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NBC: Hurts So Bad
March 11, 2011  | By Ed Bark

Has a big-time broadcast network ever been in sorrier prime-time shape than NBC?

The network's new owner, Comcast, and its new entertainment president, Showtime export Robert Greenblatt, have miles to go before they can even feel safely ahead of Univision.

And given the ongoing population shifts, that day might well never come.

Yep, NBC is in a really bad way, with Sunday Night Football its only winning proposition. Three problems with that:

1. The Peacock must fill half of each TV season with something else.

2. No broadcast network makes money on the NFL because of the huge rights fees commanded by the league.

3. Unless owners and players somehow settle their huge differences, there may not be much of a season -- or any season -- in 2011.

In the latest ratings week (Feb. 28 to March 6), Nielsen Media Research says NBC averaged just 5.5 million viewers in prime-time and a piddling 5 percent share of all TV sets in use. American Idol-fueled Fox had more than twice as many viewers (11.6 million) and double the audience share.


The Peacock also ran fourth among advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds, drawing 2.1 million vs. Spanish language Univision's 1.9 million. That's not muy bueno for a network that now also runs a distant fourth on Thursday nights, where it dominated all comers for close to two decades with powerhouses such as The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, Will & Grace, L.A. Law and ER.

NBC's latter day Thursday night comedies by and large are still pretty good, with Emmy-winners 30 Rock and The Office still in play. But 30 Rock [photo at right] has never been a ratings winner. And The Office is both sagging in the Nielsens and facing a very shaky future next season without linchpin Steve Carell.

NBC's post-NFL Sunday night lineup, unveiled last Sunday, is Dateline, America's Next Great Restaurant and two hours of Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice. They respectively ran 54th, 70th and 34th in the weekly Nielsens, with only Celebrity Apprentice showing a bit of a pulse among 18-to-49-year-olds by placing 21st that week.

NBC's top performer in the total-viewer Nielsens is the midseason Monday night replacement series Harry's Law, starring veteran actress Kathy Bates [photo below] as a sour-tempered storefront lawyer. But it ranked only 25th, while sliding among 18-to-49-year-olds to 47th place.

It got no better for NBC on Monday of this week, when the two-hour return of The Event (after a 13-week absence) drew just 5.2 million viewers, performing below even the previous week's piddling prime-time average of 5.5 million viewers. The Event likewise was a non-event among 18-to-49-year-olds, running fourth in its time slot.


Another heavily promoted NBC entry, The Cape, collapsed into 78th place among total viewers last week, running behind all five installments of the Univision telenovela Triunfo Del Amor. Cape likewise came a cropper with 18-to-49-year-olds, landing in 90th place. Bet your life savings that neither The Cape nor The Event will be back next season.

There's this, too. NBC filled all three hours of last Thursday's prime-time schedule with repeats of The Office. The most-watched episode had 3.1 million viewers and the least-watched, 2.7 million. In that same week, two Monday night episodes of History Channel's Pawn Stars had 3.9 million and 3.5 million viewers. Cable's top draw, MTV's Jersey Shore, had more total viewers (7.8 million) than every NBC series except Harry's Law and Celebrity Apprentice.

NBC might be able to take some comfort in the fact that ABC isn't exactly lighting up the prime-time skies either. But despite its prime-time troubles, third-place ABC still averaged 1.1 million more total viewers than the Peacock did last week, while also drawing 450,000 more viewers in the 18-to-49 age range. Plus, ABC has the cavalry on the way in the form of Dancing with the Stars, which returns March 21. NBC has absolutely nothing of any import in reserve, unless you count more plug-in additions of Minute to Win It as very special events.

All of this and more give Comcast and Greenblatt possibly the steepest hill to climb in prime time history. NBC has no thoroughbreds on the air at the moment. It can't bank on a single series to consistently win its time slot. And its year-to-year averages in both total viewers and 18-to-49-year-olds also are in far deeper declines than any rival broadcast network's.

Other than football, the Peacock's lone legitimate hit comes again this summer, when America's Got Talent returns to the living. NBC otherwise has got plenty of nothin' -- and three more months of it at that.




Thornhill said:

No doubt that after months of research, NBC will determine that they need more reality shows and fewer scripted shows. Ratings will continue to drop and they'll keep asking themselves, "what did we do wrong?"

Comment posted on March 14, 2011 10:12 AM

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