Late last week, there was a shocking turn of events in the continuing and potentially never ending saga of NBC's prime-time ratings woes that have also extended into late news, late night and, as of last summer, to the once unbeatable TODAY SHOW when it crumbled to rival Good Morning America on ABC in the core A2554 and then eventually total viewers. These defeats were the first such experienced by the sixty-year-old morning franchise in SEVENTEEN years.
As the old (because I doubt I'm the first to say it) adage goes: so goes your prime, so goes the rest of your day. But this was all inevitable -- and avoidable. More on that later...
As reported by website Warming Glow and tweeted to me by my dear friend @alishporter, WKYC announced on their website that they were preempting part of parent network NBC's low-rated Thursday night lineup with a "special presentation" (as the station called it) of...
Matlock: The Legacy
The preempted 9-10pm hour that consisted of an Office repeat and a new 1600 Penn will air from 1-2a late Saturday/early Sunday and the prempted 10-11pm hour that consisted of a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit repeat will air 3-4a late Saturday/early Sunday.
First off, can affiliates really do this? Well, yes...but sometimes with monetary penalties if such a move is deemed a breach of the station's affiliation with a network. After all, the Salt Lake City market is notorious for making such moves. Their NBC station, KSL, refused to air the gay-themed New Normal AT ALL last year. The previous season, they refused to air the short-lived Playboy Club. Both The New Normal and The Playboy Club eventually found new homes on Saturday nights on KUCW, the CW station in the market.
In the past, Salt Lake City's CBS affiliate KUTV refused to air the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. In the way past (1977), ABC affiliates refused to air the comedy series Soap. So this is far from unprecedented. However, in this case, it's questionable because it's not about the content. But it's completely understandable because it's about the ratings.
- Station licensees have an unfettered right to reject network programming that they believe is contrary to the public interest, "unsatisfactory" or "unsuitable"
- Stations can preempt network programming when the licensee thinks there is some other programming which is of greater national or local importance.
- If a preemption is done for one of these reasons, the affiliation agreement cannot impose monetary or non-monetary penalties or limit the amount of such preemptions
- Affiliation agreements cannot give networks the right to "option" time in the future unless they make a commitment to fill that time with programming. This is important in a multichannel digital context, as it prevents networks from tying up time on a second or third channel that they might or might not use.
Perhaps because of the subsequent airing -- albeit in the weekend overnight hours -- WKYC avoids a monetary fine from the network because they're doing it again this week as well. That same 9-11 block on Thursday nights will be preempted for another "special presentation" -- Matlock: The Heist from 1995.
My guess is that the unique nature of this programming situation will generate
some greater interest than NBC's regular lineup. Interest generally translates
into ratings. Pretty soon, local affiliates will be reprogramming troublesome
timeslots with reruns of old shows if it is deemed such a rerun will perform
better than the current programming.
ER Reruns could return to its longtime home at 10pm on Thursday nights -- where NBC hasn't had a successful show since it went off the air in 2009. Friends Reruns could take back its own longtime 8pm spot, Seinfeld Reruns could reclaim the 9pm tentpole position and Will & Grace Reruns could follow at 9:30pm with Cheers Reruns and Reruns of The Cosby Show alternating at 8:30pm.
It couldn't hurt.
Station management at WKYC played down the Matlock preemption as something they’ve done for the last ten years to maximize first quarter inventory, the ad dollars for which they get to keep by running the Matlock special. And they choose Matlock because older viewers enjoy the show. I don’t know the senior population of Cleveland, but I can’t imagine it’s at Matlock-level.
WKYC’s station management further stressed that the Matlock preemption had nothing to do with NBC’s primetime ratings performance.
Despite WKYC station management’s claim, I still have my doubts. I can’t imagine they would have preempted such premium primetime real estate if The Voice ran in that time slot. Besides, they also claim that they thought 1600 Penn was going to be a repeat instead of an original. Right. So while the preempted 9-11 block was primarily repeats, ratings still played a part because low-rated originals lead to lower-rated repeats.
Regardless, I can’t imagine there wasn’t some sort of statement the station was trying to make by showing a 21-year-old movie on what was once a powerhouse night for NBC as a whole and WKYC itself.
Warming Glow posited a couple of weeks ago about the seven boneheaded steps NBC (which was in first place
this fall in the outdated A1849 demo), made in the last six (now eight) weeks
in order to fall to last place in that same outdated demo.
From the Dustin Rowles article dated 2/13/13 (with editor's notes):
Through November, the once miserably rated NBC had somehow, inexplicably risen
to the top network in the prized 18-49 demographic, after years of struggling.
The network was riding high on the success of Sunday Night Football, The
Voice and their new drama, Revolution.
Things were going well for the network. The new president of the company, Bob
Greenblatt, was feeling cocky, often boasting about how he’d turned the network
It's strange for me to
say this but this was actually wise on NBC's part. "Revolution" is
doing well BEHIND "The Voice" and it's so far been unproven outside
of its protected time slot. Given the fact that the ratings of every other show
benefitting directly from "The Voice" have deflated without that
lead-in, there is no reason to risk having the same happen to
6. Much of NBC’s early season success was attributed to the modest success of the Matthew Perry sitcom, Go On and New Normal, which were inexplicably scheduled to go up against more established sitcoms on two other channels (Happy Endings and New Girl). After it was all said and done, all of those sitcoms were damaged, but none more than Go On and New Normal, which — without their The Voice lead-ins — fell to ratings similar to that of Guys with Kids and below Whitney, 1.1 – 1.3.
I wouldn't say "much" of it, but "Go On" and "The New Normal" had much further to fall without its powerhouse lead-in.
5. Part of the reason that both Community and 30 Rock received shortened, 13-episode orders was to make room for mid-season replacements, which were expected to perform better in the ratings. Eventually, however, Community was shifted over to replace 30 Rock and that mid-season replacement, 1600 Penn, receives a 1.3 rating. In fact, its ratings are so bad and it is so reviled by critics that it’s been preempted this week for an additional episode of The Office. It would probably be canceled if NBC had anything else to put in the slot, but it axed its Dane Cook sitcom before it even aired.
The bigger part of the
reason was because neither show does much by way of ratings and the latter
series was going into its seventh
4. Despite tepid ratings, the well liked Up All Night returned for a second season with a retooled format. It didn’t matter. Ratings continued to fall. NBC pulled the show with the intention of reformatting it as a multi-camera laugh track sitcom. During the hiatus, the showrunner quit, and eventually, so did the show’s lead, Christina Applegate. Nevertheless, this week, NBC inexplicably decided to move forward and film ONE episode in the new format without Applegate. Why? God knows.
Since this was posted,
NBC decided against even filming the one episode -- another wise move (still
strange to say). The format of the well-liked show shouldn't have been tweaked
in the first place. And it shouldn't have been overhauled in the second
3. For a full month before it was set to air, promos for the mid-season drama Do No Harm could not be avoided. Despite heavy promotional efforts, however, the show debuted with the lowest ratings ever for a series debut (0.9 in the demo), and then fell even further in its second week (0.7) before it was canceled. The one upside to this, however, was that NBC found out that Rock Center with Brian Williams had better ratings in its Friday slot than the Thursday slot. What will NBC do? Probably move it back to Thursday in a few weeks.
Only NBC could have a show perform better on "death knell" Fridays than on its once-storied Thursday nights. And that says something. It says a lot.
There must be a curse on that Thursday 10pm time slot. I'll call it "The 'ER' Curse". Typically such curses are for solid-performing shows prematurely cancelled such as CBS's "Judging Amy" from its longtime Tuesday 10pm time slot in 2006 or relocated short-sightedly to another night such as ABC's "Ugly Betty" in 2009 from Thursdays at 8pm to Fridays at 9pm.
There are three factors at play in the quick demise of "Do No Harm": 1) the surging "Scandal" on ABC; 2) the low-rated newsmagazine "Rock Center with Brian Williams" had been airing in that time slot since the fall and 3) the "Rock Center" audience is largely different from the potential "Do No Harm" audience and despite whatever heavy promotions there may have been, viewers were either confused, annoyed or a combination of both. So the "Rock Center" audience wasn't interested in "Do No Harm" and the potential "Do No Harm" audience didn't find the show before it was cancelled. NBC would have been wiser to air repeats of another drama (perhaps "Parenthood) in that time slot. Regardless, everyone knew airing "Rock Center" was a boneheaded move.
2. NBC came in the 2012-2013 season with the idea that “broader is better” with their choice of sitcoms. The strategy failed. Animal Practice was quickly canceled, while Guys with Kids and Whitney perform poorly in the ratings. In fact, the “niche” comedies, Parks and Recreation, The Office, and even Community are performing better than the “broader” comedies.
The strategy failed because it wasn't even executed. "Animal Practice" isn't broad. "Go On" isn't broad, it's quirky. "The New Normal" isn't broad, it's a bit catty and a bit caustic. Though they aren't "conventionally niche" like "Parks and Recreation", "The Office" and "Community", but none of this is broad in the classic NBC sense to which they need to return.
"Guys with Kids" and "Whitney" are small steps in the right direction. The former is silly fun that is getting better creatively and should be granted a second season despite its ratings. The latter had its second chance this season, but nothing can overcome a largely unappealing lead (both the actress and the character).
1. Despite a huge promotional effort, personnel turnover, and a lot of hopes pinned on the second-season return of Smash, the premiere debuted with a 1.1 rating in the 18-49 demo, essentially hammering the nail into the coffin of NBC’s once promising 2012-2013 season. Parenthood, which received a shortened 15-episode order to make room for Smash, was receiving a 1.7 rating in the demo. At this point, NBC’s schedule has been pretty much decimated, besides one bright light in a sea of suck: Parks and Recreation's audience continues to grow.
Not to dampen this bright light, but
"Parks and Recreation" will never be a breakout hit no matter how
much it grows. This is not to say it isn't good or undeserving of a sixth
season, because it is based solely on buzz, acclaim, pedigree and a loyal core
NBC has been in the ratings toilet since Friends went off the air nearly a
decade ago during the laughably tragic Jeff Zucker Era of no long-term
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