The climate for comedy television in just the last few years has seen a massive shift, as shows have gone off the air and been replaced by other inferior offerings. No network has seen this happen more though than NBC. There was even a time in their history when The Office, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, and Community were all on in the same two-hour block Thursday nights. Since then, The Office, 30 Rock, and Parks and Recreation have all come to a satisfying end, while Community was unceremoniously canceled, only to be picked up by Yahoo! for its streaming service.
The aftermath following what amounted to a golden age of NBC’s comedy lineup hasn’t been pretty. There’s a veritable laundry list of quickly axed shows that make up their programming graveyard, leading one to ask: What in the name of all that is holy happened? The answer is that CBS happened. Somehow, CBS has made itself into the single most-watched network in the country, on the strength of shows that no one will ever describe as smart comedies. It’s been carried on the backs of three-camera sitcoms like Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, as well as dramas like The Mentalist and NCIS.
This has left NBC scratching its head, with its history of critically acclaimed comedies that no one watches, in favor of the more mindless offerings over at CBS. This has left them attempting to duplicate that success to no avail, tanking both their ratings and the quality of their programming.
If you look at NBC’s current comedy lineup, it’s composed of four shows, none of which have been airing for longer than one year. This is indicative namely of the revolving door that’s plagued the network since they stepped away from shows like The Office and 30 Rock. Why would anyone go somewhere else for their laugh-track sitcoms when they have perfectly well-established offerings at other networks already? It’s left NBC in the dust, scrambling to put together a lineup to combat the tidal wave that is CBS.
With Parks and Recreation have just left the airwaves for good, NBC is waving goodbye to the last comedy currently airing that’s lasted longer than three seasons. The “Big Four” of Parks and Rec, Community, 30 Rock, and The Office represent their only comedies over the last five to six years to accomplish this feat. The future doesn’t look particularly bright either, given that their other competition over at Fox is producing shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, made by some of the same people responsible for 30 Rock and Parks and Rec.
For NBC to survive as a comedy network, it’s going to have to decide what it wants to be. Splitting the difference between sitcoms and single-camera shows hasn’t worked for them yet, and it’s shown in their ratings. As it stands, according to TV By the Numbers, NBC is the third-most watched network in terms of total viewership, carried largely by dramas like The Blacklist and Law and Order: SVU. For them to take the next step into relevance, their comedy lineup will have to follow suit.