With the end of "The Office" and "30 Rock" on the horizon, I'm worried about the future of NBC's two other beloved -- and low-rated -- comedies, "Parks and Recreation" and "Community."
As we prepare to say goodbye to Liz Lemon, Jim and Pam and the rest of the wacky "30 Rock" and "The Office" characters we've come to love, it's important to remember that Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson and Jeff Winger and the Greendale gang are still alive and kicking. And they should continue to thrive, despite NBC's recent focus on "broader" comedies.
"I think we're going to transition with our comedy programs and try to broaden the audience," NBC's Bob Greenblatt told reporters at the recent Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour. "Those Thursday comedies, which the critics love and we love, tend to be a bit more narrow than we want going forward."
I mean, nothing against comedies that appeal to a wider audience -- they have their purpose -- but that audience isn't going to create dedicated blogs or turn a character into an internet hero for those types of programs. That's what the audiences of "Parks and Recreation" and "Community" do.
A broader concept might give a show more eyeballs at first, but the may not be dedicated eyeballs. They won't be viewers who will wear fake beards and chant outside network headquarters. Having a balance between the more casual viewer and the dedicated fan is necessary. That should be NBC's focus, not completely broad and therefore, not completely cult-driven.
Something tells me "Guys With Kids" won't have resonance after it departs the airwaves, whereas "Parks and Recreation" will live on, a la "Arrested Development," because of the fanbase it's developed. (Good for NBC to note than Fox's "AD" is now making a big TV return on Netflix and there's a movie in the works. Sometimes cult status pays off.) Imagine what kind of audience these shows could grow if NBC really backed them?
When you break down the successes of the other major networks, CBS has the police procedural and broad comedy down; The CW has the female teen market; ABC has women and the genre lovers; Fox is a mixed bag with the male-skewing shows and teen hits; and NBC has long lacked focus and a network theme.
Cult comedies were NBC's bag for a while, which gave it respect even as the Peacock network was delivering dismal numbers. For a while, it looked like NBC was going to try and corner the female-driven comedy market with established stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler headlining shows and pilots in the works from Roseanne and Sarah Silverman, but the focus has changed and now the network wants broad, familiar faces. Proof? NBC's purchase and straight-to-series order of Michael J. Fox's new comedy.
"We have all been such huge fans of Michael's and hoped one day he would return to television with his own show," Jennifer Salke, president of NBC Entertainment said in a statement. "He had us at hello with his warmth, humor and incredible charisma. The fact that he pitched us a show that was funny, heartwarming and personal was the icing on the cake! We are over the moon and thankful Michael, Will (Gluck) and Sam (Laybourne) will be a cornerstone of our NBC comedy brand."
A cornerstone of NBC's broad comedy brand.
Some of TV's biggest comedies weren't hits right off the bat, and yes, you can say NBC has given "Parks and Recreation" and "Community" chances to become "hits" by allowing them five and four seasons, respectively. However, the definition of "hit" has changed quite dramatically since the days when "Seinfeld" and "Friends" ruled the airwaves. The TV landscape today is filled with thousands of options for viewers, so networks need to nurture and cater to the small but loyal audiences that remain. "Parks and Recreation" will probably never deliver 20 million viewers (what scripted shows can do that now?), but there is a certain type of magic the show has that can't be replicated.
NBC has long supported "30 Rock" thanks to its star power and Emmy love, and "The Office" helped make the network relevant again. Meanwhile, "Parks and Rec" has been bounced around the schedule, kept off the air for months at a time and never really gotten the love it deserves. It's now firmly placed after "The Office" in what will be a make-it or break-it season.
"Community's" fate is even less promising. What has long been the little show that could, "Community" now faces a shortened season and timeslot exile on Friday nights, all also on the heels of major behind-the-scenes reshuffling.
Will these two NBC comedy gems survive for another season (or three) once "30 Rock" and "The Office" depart? That depends on NBC, but I sure hope they do.
Follow Chris Harnick on Twitter: www.twitter.com/chrisharnick