyone's favorite, but it works well within that range of viewers.
NBC's transition doesn't necessarily mean the death knell for Community or comedies like it, since Greenblatt himself said a fifth season is still a possibility – though the firing of series creator Dan Harmon and the move to Friday evening does put a certain ringing in one's ear. However, the move to "broader" comedies does suggest some rather myopic thinking on behalf of the network. They want their higher ratings, and they want them now. While programs like Animal Practice and Guys With Kids may meet the network's immediate goals, one wonders if more "sophisticated" comedies will better stand the test of time, especially as more and more viewers abandon the typical viewing methods that determine these highly-prized ratings.
Screen Rant will keep you posted on the news surrounding NBC and its new line-up of comedies, as it is made available.