For years, NBC was a ratings giant. It was a powerhouse network, which all other networks attempted copy, but failed miserably. With its blockbuster Thursday Night lineup; from The Cosby Show to Family Ties, Sienfeld to Cheers, ER, LA Law, to other ratings hits such as; The Golden Girls, 227, Empty Nest, Law and Order, Hill Street Blues and Fraiser, the network was unstoppable. It’s news programs, The Today Show, NBC Nightly News and Meet the Press were the highest rated news programs in their category. Now, NBC is only a caricature of itself. The 2012-2013 television season left it dead last in the Nielsen ratings. All of its comedies from this past season were cancelled. The Today Show is dropping in the ratings after a poor roll-out of and then firing of Ann Curry. David Gregory’s tenure as Meet the Press moderator has been met with anything but raves with harsh comparisons to his mentor; the late, great Tim Russert. Even its vaunted Olympic machine is not safe. The Olympic Games, arguably the most watched sporting event in the world is not safe from criticism. No matter what the network attempts to do, it fails…miserably.
NBC’s arrival at this precipitous point is well documented. Poorly written shows, copycat programs, and upper management turnover all combined to bring chaos to its programming. At this point, it feels as though the network is just throwing shows on the schedule and hoping, praying, that one of them finds an audience. However, all is not lost for the Peacock Network. There are a couple of bright spots on its schedule. Parenthood is a critical success. The Voice and Revolution have an audience. The psychological thriller, Hannibal did relatively well during its initial 13 week run and then there is, what could arguably be seen as the backbone of its lineup, Law and Order: SVU. Although four shows does not a ratings giant make, it is at the very least something to work from. The trick is, how does the network lure viewers back?
This is where a good PR team would come in handy.
There is a saying, “Go big or go home.” NBC Nightly News is still the top rated nightly news cast in the country. Expand that news cast to one hour. Do more in-depth reporting on serious news topics of the day. Brian Williams has the gravitas to pull it off. He’s a serious journalist and a great interviewer. The first half hour of the news cast should be in its original format. The second, take a deeper look at a story. Do a mini “documentary” of sorts every night on something different. What does the Affordable Care Act mean to everyday people? How will the Supreme Court’s reversal of the Voting Rights Act affect states? What happens when a major city, Detroit, goes bankrupt? The ratings for the second half-hour of the news cast will decline, of course, but it can be a showcase for serious journalism.
The Today Show has to be revamped. The program, is in disarray. An article from the The New York Times, looked at the program and what might be wrong with it. All fingers point to Matt Lauer, the Times piece indicated that viewers just don’t like him much anymore. This is where NBC can kill two birds with one stone: Remove Mr. Lauer from Today and replace him with David Gregory from Meet the Press. Replace Mr. Gregory on Meet the Press with Judy Woodruff, Gwen Ifill, John King, Tom Brokaw, or Andrea Mitchell. Any of those journalists would bring much-needed journalistic integrity to the show and have shown their desire to ask the tough questions until answers are given. Mr. Gregory, while an affable man, has not been able to deliver the same kind of energy which Mr. Russert was able to provide.
Finally, when dealing with its prime-time line-up, here are a few suggestions: Don’t be so quick to cancel shows. Every single comedy which was on the schedule during the 12/13 season was cancelled. While some of the shows were absolutely horrible, there were a couple of standouts (Go On and The New Normal). Those are shows which could have, if given a chance, found a greater audience. Go for quality of product over easy and cheap. Re-imagining old shows (Knight Rider) is a bad idea and putting up “reality” shows is even worse. Having one or two reality shows is alright, but do not overload the schedule with them. Create high-caliber programs with strong actors and great writers. Do not go for the cheap laughs. Television viewers still want quality programming. What made Friends, Cheers, Frasier, The Golden Girls, Cosby, and many others so great is the writing was smart and funny and timely. If NBC Entertainment were to return to their roots, and put in the effort, they could have some great original programming.