NBC was once home to “Must See TV” — a tagline designed to showcase the network’s unbeatable combination of comedies and dramas that included shows like The Cosby Show, Cheers, Fraiser, Seinfield, Friends and ER.
But all of that began to change in 2004 as the aforementioned staple comedies and dramas began to end. NBC slowly but surely began descending from first place to fourth place in the ratings race and has never been able to recover.
Though there have been a few breakout hits in the past 10 years that have allowed the peacock network to shine — the last scripted hit came in 2006 with the premiere of Heroes — nothing else has really been able to pull the network back to prominence.
It’s becoming increasingly clear, as AVClub has pointed out, that these aren’t shows people don't want to watch – it just looks like nobody seems to want to watch NBC.
The one silver lining that the network has, however, is its critically acclaimed comedy block, but even the Thursday night “Comedy Done Right” line-up is showing signs of weakness. Relatively speaking, The Office is still a ratings hit for the network but has struggled creatively ever since the departure of Steve Carrell. (And some would argue the show was struggling even before then.)
Meanwhile, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and Community — all critical darlings — have suffered from less than stellar ratings. And with 30 Rock pulling in the same ratings as Community in the 8/7c timeslot, it’s becoming increasingly clear, as AVClub has pointed out, that these aren’t shows people don't want to watch — it just looks like nobody wants to watch them on NBC.
To make matters worse, NBC's ratings have gotten so bad that Univision, a relatively young Spanish-language network, has beat NBC with higher ratings on multiple occasions. AVClub recently revealed that NBC fell into a “statistical tie with Univision for fourth place” during the first week of February sweeps.
Things could turn around for the network this year, though. Entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt realizes that it may take more than one hit to completely turn the network around, but the stars seem to be aligning in favor of NBC this year.
Last year brought the surprise hit, The Voice, and this year, NBC was fortunate enough to air the Super Bowl, which broke records as the most watched television program in history of the U.S. (In case you're curious, 111 million viewers watched the Super Bowl Sunday night.)
And you can bet the peacock made sure to capitalize on the amount of eyeballs glued to their network during the big game. NBC released a three-minute long promotional commercial featuring cast members from 30 Rock, Community and Law and Order: SVU.
Meanwhile, NBC also hoped to capture more Voice viewers by airing the reality show in the coveted post-Super Bowl time slot. It worked. The Voice was watched by over 37 million people, which is reportedly up 47 percent from last year's airing of Glee and the best post-Super Bowl telecast ratings in the 18-49 demographic since Grey's Anatomy in 2006.
The real test of the media blitz, however, will come Monday night. NBC’s latest series, Smash, could be a good indication on whether or not 2012 will be NBC’s rebound year.
The network has reportedly spent millions in promotion of the new musical drama airing Monday night; if you watched the Super Bowl, chances are you saw plenty of commercials for the show. According to The New York Times, “Executives at competing networks said the total promotional cost of Smash could most likely be a record.”
Smash has debuted to generally positive reviews, with The Hollywood Reporter calling it an “excellent bar-raiser for broadcast networks.” The series has all it needs in order to be a credible television show about the inner workings of creating a Broadway musical: Playwright Theresa Rebeck is listed as the creator and executive producer of the series alongside executive producer, Steven Spielberg.
If Smash is a ratings success, it will prove that there is room for more musicals in the world of television and that such musicals can be much more genuine and realistic than their kiddy counterpart that Glee has managed to capture.
Here’s hoping NBC’s bold risk with Smash pays off, or else viewers may be subjected to more hallowed comedies like Whitney next year... and nobody wants that.
Smash airs on NBC Monday, Feb. 6 at 10/9c following The Voice.