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Time Slot Shifts: Some Are Promotions, Others Are Death Kisses
January 12, 2011  | By David Bianculli
 
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Midseason brings not only new TV shows, but new time slots for a few old shows. Sometimes, a move is a reward for performing better than expected, as with CBS moving Blue Bloods from Fridays to higher-profile Wednesdays starting next week. Other times, no matter how superb a show is, the move is a slap in the face, a future pink slip, a slow-acting death sentence.

That's what NBC is doing this week to 30 Rock...

Despite the fact that 30 Rock, for five years now, has been the network's funniest and most inventive comedy, NBC this Thursday is moving the show to 10 p.m. ET.

That's a move to the final hour of prime time -- a move that, on broadcast network TV, is the equivalent of sending it to Siberia. The last one I remember, also presented by NBC, was United States, in 1980. And if misery loves company, at least Tina Fey should take solace in being in some superb company.

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United States was a bold TV experiment by Larry Gelbart, the brilliant writer whose credits include, but are not at all limited to, the TV version of M*A*S*H, the story for the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and the movies Tootsie and Barbarians at the Gate. United States, which was riveting, starred Beau Bridges and Helen Shaver as a long-married couple dealing with everyday life -- no more, no less.

There was no laugh track or theme song (unheard of at the time), and the show mixed comedy and drama in a way that was as unusual then as it is commonplace on TV today. Three years earlier, CBS had successfully transplanted the character of Lou Grant from the sitcom world of The Mary Tyler Moore Show to the drama-with-comedy newsroom of Lou Grant, but United States was starting from scratch.

NBC, then run by Fred Silverman, didn't know what do with it -- not only because of its odd tone, but because it was so much better than anything else NBC had to offer at the time. So NBC stuck it at 10:30 p.m., after a 90-minute variety series called The Big Show.

"A good show like United States points out how truly revolting most of NBC's lineup is, and how utterly juvenile it has become," I wrote in the Fort Lauderdale News on Mar. 11, 1980. Then, trying to explain why United States had ended up in a late-hour slot (on a network where Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere and Cheers were still in the future), I named names.

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"Back to NBC's problem," I wrote then. "Where do you put a show like United States in your weekly prime time schedule? After Pink Lady? Between Here's Boomer and The Facts of Life? Between -- gulp -- Diff'rent Strokes and Hello, Larry?"

Ah, those were the days.

But these are the days, too. And while 30 Rock, for years, has enjoyed prominent placement on NBC's Thursday schedule, that night is not the powerhouse it was back in the days of Seinfeld and Friends. And transplanting 30 Rock to another night just points out how "truly revolting" today's NBC lineup is as well.

To paraphrase the earlier version of myself: "Where do you put a show like 30 Rock in your weekly prime time schedule? After The Biggest Loser: Couples? Between Chuck and The Cape? Between -- gulp -- Minute to Win it and Dateline NBC?"

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But instead of making better programming to support one of its few jewels, NBC is banishing 30 Rock to a time slot where it's sure to get fewer viewers, as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I know, TV time slots are supposed to mean a lot less in these days of Hulu and YouTube and iTunes.

But iThink they still matter.

And I think 30 Rock deserves better.

By the way... If you look up United States on the Internet, sources claim it premiered in March 1980, in a much earlier time slot. Those sources are wrong. I'm relying not on my own memory (which, for once, turned out to be right), but on clippings from the actual newspapers of the time. Back in the days of clippings. And newspapers.

And By the way number two... United States has never been released on home video.

But it should be...

 

8 Comments

 

elise said:

Well, for me anyway, this time change will work! I have never watched this show, despite your reviews as well as many friends reviews, because of the 3 young children I have whom we let watch the other shows in that time slot. Now I will be able to watch the show without any worries of inappropriate ...anything! YAY! (Except I also adore "The Mentalist" and have been enjoying it in its current time slot. And alas...no DVR (or even extended cable) in this cheapskate household. What to do, oh what to do?!

Comment posted on January 12, 2011 10:13 AM


Tausif Khan said:

I am sick and tired of critics making fun of NBC. I am not saying there is no reason to make fun of NBC. David your correct prediction about The Jay Leno stunned me. However, NBC has put together a successful 3-hour comedy block on Thursday night. No other network can say that. I prefer the NBC comedy block to that of ABC after they destroyed Better Off Ted. I watch The Middle every once in a while and would probably get into Cougar Town because I am a huge fan of Bill Lawerence's work. However, NBC's comedy block has a similar sensibility all the way through and present innovative writers and actors.

NBC also found a way to keep Chuck on the air while Fox destroyed Dollhouse, Sit Down Shut Up and Running Wild and ABC threw Flash Forward and V at viewers because they liked Lost. I will never watch the alphabet soup of crime procedurals on CBS.

I like Parenthood a lot better than Modern Family. I find Modern Family unfunny and some times offensive (and not in a good way).

Also, when Merlin failed to catch audience support on NBC rather than ending their partnership with the BBC on this project they sent it to their cable arm on Syfy where it has been doing quite well. It is a light family drama but with limited serialization that actually progresses. While there are many similar episodes I feel that character development has become so much richer which is a lot more than I can say for The Big Bang Theory (Morgana has gone from sweet ward and towards her destiny as the antagonist to Merlin and Arthur while Raj still cannot talk to women without drinking). For these developments I appreciate the work that NBC does.

[All I'll say is, for NBC to have a "successful" three-hour comedy block, more people have to watch it than are watching the competition. And they aren't. -- DB]

Comment posted on January 12, 2011 3:53 PM


Davey said:

Am I severely overestimating the number of people with DVRs, etc., and people who watch TV on netsites? I'm no early adopting techhead, but haven't watched a show live except for a few sports events and news in years. We just go through the listings and record what we might watch, so a show's timeslot is irrelevant.

Which, despite your lamentations, is what gives a site like this one extra value to viewers who want to be sure and tape all the TV that sounds worth watching.

[Ah. Well, if the final result is that I survive and maintain some sense of value, then bring it on, I guess. Thanks. -- DB]

Comment posted on January 12, 2011 7:06 PM


Nathan said:

Moving 30 Rock to 10 is an act of desperation, not an act of banishment. They're adding another hour of comedies because the network can't seem to launch a new drama. And 30 Rock is there to anchor the hour -- as incredible as it seems (the show demonstrated this season that it doesn't depend on The Office as a lead in).

Anyway, it's already been renewed for a sixth season, so for people like me who rarely watch tv shows when they're scheduled, the move to 10 PM makes no difference at all.

Comment posted on January 12, 2011 7:53 PM


Kevin said:

I had heard that NBC already guarenteed a pick for next season so at least the show's future is not completely at risk. Outsourced is in more danger I know I won't watch it at 10:30 I will just start watching the Mentalist on my DVR.

It is better than the Marriage Ref at least.

Comment posted on January 13, 2011 12:24 PM


Neil said:

DB, are you sure this is a permanent move, rather than a limited-run time shift? I recall NBC doing the same thing in previous years during non-sweeps periods, running all-comedy nights and airing repeats of some shows in the 10:00 and 10:30 slots. (This has happened to The Office more than once.) Hopefully, this is just a transient event and things will return to normal when the sweeps start in a couple of weeks.

On the other hand, we are discussing NBC, where, when all other alternatives have been exhausted, they still will find a way to do the wrong thing.

[Even if a temporary move, it's a show of scheduling disrespect for a show that deserves better. But hey -- NBC put The Jay Leno Show there, five days a week, for a while... -- DB]

Comment posted on January 13, 2011 2:58 PM


Nathan said:

So, the move to 10 gave 30 Rock a 29% ratings boost over its last new episode. Will we see a follow-up post about how comparing shows three decades apart doesn't make sense in an industry that's changed more rapidly than anything but computers and telecommunications?

[We might. But let's wait a week or two, and see how the ratings settle. I like your point, though, even though I think the comparison does and will stand. -- DB]

Comment posted on January 21, 2011 1:44 PM


ted409 said:

i am not a regular viewer of 30 rock but from the times i watched it i loved it
what's his name alec baldwin? if memory serves me correctly said he was going to give up acting, so im glad to see hes still doing 30 rock
the time change will work for me since im in the mountain time zone but for others i don't know
maybe they can catch it on hulu
tom selleck is a good actor but the pace of bluebloods is a bit slow for me. although that could be a good thing since the rest seem to be high paced shoot em up drama .
tired of seeing all the blood and gore

Comment posted on January 28, 2011 2:36 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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