Tuesday, May 22, 2012

NBC's Comedy Dilemma (or the untold dangers of six seasons and a movie)

For most television networks, having a robust slate of high quality comedy programming would be a blessing. Not NBC. No, for them, having The Office and 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation and Community all on at the same time is scary and confusing. "Too much of a good thing" definitely holds true if idiots are running your network and don't understand how promotion, the Internet's effect on television viewership, or the changing ratings landscape function.

I'm not equipped to speak on the two former, more venerable shows. I've seen about six episodes of each, which I generally enjoyed, and looking at their ratings they seem to have been the beneficiaries of good, long (if not dwindling) runs. Parks and Rec and Community, however, have always struggled. Fans love them dearly, but they don't turn the numbers a major network needs, with Community's third season finale pulling a dismal 2.5 million viewers and P&R generally sitting at 3.5 million. Strategies like repeated time-slot shifting and putting both on hiatus didn't work. Faced with these two critically successful but publicly ignored programs, the network made a call that angered many: Parks and Rec got a full fifth season, while Community got a 13-episode order, conceivably its last, and simultaneously lost showrunner Dan Harmon. 

Reduced to sheer programming tactics, the decision makes sense. P&R has been on for a season longer and is still posting stronger numbers, and I can only imagine that Amy Poehler is much easier to work with than the notoriously embattled Harmon. As a huge fan of Community, all this didn't make the news any easier for me, nor would it have for any of the show's other ardent supporters. Having just finished each show's most recent season, however, I find myself aligning unexpectedly with the message this decision sends out. Creatively, it just feels right - well, maybe not NBC's unceremonious ejection of Harmon, but letting the show come to a close after an abbreviated last gasp. As recently as two months ago, I would never have expected to champion P&R as a series with continued momentum while decrying Community as long in the tooth; consider this my critical attempt at coming to grips with some unforeseen changes in my television life. (Possibly one of the most pathetic sentences I've ever typed, for the record.)