Can a monkey save NBC?
The network that routinely finishes last in ratings among the big four broadcast companies is in a state of transition, most obviously seen in its approach to comedy this fall. Where NBC has been a haven for critically loved, cult-hit sitcoms that don't draw massive amounts of viewers, the network is now introducing comedies starring a lab-coat wearing monkey ("Animal Practice") and babies raised by clueless, yet caring, dads ("Guys with Kids").
"We’re going to transition with our comedy programming and … try to broaden the audience and broaden what the network does," Robert Greenblatt, Chairman of NBC Entertainment, told journalists gathered at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Wednesday. "Those Thursday comedies, which the critics love and we love, tend to be a bit more narrow than we’d ultimately like as we go forward."
Greenblatt was referring to shows like "Parks and Recreation" and "30 Rock," and more specifically, "Community," which featured an entire episode that played out in the style of an 8-bit video game last season. Though all three were renewed for next season, as of late "Community" has received little love from NBC, which fired the show's creator, ordered only 13 episodes, and pushed the show back to Fridays.
"The reason that we did 13 episodes of that and a couple of our other shows is because we really wanted to get more comedies on the schedule … which isn’t to say we couldn’t decide at some point to extend those seasons," Greenblatt said. "I would love nothing more than 'Community' to have a following on Friday and to be able to continue it."
NBC offering even that amount of support to a similarly quirky new series doesn’t appear likely. He called those creatively robust, yet ill-performing sitcoms "a little bit more sophisticated than I think you might want for a real broad audience."
And what says "mass appeal" better than animals and babies?
"We didn’t' sit down and say, 'Let’s find some shows with babies and animals everywhere,” but we did buy into visions from creators that we felt were funny, specific, emotional and original," said Jennifer Salke, NBC President of Entertainment.
Salke said NBC "wanted forever" to line up a series like "Animal Practice" that prominently featured furry friends in the storyline. Yet at the same time, she added, "you don't need big hi-jinks" to make a broad comedy work.
NBC may actually be onto something: Later in the day, during a party held for critics by the network, the most popular, most photographed celebrity of the evening was Crystal — the capuchin monkey star of "Animal Practice."