NBC’s Thursday night comedy woes

By Cory J. Willey

Sean Curran/Wikimedia Commons
Sean Curran/Wikimedia Commons

NBC’s reign as the king of Thursday night comedy is over. Gone are the days of dominance for NBC, which spanned 30 years, going all the way back to the “Cosby Show.” NBC’s Thursday nights used to deliver some of television’s best and most popular comedies, including the likes of “Friends” and “Seinfeld.”

So, what’s the deal with NBC’s comedy woes?

Due to misplaced faith in old names and ideas as well as some legitimate competition from other channels such as CBS, we may be seeing the end of the historic NBC Thursday night comedy block.

This past season is a good indication of how the once comedy juggernaut has lost touch with critics and audiences alike. Rather than trying to find the next comedy hit in some sort of new property, NBC dipped into its past to try to solve its current problems, welcoming back NBC icons such as Michael J. Fox and Sean Hayes by giving them their own shows (“The Michael J. Fox Show” and “Sean Saves the World,” respectively) in an attempt to catch up in the ratings. Who doesn’t remember the greatness of Fox and Hayes? Who wouldn’t want them back on the small screen, to return to the good ol’ days of NBC comedy?

The ever-valuable 18-49 demographic, that’s who. In a giant misstep, NBC placed this season’s chances firmly on the shoulders of “Sean Saves the World” as well as “The Michael J. Fox Show” to take back Thursday night and failed miserably. Both of these shows are now cancelled, which is particularly embarrassing with regards to “The Michael J. Fox Show,” as it had been given a full 22-episode order from the start. Only “Parks and Recreation” and “Community,” two of the most consistently brilliant and well-written comedies on TV, stayed afloat and provided some sort of ratings for the network. “Parks and Rec” has already been renewed for a seventh season, while “Community,” ever on the bubble, seems to have a better chance than usual to return (six seasons and a movie).

Other networks, sensing blood in the water, have built on NBC’s mistakes. The biggest winner has been CBS, which dealt a devastating blow when it moved TV’s highest rated comedy, “The Big Bang Theory,” from Monday nights to the 8 p.m. slot on Thursdays, effectively destroying NBC’s chance to compete in the time slot or win any sort of lead-in for the rest of the two-hour block. Whether you think “The Big Bang Theory” is a better show than either “Community” or “Parks and Rec” (it isn’t), is a different conversation entirely. The fact is it draws a much larger audience. To put this in perspective, at one point this season “The Big Bang Theory” drew 18.9 million viewers to “Community’s” 3.1 million.

The future looks even grimmer, as CBS recently reached a deal with the NFL to air games the first eight weeks of the season this fall. CBS even decided to move “The Big Bang Theory” to a new night for those first eight weeks in order to bring the ratings giant that is the NFL to Thursdays. Nothing NBC puts in that slot will stand a chance. Even though it’s only for the beginning of the 2014-15 season, it is still detrimental to NBC’s chances, as it won’t have the opportunity to establish any sort of audience for Thursday night programming. The best course of action may be to take a page out of CBS’ book, and even take it a step further – move the comedy block entirely and try to bounce back on a new night with less competition.

A network once synonymous with Thursday night comedy now faces a tough decision as to whether it should just give up on the block entirely. Unless NBC makes some major drastic changes, we could see the end of an era that started nearly 30 years ago and has brought us some of the best comedies of all time.


Cory J. Willey can be reached at [email protected]