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Television at its Finest

December 8, 2008 - Wes Burns
I enjoy reading the New York Times. The Times is one of my five basic non-local news sources, :

New York Times (American news)

BBC Online (International news)

Drudge Report (Scandalous news-like product)

Der Spiegel (strangely apologetic news)

Christian Science Monitor (best film reviews)

From time to time I will read Xinhau, which is the People's Newspaper of China. The domestic reporting is a joke but their international coverage of Africa is top notch. Where else can I go to get updates about the Ghanaian presidential election?

I'm used to loading up the Times webpage and being greeted with shocking news. Updates about the war in Iraq, political upsets or international turmoil is standard operating procedure for the Times headline. Unfortunately for today the headline read something much, much more grievous.

"NBC Expected to Give 10 P.M. Show to Leno"

No! NO! NOOOO!!!

Why, exactly, are they keeping around a guy that spends more time laughing at his own tired jokes then interviewing his guests? After waiting all these years to get Conan O'Brien in the prime spot we have to endure more Leno?

According to NBC the reason is that Leno is a consistent ratings draw and rather than have him go to a competing network they could retain his ratings draw and neutralize a potential competitor.

Apparently NBC is circling the drain when it comes to ratings. So worried are they about their current position that they've "restructured" the network executives so that there are no longer separate execs for comedy or drama and just two departments: scripted/studio and alternative.

I shudder to think what NBC/Universal think is "alternative" programming.

They claim that this move will remove executive blockades between the creative talents and the television screen, no more endless corporate "notes" about content change.

There is one simple rule that NBC/Universal seems to have forgotten and that I (read: some dude) in the middle of icy Iowa have discovered: no amount of notes was going to save the Knight Rider remake.

I remember NBC being huge when I was younger. NBC was the only channel you needed; they had Seinfeld and Friends (I was young, remember) and ER and Law and Order and Cheers and Night Court.

Looking back I still watch about half of these shows, or would if Night Court was still in syndication and Law and Order hadn't gone all character-drama on everybody.

People don't watch as much network TV anymore? Of course they don't! And its not competition from the Internet or HBO taking all the viewers. The plain truth is that NBC, just like all the other networks, shows mostly terrible programs that seem dated for the early 90s.

The network in the ratings lead? FOX. Thats right, FOX.

Can you imagine when FOX first came on the air that it would one day topple all of the legacy networks? FOX? What happened?

Without sounding like someone that failed out of an advertising program at a community college (who schedules a final for 8am? On a Friday?) the problem is branding.

FOX is still the "rouge" network. Despite being patently untrue the image of the network is that they are the risque outsiders that break all the conventional rules. What these rules were I'm not sure. I guess being the first national network to televise "Alien Autopsy" in prime time is breaking the rules, but of taste rather than convention.

So FOX is owned by yet another ruthless international corporation but maintain their street cred by giving Seth McFarlane anything he wants so long as he keeps the fart jokes coming? I enjoy Family Guy as much as the next guy (so long as the next guy isn't some letter-clad frat boy) and I'm a big House fan (not this season) but how can FOX be winning? Thats just not right.

So, what is NBC's answer to this situation? New programs from fresh young talents? How about small run-time series, 6-8 episodes, and seeing if an audience sticks? NOT remaking British or just awful TV shows from decades past? Nope. NBC thinks it will make more money with another Leno show and then possibly cutting back the number of broadcast hours.

How about making GOOD TV shows? I sit through the commercials, as plentiful as they may be, whenever a new episode of The Office or 30 Rock is on. The viewing public doesn't mind commercials so long as I'm watching something good, and that the commercials do not run along the bottom of my screen during the program.

NBC needs to find its new brand. Just abandon whatever isn't working and start with something new. First step: remind people that NBC is a real place. I couldn't tell you where ABC broadcasts from, or where the network offices of Fox reside but I can tell you that NBC's programming offices are in Rockefeller Center, New York City, New York.

One of the lasting moments of the old Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was, after a week of guest hosting from Don Rickles (and to a certain someone: yes, I'm still talking about Don Rickles) Carson took a camera crew across the hallway to confront Rickles, live on TV, about Johnny's mysteriously broken cigarette box. Traveling cameras were new for a talk show, at the time, and given two great improv comics like Carson and Rickles, it was hilarious.

You still see this sort of thing with Conan O'Brien's show. He will take camera crews around the building, messing with Brian Williams or Al Roker and its always funny. How is this going to happen if NBC moves him out to California?

FOX went rouge and now they dominate the network ratings. NBC needs to find an identity, or at least something good to watch (no, Crusoe doesn't count; neither does Heroes) or risk losing their peacock.


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