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NBC - The story of a downfall


10 years ago, NBC programs ranked among the most watched on television. In 2001/2002, the peacock had launched successful new series such as Law & Order : Criminal Intent, Crossing Jordan and Scrubs, not knowing that in the following 4 years, they would produce only 5 successful new shows while countless failed, prefiguring the crisis they're into since 2007, a crisis they don't seem to be able to get out of.

In 2002/2003, American Dreams was the only new show that worked, all the other were cancelled : sitcoms In-Laws (15 episodes), AUSA (12 episodes, 4 unaired) and Hidden Hills (18 episodes, 5 unaired), and dramas Kingpin (6 episodes) and Minister Sterling (10 episodes). Both Boomtown and Good Morning Miami were renewed for a second season scheduled for 2003/2004 but halfway through it, they were both cancelled, they ended in December 2003.

During the 2003/2004 season, Las Vegas was the only successful new series, the others were axed : dramas Miss Match (18 episodes, 7 unaired) and The Lyon's Den (13 episodes, 7 unaired), and sitcoms The Tracy Morgan Show (20 episodes), Whoopi (22 episodes), Coupling US (11 episodes, 7 unaired) and Happy Family (22 episodes). I think an era ended in May 2004 on NBC, comedy-wise : the end of both Friends and Frasier combined with these 4 failures left NBC with only Scrubs and Will & Grace as returning shows for their comedy lineup next season.

In 2004/2005, it was pretty much like in 2003/2004 since 6 new shows were cancelled, just like during the previous season (but in 2004/2005, 4 dramas + 2 sitcoms were cancelled whereas it was 2 dramas + 4 sitcoms in 2003/2004) : dramas such as Medical Investigation (20 episodes), Hawaii (7 episodes), LAX (13 episodes) and L&O : Trial by Jury (13 episodes) were quickly put down while animated sitcom Father of the Pride (15 episodes) and mid-season replacement Committed (13 episodes) were canned as well. So, was it another catastrophic season regarding new series ? Not really. NBC aired a mystical/sci-fi miniseries Revelations, which was quite successful during its 6-week run, and more importantly the peacock launched Medium in January 2005, and it became a popular show for many seasons. And NBC did renew two not-so-popular new sitcoms, Joey and The Office US. While one was eventually going to crash in the fall of 2005, the other spreaded its wings, showed its true potential in a full second season and in the end became the new cornerstone of the NBC comedy lineup, which needed guidance after the end of Frasier and Friends.

2005/2006 was another awful season on NBC. Only one new show managed to get a second season (and eventually a third and a fourth) and that's My Name is Earl. Otherwise, heads rolled, whether it's for sitcoms such as Teachers US (6 episodes) and Four Kings (13 episodes, 6 unaired) or for medical drama Inconceivable (12 episodes, 10 unaired), action drama Heist (7 episodes, 2 unaired), military drama E-Ring (22 episodes, 8 unaired), legal drama Conviction (13 episodes), sci-fi drama Surface (15 episodes) or edgy/controversial drama The Book of Daniel (12 episodes, 4 unaired).

American Dreams (3 seasons, 61 episodes), Las Vegas (5 seasons, 106 episodes), Earl (4 seasons, 96 episodes), Medium (5 seasons, 95 episodes on NBC) and The Office (7 seasons, 139 episodes), those few successes are not enough when the look at all the losses over the years : Providence (5 seasons, 96 episodes) in 2002, Just Shoot Me (7 seasons, 148 episodes) in 2003, Ed (4 seasons, 83 episodes), Friends (10 seasons, 236 episodes) and Frasier (11 seasons, 264 episodes) in 2004, American Dreams (3 seasons, 61 episodes) and Third Watch (6 seasons, 132 episodes) in 2005, The West Wing (7 seasons, 156 episodes) and Will & Grace (8 seasons, 194 episodes) in 2006.

And this is not enough when you know 33 new series have aired from September 2002 to May 2007 : 25 were cancelled after a single season (most of the time with plenty of unaired episodes), 3 shows were cancelled during their second season (Boomtown, Good Morning Miami and Joey) and only 5 have had more than 2 seasons (American Dreams (3 seasons), Earl (4), Las Vegas (5), Medium (5 on NBC, 2 on CBS) & The Office) and 1 of them is still on the air (season 8 of The Office premieres next Thursday).

And at that point, it's too late. The lack of appealing returning shows, the rise of new ways to watch television, the end of former hits such as L&O : Criminal Intent (USA Network picked it up) and Crossing Jordan : it all contributed to bury NBC's reign on network TV. In the fall of 2006, critically beloved new shows such as Heroes, Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip couldn't change anything about it (sitcoms 20 Good Years and Andy Barker PI, and dramas Kidnapped, The Black Donnellys and Raines couldn't either, all cancelled after a few episodes during that season). Sure, except Studio 60, all three returned for a second season, but were they ratings hits ? Nope, not at all (except Heroes in its first two seasons). But that was good enough for NBC from now on, they lived if only for the fact that they were praised by the critics.

In 2006/2007, the three most watched series on NBC were Heroes season 1 (14.3 million viewers), L&O SVU season 8 (11.9 million) and ER season 13 (11.5 million). 4 years earlier, in 2002/2003, the three most watched series on NBC were Friends season 9 (21.2 million viewers), ER season 9 (20 million viewers) and Law & Order season 13 (16.9 million viewers).

Furthermore, in 2006/2007, only 3 scripted NBC series were above 10 million viewers (Heroes, SVU and ER) while in 2002/2003, every single scripted series was above 10 million viewers on NBC — except the Tuesday sitcoms minus Frasier and Hidden Hills (the final season of Just Shoot Me + returning series Watching Ellie + new series In-Laws and AUSA were around 7-8 million viewers and were all cancelled). Today, The Office is the only NBC comedy that can sometimes expect reaching 7-8 million viewers.

The following dramas premiered on Mondays on NBC since September 2006 and were cancelled after a single season :

- Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (22 episodes) in 2007.
- The Black Donnellys (6 episodes aired) in 2007.
- Journeyman (13 episodes) in 2007.
- My Own Worst Enemy (9 episodes) in 2008.
- Trauma (18 episodes) in 2010.
- Chase (18 episodes) in 2011.
- The Cape (10 episodes) in 2011.
- The Event (22 episodes) in 2011.

The Playboy Club might be the 9th Monday drama cancelled after a few episodes over the past 5 seasons !

As for the new dramas having aired during the rest of the week (mostly on Wednesdays), over the past 5 years, NBC also cancelled Kidnapped, Raines, Bionic Woman, Fear Itself, Quarterlife, Knight Rider, Crusoe, Southland (picked up by TNT), Kings, The Philanthropist, Mercy, Persons Unknown, Outlaw, Undercovers and LOLA. All of them only had a handful of episodes.

How many new dramas have been successful recently for multiple years on Mondays on NBC ?

Only 2 : Chuck and Heroes — by successful I mean they were not cancelled after 1 season, because we all know how few people watched the last 2 seasons of Heroes and all 4 seasons of Chuck, but somehow they kept coming back (and Chuck is coming back for the last time this fall, but on Fridays).

Between all the new dramas NBC launched since September 2006, how many have had more than 1 season ?

No more than 7 : Lipstick Jungle (2 seasons, 20 episodes - thank you Writers' Strike for the season 2 renewal), Life (2 seasons, 31 episodes), Parenthood (3 seasons, 51 episodes - still in production), Harry's Law (season 2 premieres tomorrow), Friday Night Lights (5 seasons, 76 episodes - thank you DirecTV), and the aforementioned Heroes (4 seasons, 78 episodes) and Chuck (5 seasons, 91 episodes).

Bottom line : between September 2006 and May 2011, NBC launched 30 dramas : 23 were cancelled after a single season, 3 had two seasons (Lipstick Jungle, Life, and Harry's Law which is still in production) and only 4 have had more than two seasons (FNL, Parenthood, Heroes and Chuck). And none of them is exactly a hit. Southland also has 3 seasons (and the fourth is premiering in January) but unlike for FNL, here NBC has nothing to do with it. That's equivalent to the figures of September 2002 to May 2007 : 75.80-76.70% of shows cancelled in their first (and only) season, 9-10% dying in their second year and 13.50-15.15% having more than 2 seasons.

Meanwhile, throughout these years of chaos, the peacock lost all its major dramas :

- L&O : Criminal Intent (6 seasons - picked up by USA Network) and Crossing Jordan (6 seasons) in 2007.
- Las Vegas (5 seasons) in 2008.
- Medium (5 seasons - picked up by CBS) and ER (15 seasons) in 2009.
- Law & Order (20 seasons) and Heroes (4 seasons) in 2010.
- Friday Night Lights (5 seasons) in 2011.
- Chuck (5 seasons) in 2012.

Sure, they still have Law & Order : SVU, which will be entering its 13th season tomorrow (it will have a tough time against CSI and without Chris Meloni), but if it weren't for this procedural, in March 2012, the oldest drama on NBC would be Parenthood (on the air since March 2010) since the 91st and final episode of Chuck will air in February.

But Parenthood is likely to have a shortened, 16-episode season, ending in February as well, and the show is far from being a hit absolutely sure to come back for a fourth season, so when the 2011/2012 season is over the oldest drama on NBC besides SVU might be Harry's Law after all (launched in January 2011).

That's how bad things are on NBC, they almost have to start from scratch every year, regarding dramas. Fortunately, their (outstanding) Thursday comedy lineup is alright : Community, Parks and Recreation, The Office and 30 Rock. All these 4 terrific sitcoms return this season, and with 30 Rock next January, it will be the same lineup for 3 years now, and stability s a good thing. NBC executives have proven they have faith in their struggling comedies (pretty much all of them except The Office). Sure, they're struggling in the live ratings but they're TiVO'ed a lot and they get huge praise by the critics, and that's what might save them (aside from fairly decent ratings on the 18-49 demo compared to most NBC dramas) — NBC almost has to work like a cable channel now.

Judging from last night's ratings, The Playboy Club doesn't look like it will be a major NBC player for the next few years, so Grimm, Awake, Prime Suspect and Smash are their only hope (The Firm being a 22-episode miniseries). Now the question is : do you think NBC can be saved ?

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