NBC's Broader Is Better Strategy Backfires. Again.

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NBC's Broader Is Better Strategy Backfires. Again.

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | February 6, 2014 | Comments ()


NBC pulled the plug on The Michael J. Fox show yesterday, putting an end to their Thursday night experiment with broader comedies, an experiment that began last year with several sitcoms that didn’t make it until their second seasons (Guys with Kids, Animal Practice, Go On, and 1600 Penn). What’s interesting about the cancellation of all three of NBC’s new Thursday night comedies this season is what they all had in common: They were family sitcoms designed to appeal to a broad audience featuring — at least in two cases — big stars (Michael J. Fox and Betsy Brandt on The Michael J. Fox Show and Sean Hayes on Sean Saves the World. Welcome to the Family had the less popular but very familiar Mike O’Malley and Mary McCormick).

Each of the three were a different spin on the standard family sitcom premise: Michael J. Fox’s was a family sitcom where the lead character had Parkinson’s; Sean Saves the World was a family sitcom with a divorced gay Dad in the lead; and Welcome to the Family was a meant to be a kind of Modern Family that was even more modern, merging a squabbling Hispanic and White family together through an unplanned pregnancy.

But the other thing they had in common was tired writing. They took decades-old sitcom tropes and simply modified them to fit these updated characters. They built shows around a premise, instead of around the characters. They didn’t bother challenging the audience, they simply tried to please as many people as possible.

In an age where we can eschew the television shows meant to please the masses in favor of television shows designed to appeal to a specific demographic — our demographic — broader is no longer better. We want characters with which we can identity, and not jokes delivered by stereotypes designed to artificially reflect us. More importantly, in our sitcoms we want a reason to laugh, and nothing in Welcome to the Family, Sean Saves the World, or The Michael J. Fox Show gave us a reason to do so.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • I think the difference is "Community" and" Parks" are appointment viewing. I'm not watching them while folding laundry and checking facebook on my phone. I'm WATCHING them, and usually live. Many people, and I think especially fans of sitcoms that demand nothing from you, watch TV because they don't want to turn on music. It's a distraction and nothing more. You convince yourself you like the show but really you are watching it because it is on and you lack motivation after work to do much of anything. That may be cynical but it's the only way I can rationalize the huge ratings for pedestrian shows. Shows like Community and Parks do not fit that mold so you can't pair them with broad shows without fracturing the audience and leading to poor ratings all around.

    On that note, I'm weirdly hopeful for both "Crisis" and "Believe". NBC dramas lately have at least been at the very least interesting and different.

  • Kobie

    I actually sort of liked 1600 Penn.

  • Bhammer100

    At least they made the right call on Hannibal.

  • Behemoth

    hope they make it again.

  • e jerry powell

    Animal Practice was 2012, wasn't it? The whole Gabby Douglas thing that NBC had to apologize for during the London games. As if the show weren't already doomed from inception without the bad PR.

    Poor Justin Kirk.

  • Al Borland's Beard

    I'm usually the first to bitch about the success of shows like BBT, but I guess I'm pretty lucky to have gotten 7 seasons of 30 Rock, 5 of Community, 4 of AD, and 7 of Parks. Even with these shows done or nearing their ends, there are still fantastic alternatives like New Girl, Brooklyn 9-9, and Bob's Burgers that aren't trying to mimic CBS' success with broad appeal.

  • Modernlove

    For me it's the lack of heart these shows have. The comedies I keep going back to--P&R, Community, New Girl--as well as new ones that I've found myself enjoying like Brooklyn 99 and Enlisted all have heart at the center of them. The moments that give you the warm squishies and make you feel like you're watching a show where the characters genuinely care about each other, albeit in some very strange ways. Yes, they're still really funny, but there needs to be a sense of depth there that I just find completely lacking in so many shows.

  • Wigamer

    Curious...do you feel like P&R is still bringing the warm squishes? I've kind of fallen out of love.

  • I think a lot of that feeling might hinge on how much you like Leslie compared to the other characters. April/Andy, Tom, Donna and Ron area great ensemble unto themselves, I think the show has struggled to fit Leslie back into their new dynamic and sort of made her a little unlikable.

  • Wigamer

    I liked seasons 1-3 Leslie when there was a little more neurosis mixed with her stubborn optimism. And I liked the relationship she had with Ron, which I'd argue suffered a lot when Ben was introduced. I think I'm the only person who liked the Brandanowicz character, though, so maybe that renders my opinions invalid.

  • Wigamer

    Watched the first two episodes simply because of my lifelong affection for Michael J. Fox. It was just painfully unfunny. Big Bang's humor is clearly lowest common denominator stuff, but it has its moments. The MJF show had a weirdly self-conscious vibe to it, too. Still makes me sad, because I'd like to see him successful.

  • Mrs. Julien

    We watched the first episode for the same reason. Then we forgot the show existed.

  • I think it showed what a lack of confidence NBC had in those canceled shows in the first place by putting them AFTER the "cult" shows of Parks and Rec and Community. Doesn't it makes sense to have your broad, family sitcoms leading off during the traditional "family hour" and lead into the quirky more adult shows in the 9 p.m. ET hour? I'm a big fan of both Community and Parks and Rec and there's no way I ever even considered sticking around to see what Michael J. Fox was up to on his show.

  • Art3mis

    I assume they scheduled it that way to avoid making new shows a sacrificial lamb to TBBT. Community and Parks have core audiences that tune in no matter what CBS show they're up against, but you can't try to launch a new broad comedy by scheduling it opposite the broad comedy that's the highest-rated show on television right now.

  • The sad thing is, NBC doesn't seem to know how to market or cultivate the shows that DO have a fervent base.

    30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and Community aren't huge ratings winners, but there's a hard core base of fans who LOVE those shows.

    The Michael J. Fox show might have been designed to have broad appeal, but people didn't LOVE it.

    Quit throwing things at the wall to see what works and continue to nurture what you have. Cheers and Seinfeld weren't popular in their early seasons, either!

  • Art3mis

    Fair enough on Community, but I think NBC has given Parks every chance possible. I don't remember it ever really shuffling that show to weird time slots, giving it half seasons (except the very first one, and that was because of Amy Poehler's pregnancy), messing with it creatively, failing to promote it, or threatening to cancel it. And they've given it six seasons (and it will have a seventh) to grow a bigger audience--there's only so long you can wait for a show to get popular before realizing it's not going to.

    I think the show was hampered by how few people were watching NBC's Thursday line-up (if it aired after Friends, I bet it would be doing pretty good numbers), but that's not something NBC is doing on purpose. I was a huge fan back in its heyday (though I got bored with it last year and stopped watching this season), but clearly this show is never going to be the mega-hit that TBBT is.

  • NBC has monkeyed around with P&R. Season 3 was only 16 episodes and didn't premiere until January. While the show has been on Thursdays the whole time, it's been in two different time slots each of the past three years. It was second fiddle to 30 Rock and The Office in promotion. And its renewal the last two or three years has always been iffy, because of NBC's futile search to find anything else that will catch fire.

  • Behemoth

    actually season 3 was the season of Amy's pregnancy.

  • Art3mis

    I forgot about season 3, fair enough. But other than that, Parks has gotten full seasons and has always been on Thursday nights. Yeah, it's moved around a bit within that night, but I don't really think that's affected it much -- a lot of those moves were about giving it a chance behind The Office, which was NBC's highest-rated comedy.

  • Seriously, they need another Brandon Tartikoff. Say what you will, but the man was willing to give the right shows a chance to catch on. There is no reason that any of those three, Parks especially, shouldn't be in the same rarefied air as Cosby, Cheers and Seinfeld at this point.

  • ed newman

    Yeah, bitch! Let's reboot Supertrain!

  • Misfits of Science in yo FACE!

  • lowercase_ryan

    "We want characters with which we can identity, and not jokes delivered by stereotypes designed to artificially reflect us."

    So explain the success of Big Bang Theory.

  • JenVegas

    Seriously, the popularity of this show boggles the mind.

  • mairimba

    CBS has a faithful audience that will watch anything they air. At least Big Bang Theory has made me laugh quite a bit. Two Broke Girls is a TERRIBLE show. You can see every single "joke" coming from a mile away, but I believe it's getting a third season. I have not watched any of The Millers, but they are marketing it now as the #1 new comedy show on TV.

  • logan

    I like BBT. I think it's funny and the characters have actually changed.

    *runs away*

  • lowercase_ryan

    honestly, CBS markets EVERY show as the #1 new *insert descriptor* show on TV.

    I also think they use mind control to keep people from changing the channel.

  • specialj67

    I was thinking the same. Perhaps that its on CBS works in its favor--larger audience share and slightly older demo--and that the Chuck Lorre shows commit 100% to that "broad stereotypes + set-up/punchline" formula and just execute it more successfully than others. Or maybe when he says "We", he's referring to like-minded others on this site? *shrug*

  • cruzzercruz

    Good riddance. Maybe, in a perfect world, they'd be able to focus on being the daring, critically acclaimed network, rather than making cult hits practically by accident and constantly threatening to cancel them until you watch their other candy coated CBS/ABC rip-offs. But in this verse, things like Community and Hannibal aren't good for business. I'd watch 30 minutes of straight ads before either of those shows if it meant they'd be guaranteed to come back the following season.

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