A while back, I was chastised in comments for predicting that Outsourced would be canceled to make room for the return of Parks & Recreation. The point, as I recall, is that despite all the complaints about its stereotyping, this is one of the few diverse shows on the U.S. networks (which extends to some of its staff writers like the Canadian co-creator of How To Be Indie, Vera Santamaria). But anyway, the prediction was wrong: Outsourced has been picked up for a full season of 22 episodes, along with two other NBC shows, “The Event” and “Law & Order L.A.”
Were any of these shows picked up because they’re hits? Of course not. Outsourced has actually performed the best of the three; LOLA looks like the franchise’s equivalent of “Joey” — beloved New York franchises just shouldn’t move to California — and “The Event” has bled viewers every week up until this point, and its ratings are becoming embarrassing despite its promising start. But this is such a bad season for new shows that merely not being Lone Star or My Generation is enough to get a renewal. (So Fox gave Raising Hope its first full-season pickup despite having not many overall viewers last week, based on some good reviews, some support at the network, and doing okay with young viewers thanks to the post-Glee time slot. I enjoy Raising Hope, but in a better season it would be a bubble show at best.) NBC, ABC and Fox have all had high-profile bombs this season — though NBC still hasn’t canceled Undercovers, perhaps the biggest bomb of the year in terms of likely cost-to-performance ratio — but ABC and Fox both have a couple of big hits each to sustain them until a hopefully-better 2011. NBC has no hits on the level of Grey’s Anatomy or Glee, and not much in the pipeline for midseason, so its under-performing shows have a better chance than any other network’s. That, in short, is why fans of Chuck can look at the show’s ratings and take heart: it’s on a network where not being Undercovers might be enough to get it to the end of the season and maybe even beyond.
Just to pick on NBC for a little while longer, one of the most entertaining bits of news is that their performance in the 10 p.m. hour may be actually worse than it was when Jay Leno was there, with shows that cost more than Leno’s. This doesn’t mean they were right to do the Leno experiment, though, especially since even this year’s failures work a little better as lead-ins for their affiliates’ local news. It’s more a sign that once a network destroys an important hour it’s tough to rebuild it. The most important example, of course, is Law & Order SVU, an important and fairly reliable 10 p.m. performer. By moving it to 9 to make room for Leno, they hurt the show’s performance; even if they were to move it back now, it wouldn’t do what it used to do in that slot.
Getting back to the opening of this post, the other question is what the pickup of Outsourced means for the other comedies on NBC’s schedule. At this point NBC has only four comedy slots, with a ton of unpromising single-camera comedies picked up for midseason, plus the wonderful Parks & Recreation. If they want to keep only the four slots rather than opening up another hour of comedy somewhere, they’ll have to dump something — and since it’s not going to be Outsourced, that would seem to put a big bulls-eye on Community. But that show’s ratings, while bad, have the same thing going for them as Chuck: the show is on a network that has other shows whose ratings are even worse, and the executives have to worry about those shows first. If I had to guess I would say that NBC finds an extra comedy hour somewhere, maybe to replace Undercovers after they finally give up on it. If they did that, even if it didn’t work out, it could at least lay the groundwork for an extra hour next season, when the network will really need to re-think its scheduling from the ground up.
Note: I said it will “need to” rethink its scheduling strategy; not that it will. After all, there’s lots of stuff that seemed obviously necessary that NBC still hasn’t done. My favourite example, unsurprisingly, is that the network ordered a ton of multi-camera sitcom pilots last year, including some fairly promising ones, and then refused to pick up any of them. Probably good news in the long run for the creators of some of those pilots, but (along with last year’s retooling of 100 Questions into a quasi-single-camera show) a sign of a network that continues to double down on strategies that aren’t working for them.