Is NBC the comeback peacock?

By Colin Mahan

Sep 15, 2006

It's a long way to the top. Or even third place.

That's the way NBC is feeling, as the once top-rated network has slipped in the ratings over the past two years to fourth, behind CBS, ABC, and Fox. After megahits Seinfeld and Friends went off the air in 1998 and 2004, respectively, the network lacked a substantial hit.

"What was especially glaring for NBC is they were so far ahead in first place only two years earlier...To slip to fourth is a pretty devastating fall," Shari Anne Brill, of media buyer Carat USA, told The Hollywood Reporter.

In the 2005-2006 season, the network's highest-rated program was the Howie Mandel-fronted game show, Deal or No Deal (a fact ridiculed by Emmy host Conan O'Brien in his show-opening song). This fall, NBC is attempting to break out of last place with a slate of shows that is attracting good preseason buzz.

"Last year, people were laughing at the shows," one media executive told the Reporter. "This year there is so much more confidence in NBC's offering. Their [program] development is far superior."

Critics are by and large agreeing: NBC has got some juice this season. At the top of NBC's hype list is the Aaron Sorkin drama Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, a satrical take on a late-night sketch-comedy show resembling the network's own Saturday Night Live.

In his September 15 review of the show, Reporter critic Barry Garron writes, "Studio 60 may be best new show of the season."

Media Life's Josh Bell concurs.

"[Studio 60 does] what creator Aaron Sorkin does best: catch the intensity of a moment," he wrote on September 13. "Matthew Perry and Amanda Peet deliver especially strong performances."

Bell also has praise for Heroes, about regular people who discover they possess superpowers.

"Heroes largely lives up to [its] hype," he said. "In its best moments it resembles the M. Night Shyamalan film Unbreakable, about a man who discovers a great secret about himself after a tragedy. It's smart, serious and well-acted."

In the September 17 edition of USA Weekend, a critical roundup of new fall shows puts four NBC series--Studio 60, Heroes, Tina Fey's 30 Rock, and Friday Night Lights, a series based on the football film--in the top five. The other was ABC's separate but equally hyped Ugly Betty.

Last season, NBC was lauded for reviving the moribund sitcom genre with My Name Is Earl and The Office. Although the two shows received critical accolades and Emmy wins, ratings were just solid but unspectacular. Analysts say just one or two breakout hits could help reverse the peacock's fortunes.

"NBC needs a hit...Every other network now has a hit," said Jason Maltby of MindShare. "In many ways, it's easier now for a network to get one or maybe two hits, and that could be the difference between top and bottom."

Over the summer, an Internet study showed that NBC's new fall shows were receiving the most chatter on forums and blogs, as well as the most positive chatter.

"If their shows perform well, I could expect a much closer race and maybe even NBC climbing into third [place]," Brill surmised.

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  • Death2009 Sep 19, 2006

    Clay you are naive if you think they can't. I'd bet people said the same about people who supported fox its first year! LOL! The CW is in 95.5% of homes that is about the same as any of the other nets and has some good shows and 2 strong nights. This isn't isn't the wb and this isn't the 80's, The CW can compete and you will have to learn to live with it! Face it, the only reason you are saying they can't is because you don't want them to.

    NBC looks bad as always. Studio 60 is bland, and the only real big hit they have is deal or no deal and with Fox being aweful and MNTV not even a real net and with ABC falling apart, I can easily see the cw doing better than you give them credit for!

    I'm right and I am out!

  • outoffog Sep 18, 2006

    If Jeff Zucker will let Kevin Reilly "fix" the schedule without any interference by HIM, I think NBC may be "in the running" for big ratings this season!

  • ClayMeow Sep 18, 2006

    Death2009, you are really naive if you think the CW11 can come even close to any of the 4 major networks.

    As for NBC, they definitely have an abundance of promising new shows, so they could very well jump into third or second, but at the very least a ratings jump is all but guaranteed.

  • Death2009 Sep 18, 2006

    Never ever huh? HA! Thats what people said about Fox when it started out, and its Number 3 and HAS been number 1. Face it, The CW is in just as many houses as NBC and can beat it and I am sure it will on some nights.

  • jonyi89 Sep 17, 2006

    I'm sorry Death2009 but I don't think you know what u'r talking about> The CW will never ever 100% beat NBC...tahts just the way it works. You can now consider NBC in last place which is 4th because the smaller "netlets" dont have enough reach even if they do have clearence in 95% of the country. Also NBC has allways been my favorite network, with either CBS or FOX being my least favorite and I plan to give all of NBC's new shows a shot. PS: I;ve seen studio 60 and its AMAZING!

  • Cylonlover Sep 17, 2006

    NBC bites...

    Although they may have some good shows coming out, one can only wonder how long NBC will support them before finding some odd reason to either change their time slot ( The Contender )or pull the plug completely without letting viewers see the season finale ( Heist ) or just cancelling in favor of a cheaper show ( Surface ). I guess action shows cost too much money and people sitting around a coffee shop talking about each other is cheaper to produce. But to be fair, I guess they are no worse than ABC or CBS which has been known to do the same thing.

  • NeedforSpeed20 Sep 17, 2006

    Im looking forward to all their shows as well. NBC is my least favorite network, but the network Im most looking forward to for the new Fall Season.

  • bkyle2429 Sep 17, 2006

    nbc looks very weak, crossing jordan, las vegas and at mid-season medium are only shows on nbcthat I will be watching!! fox looks very good so far prison break and bones are excellent(house I dont watch) vanished and justice are awesome I'm praying the fox keeps their audience after mlb playoffs and inaddition when the other networks get going!

  • 6thGradeTranny Sep 16, 2006

    i'll be watching heroes and studio and maybe more

  • tvdvdaddict Sep 16, 2006

    I'm only looking forward to watching Kidnapped. Airing it up against ABCs up and coming The Nine is a bad idea though. I'll probably watch the first two episodes before switiching and watching The Nine instead.

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