This is something that you all pretty much know. The feathers are off the proverbial Peacock. The once-powerful network has been suffering an extended ratings nadir for nearly a decade and if you take a look at this recent New York Times piece, there are few good signs to pick out among the muck, at least in a financial or ratings sense. But because of those awful ratings, many great series, such as Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Chuck and Community, have survived a lot longer than they should have.
Today, tremors were felt throughout the Twittersphere when NBC announced its “spring” schedule (January through March) and one of those above series wasn’t on it. In case you didn’t hear the collective screaming of a bunch of people who probably aren’t Nielsen families, Community is “benched” after it finishes its fall run in December. NBC assures us that this benching is only for a short time, though it seems many take this news as the first step towards cancellation.
Literally seconds after NBC sent out the press release, Twitter exploded with rage towards NBC. There were so many expletive-laden tweets in my feed that I’m not even sure Storify would prefer me to document them for posterity’s sake. When I sort of jokingly asked what we should buy or consume to get NBC to keep Community around, more than a dozen people told me that we should shoot NBC headquarters with paintballs. In short, people are very much ready to blame NBC for taking Community off the air for at least 12 weeks come 2012 and because of that, they’re also ready to assume that NBC’s executives are dumb, misguided fools who all need to be fired.*
The whole “Network X sucks for cancelling my favorite series” routine drives me nuts. In certain cases, like FOX with Firefly, the network is definitely to blame. But FX wasn’t really to blame for Terriers, FOX isn’t really to blame for Fringe or Dollhouse and NBC isn’t really to blame for Chuck or Community. It’s the easy way out.
Unfortunately, not all of that is actually true and, shockingly perhaps, I’m here to defend NBC. Well, sort of. I know. I’ll let you catch your breath.
Now, I don’t want to be super-judgmental because I understand where all the vitriol is coming from. I’m right there with you, in theory. Community is, without question, my favorite current television series and it’s very close to becoming my favorite series of all-time. I freaking adore Community folks. If you’ve read this web site for more than two weeks, you probably know this. I sort of expected this to happen (I’ll get to this in a second), but that doesn’t make me any less sad. If there is no fourth season of Community, I’ll be extremely, extremely sad.
Nevertheless, this isn’t really on NBC guys. I hate to be that guy, but this is one of those times where it is easy to forget the fact that above all else, television is a business. NBC has been terrible at the business side of things for a long time now and that’s been beneficial for so many of our favorite series, but that doesn’t mean that NBC stopped caring about being a business. In fact, with the new Kabletown, uh, I mean Comcast overloads in charge, I’d bet that NBC is even more worried about the business side of things than they were in the last few years.
Looking at this from a business perspective, NBC probably had to do this. By the time it ends its December run, Community will have aired just over 60 episodes of television in two-plus seasons. Although I think NBC could and should have moved it somewhere else on the Thursday night schedule (like 8:30 last Fall), the network has still given Community all the time in the world to become a substantial or even middling hit in the Nielsen ratings. We love the series, but it has not accomplished that goal. Basically anything on NBC is going to get hammered at Thursdays at 8 p.m. and while it might suck that it’s been Community that’s had to be the sacrificial lamb, it’s also kind of nice that NBC hasn’t bothered Community until now.
Sure, now sucks. Having no Community for a few months and probably longer definitely sucks. Having no Community and more Whitney especially sucks, hard. However, NBC had to try something. They clearly and rightfully want to see what Up All Night can do on a better night and they obviously want to stay in the Tina Fey business, so 30 Rock needs a plum slot. Community isn’t going to help save NBC, no matter how much we love it and how much we complain, bitch, moan and cry about this news. Up All Night likely won’t save the network either, but frankly, it has a better chance of doing so right than Community and that’s probably all that really matters.
NBC consistently makes dumb, baffling decisions. Shelving Community for an extended period of time is tremendously frustrating and on a creative front, supremely dumb and baffling. Yet, I’m still not shocked nor am I that upset at NBC in particular for making this call. I’m more upset that more people didn’t watch Community during its first 60 episodes. I’m not judging anyone who chose not to watch Community because what we do with our time is our business.
But if audiences choose not to watch a series, it’s very likely that series won’t stick around too long. We might want it to, we might be upset at all those people who didn’t watch while we watched repeatedly, deconstructed it with 2,000 word reviews and created hash-tag memes, but there isn’t a whole lot we can do. And turning all our rage and hatred towards a fledging network that’s been relatively supportive of a series that literally would have been canceled on any other network feels counterproductive to me – especially when Community isn’t officially cancelled.
The good news is that Parks and Recreation’s benching last year didn’t prevent it from coming back and moving Whitney to Wednesdays and pairing it with the Chelsea Handler sitcom more or less confirms the network is not interested in keeping those two around. I won’t say that keeping Community off the air is beneficial to the series’ well-being, but it could be worse, I think.
So yes, NBC sucks. 99 percent of the time – including this time, in so many ways – they’re thinking is flawed, misguided, what have you. Community shouldn’t be benched, especially not for Whitney. That’s obvious. But…NBC has to try…something. This, like all their other recent moves, will probably go horribly wrong. But if it does, that probably means that Community will be back on the air by St. Patrick’s Day and all this rage will be for naught. Hopefully.