Networks need an exit strategy. And right now, NBC just doesn't have one.
It's been a play practiced to precision at NBC. As shows ends, new ones-for NBC, hit ones-need to take its place. The network has always been the face of television: Its history alone speaks for itself. From Brandon Tartikoff to Warren Littlefield, then to Scott Sassa: All these men left their successor with programs to keep the network afloat while replacements are developed.
In this fashion, Jeff Zucker kept on Friends for one more year -- not just to give it the creative conclusion it needed, but to buy time to find its replacement. This is the "exit strategy" at its finest: While the hit show keeps viewers invested in the network, the replacements are being developed behind the scenes. Sometimes, these replacements hit the airwaves while the "original" is still on. If the replacement is a hit, the original can fall into a safe retirement. If not, the network must scurry around to develop a show more suitable.
When Ben Silverman entered the equation, NBC fell into what can only be called an impasse, churning out programming without achieving much success. This leaves Bob Greenblatt (Silverman's eventual successor) in a bit of situation. So far, what he had hoped would be hits has only been flops -- Whitney has been less than stellar, Mario Bello's cop-drama Prime Suspect essentially replaced, and mid-season replacement Are You There Chelsea? -- a title that makes sense as much as the show is funny -- premiered to only "OK" reviews and ratings.
Mr. Greenblatt said earlier this year, "We made comedy an important goal for us this season ", giving Up All Night (a freshman show staring Christina Applegate and Will Arnett) and "Whitney" full-season pick-ups, almost undoubtedly prematurely. Which begs the question, why? Comedy is the strongest suit of NBC, with the Thursday line-up a formidable opponent for other networks. Was it a PR move after their new drama The Playboy Club became the first show axed this season? Or was it because NBC had essentially put its reputation on the line for Whitney and refused to accept anything less than praise? It's not like NBC doesn't have another comedy waiting; Community, inexplicably, was benched mid-season to make room for the Chelsea Handler vehicle. Though critically loved, this probably has hurt the chances of Community being huge in the long run.
This denial of Whitney's failure certainly isn't going to help -- and spending millions on promoting a show that's only semi-decent could be better spent in the development of quality television. ABC has surged ahead because of its uncanny ability to pick programming that is not just appealing to masses, but is executed in a professional, artistic way. Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy and Modern Family are all examples of this. Instead, NBC graced us this season with shows that are boring, clichéd, and borderline unwatchable.
There is no two ways about it: NBC is in huge trouble. Already slipping from first place to fourth in the ratings, there's a solid chance that it might just fall to fifth. Mr. Greenblatt needs to go back to the basics of NBC and focus on development, or else the hit shows on it's last legs now will not have the necessary exit strategy to even keep NBC afloat.