The Tina Fey produced Ellie Kemper vehicle, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, debuted over the weekend, but this is not a review of that show (which will come later), except to say that it’s the best comedy that NBC has greenlit since Parks and Recreation six years ago. It’s a phenomenal, hilarious, sweet, near-perfect sitcom.
But here’s the problem: It didn’t air on NBC. It aired on Netflix, after NBC dumped it, despite the fact that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the perfect combination of 30 Rock’s pop-culture obsession and wry wit and the sweet, warm optimism of Parks and Recreation. It would’ve been a perfect Thursday night comedy.
But Thursday night comedies no longer exist on NBC. In fact, comedy no longer exist on NBC because every single comedy that Robert Greenblatt has greenlit under his tenure at NBC has been cancelled or will be cancelled by May. No sitcom has made it to a third season, and only three have made it to a second season (Whitney, About a Boy and the trainwreck that was Up All Night).
This makes no sense when you consider that NBC is also the home of Saturday Night Live, which — even in a struggling 40th season — is trouncing every one of NBC’s sitcoms in the ratings (Marry Me is the highest rated sitcom at the moment, and it gets around a .8 rating compared to the 4.0 rating of an SNL episode, which airs at 11:30 p.m.)
What Robert Greenblatt still fails to understand is that SNL should be the pipeline toward the network’s sitcom success. NBC already dominates late night, thanks to SNL alums, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers. Plus, the three longest sitcoms the network has had since Friends are The Office (from SNL veterans Greg Daniels and Mike Schur), 30 Rock (from SNLer Tina Fey) and Parks and Rec (also from Schur, starring Amy Poehler). They’re sitting on a goldmine of funny, recognizable, likable and popular talent, and yet, Greenblatt is sticking to his guns with his “broader is better” strategy despite that fact that he has a years-long track record proving that it hasn’t worked.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that NBC is working to launch a “comedy” streaming service, which would allow viewers to pay a low price of around $3 to easily stream NBC comedy. That’s great, except that the only lure they have is The Tonight Show and Late Night (and all of their good stuff can already be found on YouTube). You know what might have been a great addition to that? Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the moderately successful Fox sitcom starring SNLer Andy Samberg from former writer Mike Schur, which NBC passed over in favor of The Michael J. Fox Show.
Oh, and guess what the best new network sitcom of the year is? The Last Man on Earth, starring SNL alum Will Forte. Guess which network it’s not on? NBC. In fact, if Greenblatt weren’t around with his broader is better strategy, the last phase of NBC’s Must See Lineup could’ve realistically been replaced with:
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (to Netflix)
The Mindy Project (which NBC also passed on)
Last Man on Earth
The ratings would not have been Seinfeld sized, but they would’ve had a block with a passionate base of consistent viewers who would’ve jumped at the idea of watching those sitcoms on a comedy app, who would’ve been thrilled to watch five seasons of those sitcoms on Netflix, and who could’ve given NBC some healthy syndication and streaming royalties.
But don’t worry: Bob Greenblatt still has Undateable up his sleeve. Meanwhile, here are the comedy pilots that NBC has ordered so far for the 2015-16 season, which all have two things in common: There are no SNL veterans in the casts, and they all look terrible. But hey! I’m sure the Matthew Lillard-led Problem Child sitcom is the answer to all the network’s prayers.
Ultimately, I’m glad Netflix picked up Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, because the truth is, NBC didn’t deserve it, and a second season would’ve almost certainly been out of the question. Over on Netflix, I hope it runs for years.