Is NBC still a viable network? I asked myself that question last Thursday while watching the season premier of Community.
At the orders of programming chief Robert Greenblatt, the quirky comedy with a dedicated following has been neutered to a shell of its former self, following the firing of creator Dan Harmon. What made matters worse was that during the show was a promo for the network's only arrow left in its quiver: The Apprentice with Donald Trump who just recently rated barely above a cockroach as far as likability. Not just The Apprentice mind you, but an all-star version starring the likes of D-Listers Gary Busey, Dennis Rodman and someone named Omarosa. This is the best that NBC can do.
I used to be proud to work for NBC. The peacock network stood for quality. Now it's just a joke. Innovative thinking is giving Betty White an hour a week to "Host" something called Betty White's Off Their Rockers, a show where elderly actors half heartedly say outrageous things and do incredibly stupid stunts to elicit some kind of reaction from the public. It's produced on a shoestring and it shows. The "writing" is negligible and the pranks are predictable and boring. In fact one feels sorry for everyone involved in producing this show. I have no idea who the target audience is because I watched it with my elderly mother and she turned it off after ten minutes.
30 Rock and The Office are finishing up their runs with nothing worthy to replace them. Christina Applegate has rightly walked away from the mess that Up All Night has become. Their prime time schedule is packed with tabloid reality shows like Dateline NBC and Rock Center with Brian Williams. The Today Show now lasts four hours. It's been years since something relevant or interesting has happened on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. During sweeps, they run repackaged reruns of Saturday Night Live in prime time. "Must See TV" has now been dumbed down to stand for weeklong quiz shows always starring Howie Mandel.
Meet The Press which is now a weekly platform for John McCain to spout off his anger at the world has become irrelevant. Sports? Other than football, what have they got? The Olympics? Dick Ebersol turned them into a two-week, jingoistic pre-recorded soap opera. Does anyone remember how the network cut the closing ceremonies in London short to air a preview of a sit com called Animal Practice, starring a monkey as a doctor, which tanked and was canceled a few weeks into its run?
How did all this happen? Mostly after the firing of programmer Kevin Reilly in 2007. He was followed by a series of company men who knew zero about entertainment and less about what people want to watch on television. The result is that someone as despicable as Donald Trump, who now only makes headlines as the leading "Birther" in America is their biggest star. Why he still has this embarrassment of a show is proof positive that NBC is on its last legs.
Years ago I predicted that the first of the "Big Three" networks to fold up shop and disappear will be NBC. The Ben Silvermans, Jeff Zukers, Jeff Gaspins and Robert Greenblatts of the world have made NBC the last desperate stop for producers. Seeing the hands on approach at the network do its magic on Community and Up All Night, it's no wonder most creators avoid the network like the plague. It is not that far a leap to think that the real powers that be will soon decide that being in the scripted entertainment business is a losing proposition. Combining MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, E! and USA programming (which costs a fraction to produce than network shows) and airing them on the NBC affiliates seems the cost efficient way to go.
February is sweeps month when networks save their best programming to air because the ratings will determine the ad rates they can charge for the coming year. This week NBC's best is a repeat of a Betty White roast and two nights of recycled Saturday Night Live sketches. Apparently the network is embarrassed by their biggest star Trump because his quiz show will premier in March, conveniently far away from sweeps.
This is NBC. Is no one embarrassed at what the network has become? Is anybody watching anymore? More importantly, does anybody care? I certainly don't.