The Peacock Network Gets Plucked

Too many TV choices?

NBC may have found a way for you to cut back on your must-see TV. On Thursday, the once-mighty peacock network announced it would be backing off of scripted series programming in the 8 p.m. hour time slot next fall.

And who can blame them given the fact that Americans flock to such cheaply made shows as “American Idol,” “Survivor,” “Dancing with the Stars” and “Wife Swap”

These days, an hour-long drama costs between $2.5 and $3.5 million per episode to make. A reality show goes for about a million bucks an episode, and has the same or better chance of grabbing viewers than NBC’s fall ratings flops “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “Kidnapped” and “Friday Night Lights.”

Every one of those series earned lavish reviews from critics, but viewers were less enthralled. And NBC fared even less well with its comedies, “30 Rock” and “Twenty Good Years.”

The problem may be an isolated one, however. There’s plenty of thriving scripted shows in that 8 p.m. slot, including Fox’s “House,” CBS’ “NCIS” and even the new fall hits, ABC’s “Ugly Betty” and CBS’ “Jericho.”

The fault of the 8 p.m failure may fall more on the fact that NBC hasn’t been able to generate much in that slot except for “My Name is Earl” and “The Office” for several years.

The peacock fell off its No. 1 perch to become a fourth-place runner. In NBC’s powerhouse years, they had such hits as “Friends,” “Frasier” and “Seinfeld.” During those lucrative years, insiders referred to the network as Never Been Cockier, and executives began making some programming mistakes.

Jeff Zucker, former entertainment president and now the chief executive of the NBC Universal television Group, could never get a break-out hit from the cozy slots between shows like “Friends” and “Seinfeld.”

And during that time, NBC didn’t even seem to be trying, instead letting such place-holder shows as “Veronica’s Closet” and “Caroline in the City” ride the lucrative coattails of what was known as the NBC Thursday night stronghold.

It’s interesting that the man behind those decisions – Zucker – is now at the helm of this new plan to save the company.

The 8 p.m. programming decision is the one spot viewers will immediately notice in the wake of NBC Universal’s restructuring plan announced on Thursday. Company spokespeople say the overhaul will save $750 million in the next two years.

The impact on viewers reaches even further, however, as NBC’s surrender of the 8 p.m. timeslot means fewer shows ordered for next season. NBC could probably keep proven shows in the 9 and 10 p.m. hours, therefore buying fewer series and saving more money.

In the past few years, all of the networks have waved the white flag when it comes to Saturday night programming and have filled the time either with unscripted programming or reruns.

It wasn’t that long ago that Saturday night was a time viewers sat with their families to watch such shows as “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” “JAG,” “Sisters,” “Touched by an Angel” and even “The Love Boat.”

But as viewing habits changed, the networks discovered they could not lure viewers to that night, which has the fewest number of viewers of any day of the week.

Of course, it could be argued that as quality slipped on Saturday night, so too did viewer levels.

1 Comment

  1. Kim said,

    October 23, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    Oh, how I loved JAG and Sisters! Who could forget Ashley Judd and Swoosie Kurtz? Hmm…I’m off to see if there’s a Sisters box set yet.