NBC's Midseason Will Fix Everything

The big news online about NBC’s midseason lineup is that Community has been benched – temporarily, it must be said; NBC has guaranteed the studio a 22-episode order, and it’ll have to air them all at some point. But the network will put it on hiatus after Christmas, leaving the other half of the season to be aired at an unspecified time later this season.

I would also point out that additional slots will open up once something bombs, and this is NBC, so something will bomb. I don’t know what will happen with the show’s future, and it obviously suffers somewhat from not being owned outright by the network. (The network is pushing hard to make Up All Night a success, putting it into the only good time slot it has and moving it away from the coming of American Idol. It may not have the same incentive to push a show from another studio.) I’m not willing to predict anything about what will happen to it after this season, though. It could depend to a large extent on where NBC puts it when it does come back. Or, as we’ve mentioned before, on what kind of deal Sony – a studio desperate to get some shows into syndication – offers them for a fourth seaosn.

Still, if NBC wanted to get rid of the show, they would simply put it on Fridays or some other spot where its ratings would fall below replacement level. In fact, it seems like every year NBC does something like that with another show. Last year Outsourced got decent ratings after The Office, so NBC proceeded to put it in the worst possible time slot at midseason, thereby killing it. This year Whitney got decent ratings after The Office, so NBC is moving it to a time slot where it will almost certainly get killed. These are shows that got bad reviews and whose (relative) success sort of embarrassed the network. On a network like this, putting a show on hiatus is probably a sign of confidence.

My personal hope is that Are You There, Chelsea? (the sanitized name for what was originally Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea) flops while Whitney does okay; this might allow Community to follow Whitney in the most awkward pairing of shows in living memory. (Actually, Whitney, while not good, isn’t terrible – it’s turned out more watchable than 2 Broke Girls, and Chris D’Elia is giving a very good performance. But the show has an otherwise bland cast and Cummings’s character isn’t an appealing lead, so if NBC wants to crush it, I won’t mourn.) But really, no one can predict anything NBC is going to do.

The other show that gets the shaft in this schedule is the new show Awake, generally considered to be the best drama pilot of the season. It hasn’t been given a spot on the schedule yet, and this follows a period where the network and studio temporarily shut down production so they can rework the scripts. But The Firm, which actually is airing, isn’t in that good a position either: Thursday at 10 on NBC is a spot that young viewers have displayed very little interest in watching, and if Prime Suspect bombed there, it’s hard to see why a lawyer show would do any better.

I sometimes wonder if NBC wouldn’t be better off just giving up on must-see Thursday. Not giving up on programming stuff on Thursday, I mean, just accepting that the structure of Thursdays in its golden age, four comedies followed by a hit procedural, is never coming back. They’ve toyed with giving up the 10 pm hour, of course, but they always come back to a structure that recalls the Good Old Days, and it’s part of what gives NBC the feeling of being trapped by its past: looking for a comedy anchor at 8 on Thursdays is almost pointless, and will become still more pointless next year if CBS expands to two hours on Thursday. CBS and Fox own Thursdays now, and NBC might be better off trying to find a comedy foothold on some other night.

On the other hand, I said “if” CBS expands to two hours; they obviously want to, but they can’t come up with enough workable comedies. The network’s decision to pick up Rob Schneider’s sitcom is an example of how strapped they are for comedies. (This may explain why CBS has started to pick up a few more single-camera pilots: though single-camera doesn’t really work on CBS, there just aren’t enough good multi-camera pitches out there. Not yet anyway.) So NBC may be saved temporarily by CBS’s inability to seize its opportunity: it can’t take over Thursday unless it finds some other Thursday hits besides Big Bang Theory, and Rob Schneider’s show hopefully isn’t it.

Finally, if you want to see a show being treated really badly, look at Rules of Engagement. I don’t like that show; it’s become the epitome of an “is that still on the air?” show. But even though I don’t like Rules, I can objectively say it’s being treated badly: CBS originally scheduled it on Saturday, putting it on Thursday only after How to Be a Gentleman bombed. Rules got solid ratings and saved the slot for CBS. Which responded by cutting the show’s season order and benching it at midseason. That’s a network that, for whatever reason, just doesn’t like a show.

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