Many have said it before, but let’s say it again: NBC has been having a shitty run lately. The network went from one of the most successful eras in tv history during its Seinfeld/Fraiser/Friends/ER days to dropping to fourth place of the four major networks and getting the stuffing kicked out of it by ABC and FOX.
Bill Carter, in his book Desperate Networks, makes the argument that the reason NBC failed is that they refused to support and nurture new, quality programming during those heady days – why let Freaks and Geeks and Boomtown stick around when you could “supersize” Friends – thus leaving their slate as barren as Dr. Lisa Cuddy’s womb when those shows (save ER) at last left the air. It’s somewhat similar to what CBS is starting to go through – they’ve spent so much time on developing and promoting CSI clones that people are getting bored, because, really, how many times can you watch David Caruso put on his sunglasses?
However, there’s been a lot of talk about how to fix what’s wrong at NBC, and the press has picked up on the phrase “the Grant Tinker model” from studio executives at the Peacock. Grant Tinker, a former chairman of NBC during the 1980s, is known as “the man who saved NBC.” During his tenure, he was responsible for putting – and keeping on – shows like Cheers, Family Ties, Hill Street Blues, Night Court, and The Cosby Show, all of which became not only influential, classic television, but part of the popular parlance as well. Tinker believed that supporting quality shows despite poor ratings would allow viewers time to come around (Cheers was ranked last in its first season) and discover these fantastic programs. It was this philosophy that made NBC the number 1 network for over twenty years, and it’s this philosophy that NBC has gotten back to when thinking about Scrubs, The Office, Friday Night Lights, and 30 Rock in recent months – and it looks to be paying off.
Today, NBC announced that they were picking up 30 Rock – the Tina Fey comedy set behind the scenes at a popular variety show that also stars Alec Baldwin – for a second season. Despite being in the Thursday Night Timeslot of Death – the 9:00 to 10:00 hour opposite the Godzilla/King Kong battle that is Grey’s Anatomy vs. CSI – the show has gained a loyal following and the respect of many critics, including Devin, who wrote about the show for THUD here. I’ve only seen a few episodes of 30 Rock, but I thought it was pretty great, and I’m happy that the show is getting a second year, if only to give me time to catch up.
Scrubs, Friday Night Lights and The Office, however, got a different kind of validation today when they were among the announced for the 2006 Peabody Awards. The Peabody, which I like to refer to as “the Pulitzer of Broadcasting,” last awarded NBC for its entertainment programming in 2002 (for Boomtown).
Here’s what the award committee said about those three shows:
Scrubs: “A sweet-and-pungent "Wizard of Oz" parody was just one testimonial to the continuing creative vigor, six seasons into its run, of Bill Lawrence’s hellzapoppin’ comedy about the staff of a Los Angeles hospital.”
The Office: “This American adaptation of the Peabody-winning British hit of the same title — a comedy of workplace manners and politics presented in faux documentary form — has firmly established its own precise voice and studied brilliance.”
Friday Night Lights: “No dramatic series, broadcast or cable, is more grounded in contemporary American reality than this clear eyed serial about the hopes, dreams, livelihoods and egos intertwined with the fate of high-school football in a Texas town.”
Okay, so the language is a little cornball, but that’s still great news for these shows – and this pretty much guarantees a second season for Friday Night Lights at this point, which is another show I hope to catch up with on DVD. I’ve talked about my problems with this season of Scrubs before, but last season was probably the best they’ve ever been – in addition to the “Wizard of Oz” episode, you had the two-episode-arc with Dr. Cox’s meltdown that was as good, if not better, than most of the medical drams on tv. And I think The Office is the best show on television right now. Period.
Grant Tinker (a Peabody winner himself) would be proud, NBC. Don’t fuck it up.