Friday, December 15, 2006

Report Card V: Proud as a Peackock, But Not as Pretty

Ah, NBC, poor NBC. You work and you work, you put out some of the best shows on TV and how do the ingrate viewers reward you? By making you a third-place network, at best.

You really can't fault the programming chiefs over at NBC, who have developed about as good a slate as there could be on the dial. This isn't just my opinion; of the 10 shows picked by the American Film Institute as the best of the year, four came from the Peacock - "Friday Night Lights," "Heroes," "The West Wing" and "The Office." (A fifth, "Battlestar Galactica," is produced by NBC-owned The Sci-Fi Channel.) Only one other network, Fox, managed to make that same list with only one show, "24."

NBC also did very well among the Writers Guild of America choices, landing two of the top five comedies and four of the top five new shows. And NBC acquitted itself very well in the just-announced Golden Globes.

And yet, viewers seem to be avoiding NBC like the plague. Not counting Sunday night football, only two broadcast shows draw any sort of ratings: "ER" and "Heroes."

NBC's problem may be that the shows that have come out have been TOO good, that the American public doesn't want shows that challenge them intellectually.

The one silver lining to NBC's struggles is that the network is giving these shows a chance to find a place by giving most of them renewals for the full season, probably because it doesn't have anything else better sitting on the shelf. Most of the other networks wouldn't have been so generous.

THE GOOD: You can't accuse NBC of not trying. The Emmy-worthy quality of "Heroes," "Friday Night Lights," "Studio 60," "The Office," "Scrubs," "Kidnapped" et. al. is pretty undeniable, no matter what the numbers are.

"Heroes" has emerged as the season's breakout hit, despite the lukewarm reception it got from critics over the summer. While it could have been pigeonholed as a genre show, it has found a large, mainstream audience and has taken over the watercooler chats normally reserved for ABC's "Lost." It's also produced the breakout star of the season, Masi Oka.

NBC has actually used ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" to give some life to "ER," which has enjoyed a renaissance in the ratings. And game shows like "Deal or No Deal" and "1 vs. 100" have proven popular.

THE BAD: Why, oh why, is no one watching the rest of the stuff NBC puts out there? "Friday Night Lights" is arguably the best family show on TV, yet it has come under attack from family groups. "Studio 60" is perhaps the most expensive show on TV, yet really only survives because it's able to charge some of the most expensive rates. Unfortunately, viewers haven't stuck around to see Aaron Sorkin's return to TV, along with the most talented cast of any show.

Not everything NBC touched turned to gold. The network did foist "20 Good Years" upon us for three miserable weeks.

THE ANNOYING PROVERBIAL KICK TO THE JEWELS: One thing NBC royally screwed up was my second-favorite offering of the new season, "Kidnapped." Though some of why "Kidnapped" failed wasn't the network's fault - viewers had already been turned off to the concept by Fox's horrible "Vanished" debuting first and a general backlash to shows that have season-long arcs - NBC didn't do the show's loyal fans any favors by moving it to Saturdays, then yanking it for Internet-only telecasts. I finally gave up on "Kidnapped" because I missed a couple online because I couldn't find them. It was too much effort on my part, no matter how good the show was.

That leads to another criticism: NBC has the worst Web site among any network. They don't put up every episode of the season to let viewers catch up, the site works very poorly with Mac computers, and it's almost impossible to find where the episodes are on the Web site. At least here, NBC ought to take a page from ABC's playbook. I really hope you guys from the Peacock are reading this. Seriously.

OUTLOOK: Geez, who knows? I mean, what's NBC going to do, put out better shows than the ones they've got now? Perhaps it ought to spike the drinking water, give everyone a transplant of IQ points and taste. GRADE: A- in effort, C+ in results.

BEAM YOURSELVES UP: Some news for Trekkers. Fans of "Star Trek: Voyager" can watch that show again when it debuts on Spike TV Monday at 9 a.m., while fans of "Star Trek: Enterprise" can reminisce when the Sci-Fi Channel starts running it beginning in early January.

Also, writer-director J.J. Abrams ("Lost," "Alias") who is helming the 11th film in the franchise, said to expect it out sometime in the summer of 2008.

FRIDAY'S BEST BET: It's beginning to become a blue Christmas as first-run episodes have virtually run out for 2006.

You still get a full night of new stuff on CBS, beginning with "Ghost Whisperer" at 8 p.m. and followed by first-run shows of "Close To Home" and "Numb3rs."

Since a lot of people are annoyed at missing the final "Justice" episodes, here's another reminder to catch a new one (Fox, 8 p.m.)

"Doctor Who" (Sci-Fi, 8 p.m.) has had a phenomenal run, and last week's installment may have been one of the cleverest hours of TV anywhere. Another new episode, "Fear Her," airs tonight. "Battlestar Galactica" (Sci-Fi, 9 p.m.) wraps up its fall with the beginning of a two-part finale tonight.

Finally, a Happy Chanukkah to all from the TV Guy.


This Girl said...

NBC has the slowest website, the worst screen resolution, and makes you work harder to find and view shows, but it's not a system hog like CBS' Innertube. Innertube, however, is one of the best ways to watch television online. ABC is okay, but they have too many glitches during busy times.

Zodin2008 said...

Thankfully, I have kept up with "Kidnapped" online despite What a great show and it's just a few more episodes so I am looking forward to seeing how they end it.

I wish I had read this column yesterday as I now missed "Justice" 3 weeks in a row. I give up, Fox!

Phillip Ramati said...

I also hate how ABC has glitches. If you can get NBC's content with CBS' picture quality on ABC's Web site format, that would be the best scenario.

That'll teach you to skip a day!