Thursday, December 01, 2005

What is NBC doing?

So even after my advice that it likely wouldn't hurt its ratings, Fox decided not to move American Idol to Wednesday and Thursday. I can understand that, since it's an extremely valuable show for Fox, and why mess with success if you don't have to?
And with Fox standing pat--other than moving the on-its-last-legs "That 70s Show" and the has-never-really-had any-legs "Stacked" to Thursday at 9--NBC has decided to make a move to ostensibly try to regain its place as a player on Thursday night. I don't think it will work, though.

The network is moving My Name is Earl and The Office into The Apprentice's timeslot, Thursday at 9 p.m. Joey is also being taken off the night, and Will and Grace is being moved up to 8 p.m., with a new show, Four Kings, sliding into the 8:30 slot. This of course, recreates the longtime NBC Thursday lineup of four sitcoms and a drama at 10 p.m. But when I look at that schedule, it doesn't exactly make me think of the heyday of Cosby, Family Ties and Cheers, or the Seinfeld and Friends era.

First of all, let's demolish the myth that NBC is trying to sell us: that My Name Is Earl is a big runaway hit. Is it a hit? Yes, but really kind of a minor one. It does build on its lead-in on Tuesday at 9 p.m., and it does win or come in second every week in a difficult timeslot (with House and Amazing Race and Commander in Chief). But it's only getting about a 5 rating in the 18-49 demographic, and about a 9 rating overall. For comparison's sake, Desperate Housewives, American Idol and CSI routinely get 9 and 10 18-49 ratings. And those shows get 15-17 overall ratings regularly. So My Name is Earl is getting half the ratings of the biggest hits on television (although to be fair, it is a top 20 show in 18-49, so it is doing well, just not that well.) Now, I don't particulary care for the show (suffice it to say, I just tire of the "aren't dumb hicks funny?" dominant joke of the show), but with promising but not great ratings, moving it seems to be a rather risky move. And moving it to face CSI on Thursday is really risky. Plus, is this really going to improve the ratings in that time slot? In fact, The Apprentice gets around a 5 ratings and an 8-9 rating overall in the Thursday at 9 p.m. timeslot--just about the exact rating level of My Name is Earl. And of course, The Apprentice is an hourlong show, while Earl is only a half-hour. The 9:30 show is The Office, which I think is a very funny show (has improved significantly since its brief season last year), but whose ratings decline at least a quarter from Earl's. So if those two shows hold their ratings from Tuesday, NBC's ratings go down on the night. And on Tuesday, where Earl was doing well for them, NBC is putting on a double shot of episodes of Scrubs from 9-10 p.m. I think, and many other--but note enough--people think, that Scrubs is one of the funniest shows on television. But it has never drawn very good ratings and probably--since it's already been on for four seasons--never will. And putting two episodes back-to-back makes good ratings even less likely. Hey, I like the show, but two in a row doesn't really excite me--it just sounds like too much Scrubs for one night. It's a half-hour show, and it should be watched in half-hour increments. But that's just my opinion. Anyway, so NBC's ratings are likely to decline on Tuesday while there's a good chance of a decline on Thursday as well.

As for the 8 p.m. hour on Thursday, NBC is basically rearraging deck chairs on the Titanic. Sure, they're getting rid of Joey, which has been a disaster. (And why have they not brought back Ross or Chandler to this show for a visit to help this show's ratings? Frasier was a hit, and it still brought Cheers characters on once or twice a year.) But all they're doing is moving Will and Grace, a show in its last season and getting better ratings than Joey--but still nothing spectacular--up to the 8 p.m. slot and putting on a new show called Four Kings at 8:30 p.m. From the commercials, it looks like the typical NBC Thursday night show that traditionally aired after Friends--not that funny, loud laugh track. Furthermore, the timeslot is all wrong. Four Kings stars Seth Green, the guy from last year's show Committed and two other guys who all share an apartment--a show meant for guys. But they're putting the show on after Will and Grace, a show which guys don't watch. OK, let me be more accurate: Plenty of gay guys watch Will and Grace, but the only straight men watching Will and Grace are forced to by their wives and girlfriends. So that will probably end with ratings similar to Joey.

The big question: Where will the Apprentice end up when it returns after the Winter Olympics? Good question. Maybe either 8 or 9 on Wednesday--I think 8 actually makes the most sense. But as you can see from the rest of this post, NBC's decisions don't necessarily make sense, so predicting is impossible.


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