The genesis for this post is the announcements over the last week that came out of NBC. First there was the cancellation of My Own Worst Enemy and Lipstick Jungle. Unlike previous seasons, the two shows will air the remaining episodes that have been shot in their current time slots. This was followed by the announcement that Knight Rider, which had previously been given a full season order, would be "retooled" by dropping a number of characters to make the current version of the show more like the original. Ain't It Cool News even suggests the possibility that David "The Hoff" Hasselhoff will become a regular – if the show is renewed for a second season. We've also seen second season series Life moved
from the third hour of Friday to the second hour of Wednesday, and the original Law & Order (which apparently had been intended as a Sunday show after Football ends) replacing Lipstick Jungle in the third hour of Wednesday. America's Toughest Jobs, a reality series that followed ordinary people who didn't do manual labour doing the sort of work that gets made into TV series – crab fishing, logging, ice road trucking being just three examples – ended unmourned (and unwatched) on Saturday nights. Crusoe was apparently planned as a 13 episode series from the beginning – a mini-series in all but name. Of the new series introduced in Ben Silverman's first line-up, this leaves only Kath & Kim uncancelled, unmodified, and in the same time slot that it started in.
I suppose that this is where we should look at the "tale of the tape," the statistical measure behind the NBC line-up. Let's start with the new shows that Silverman introduced. The ratings shown are for the most recently aired episodes of the shows (provided by Marc Berman of Media Week):
Total Viewers 18-49 Demo Position Top Show in Time Period Total Viewers 18-49 Demo My Own Worst Enemy 4.25 million 1.8/5 3rd CSI: Miami 13.67 million 3.7/10 Knight Rider 5.34 million 1.5/4 (5th) 4th CMA Awards (special) 15.03 million 4.2/12 Kath & Kim 5.08 million 2.1/6 3rd CSI 18.93 million 5.1/12 (2nd) Crusoe 4.17 million 1.0/3 4th Price is Right Special 7.31 million 1.7/5 Ah, but it goes deeper. This time, let's look at NBC's top rated shows on each night (except Saturday), their total viewers and position and what the top show on any network is. The first number is the average number of NBC viewers on the night. Total Viewers 18-49 Top NBC Show Total Viewers Position Top Show of the Night Total Viewers Monday 6.10 million 2.6/6 Heroes 7.82 million 3rd Dancing With The Stars 18.84 million Tuesday 8.5 million NA L&O:SVU 9.4 million 2nd NCIS 18.8 million Wednesday 6.36 million 1.8/5 Law & Order 7.91 million 3rd CMA Awards (Special) 15.87 million Thursday 7.89 million 3.3/8 ER 9.80 million 2nd CSI 18.93 million Friday 4.34 million 1.2/4 Deal or No Deal 5.26 million 3rd Ghost Whisperer 11.67 million Sunday 13.20 million 4.9/12 Football 15.79 million 1st Football 15.79 million
Top Show in Time Period
My Own Worst Enemy
CMA Awards (special)
Kath & Kim
Price is Right Special
Ah, but it goes deeper. This time, let's look at NBC's top rated shows on each night (except Saturday), their total viewers and position and what the top show on any network is. The first number is the average number of NBC viewers on the night.
Top NBC Show
Top Show of the Night
Dancing With The Stars
Law & Order
CMA Awards (Special)
Deal or No Deal
In other words, the only nights on which the top NBC shows finished higher than third in their time slots were on Thursday with a show that will be ending in February and on Sunday with a live sporting event that will be ending in January. Coincidentally, that live sporting event was the only NBC show to draw an audience of 10 million.
Next, let's compare ratings for the four new shows plus Lipstick Jungle in their timeslots versus the shows that were in those timeslots in 2006 and 2007. These are results from the second week of November in each year.
My Own Worst Enemy
Studio 60 *
Kath & Kim
Friday Night Lights
Las Vegas *
Law & Order
Shows marked with (*) were cancelled that season for poor ratings. Next, let's look at some shows that were cancelled quickly, with fewer 13 episodes aired. Because of the Writers Strike Bionic Woman aired all of the episodes shot. On the other hand Quarterlife aired once, and according to Wikipedia it was "the worst in-season performance in the 10 p.m. hour by an NBC show in at least 17 years." Until now.
20 Good Years
Andy Barker P.I.
Kidnapped and Andy Barker P.I. both aired episodes on Saturday nights after they were officially cancelled to burn off produced episodes. Those episodes aren't included here. Raines aired its first two episodes in the third hour of Thursday night, temporarily replacing ER, before moving to the third hour of Friday night where it sagged badly. The highest number of viewers for all of these shows was the pilot while the lowest rated show were final episodes that aired after the show was cancelled.
So what does it all mean? The first, obvious, thing is that the new NBC shows are being slaughtered by their competition. None of the new NBC shows is higher than third place in their time slots, and in the case of My Own Worst Enemy there were only three series on in that time slot. With the exception of Crusoe on Friday night, the total viewership of the top show in the new show's time slot is between two and three times as great as the NBC show. The only NBC show to be the top show of the night was Sunday Night Football, which leads to the obvious question of what NBC will do once the season ends. On most nights the best NBC show draws half the audience that winning series on the night achieved with the exception of ER, another series that won't be around for the second half of the season. What will NBC do without ER? The logical answer is that it will most likely nosedive on Thursdays the way that it has on every other night. Each of the cancelled shows in 2007 beat the shows that replaced it in both total audience and rating in the 18-49 demographic. Furthermore, with the exception of 30 Rock (which was a 45 minute debut episode) the 2006-07 shows in the time slot beat not only the current show in the timeslot but also the 2007-08 show. (One interesting thing is that while Studio 60 had a lower retention out of Heroes, it had both a higher number of total viewers and a higher rating in the 18-49 demographic. Make of that what you will.)
Maybe the most interesting thing here is the shows that were cancelled quickly. By just about any standard – average number of viewers, greatest number of viewers, lowest number of viewers – most of these shows drew a better audience than the shows which NBC under Ben Silverman put on the air. And that's not even counting established shows that Silverman, and before him Reilly, cancelled. Just as an example, on the worst season the Las Vegas had, on a Friday night with a weak lead-in (and yes, I am a Friday Night Lights fan, but the show's performance was weak), the show outdrew the shows that replaced it. Shows that were cancelled quickly for the most part outperform shows that are hanging on.
The blame for all of this lands squarely on the shoulders of Ben Silverman. It was Silverman who came up with the idea of not doing pilots for new shows but rather choosing new series based on scripts only. The most successful of his new shows, Knight Rider, had a pilot of sorts in the form of the TV movie that convinced the network to produce a new show. Of course they changed the concept after the movie was made to the point where it was unrecognisable but fans of the old show and the movie. Kath & Kim had the dubious advantage of having the original Australian series as a model that it could build on. It was Silverman who decided to drop many of the shows in Kevin Reilly's 2007-08 season and to not produce new episodes of the shows that he did retain. Based entirely on the NBC shows that I've seen – all of the Silverman series except Crusoe – and I have to say that all of the shows that Silverman came up with are significantly and visibly worse than even the mediocre shows that Kevin Reilly gave the green light to in 2006 and 2007. Tell me the truth, wouldn't you rather watch Kidnapped, Raines, Studio 60 or Journeyman than Knight Rider or My Own Worst Enemy?
So I promised you a twist ending to this little tale and while it's not exactly O. Henry quality, here it is. Despite various stories from Nikki Finke concerning the likelihood of Ben Silverman being fired, and even naming former BBC Worldwide America executive Paul Telegdy as a possible Silverman replacement (although initially he seems to be a likely candidate to replace Craig Plestis as Executive VP in charge of "Alternate programming" – reality shows to the rest of us), it seems that he isn't likely to be going anywhere. TVSquad quotes an article from the New York Post's Page Six which indicates that not only is Silverman's job safe, but it seems that the network is actually happy with what he's accomplished. According to the article, "In fact, one network insider actually praised Silverman, saying, 'The company is very happy with Ben. He is deep in negotiations to re-up his contract with NBC, and he has the network up 50 percent profit from year to year.' TV analysts say ratings have become less important as the viewing audience has scattered to proliferating cable channels. Silverman told The Post last summer: 'We're managing for margins and not for ratings.'" As for the problems with Lipstick Jungle, and My Own Worst Enemy as well as the decline in the ratings for Heroes blame seems to be going to Universal Media Studios president Katherine Pope, who also produced last season's Bionic Woman. According to one network insider, quoted in the Page Six article, "They call her the black widow. Every program she touches turns to death. She is on very thin ice." Meanwhile Silverman is appearing on shows like Charlie Rose where he talks less about his programming failures and more about technology and Hulu. There are a couple of wince worthy moments in the interview, particularly in the last couple of minutes when Silverman takes credit for 30 Rock (a series that was approved by Kevin Reilly) and when he talks about Brandon Tartikoff and "quality shows," something which the current line-up seems to show that Silverman has little claim to promoting.
And so, despite the fact that NBC has suffered some of its worst ratings in recent memory – probably since another Silverman (Fred Silverman) was president of NBC Entertainment and cancelled his entire 1978 Fall lineup – Ben Silverman is being regarded as a success because he's increased the network's profits even with declining audiences a distinct decline in the quality of programming that the network is presenting. Blame should be shared with others such as Pope and Plestis of course, but it should be remembered that it was Silverman who came up with the "brilliant" idea of not producing pilots for new series, and not presenting their programs at an upfront meeting. If the true measure of a TV network's success is based on profit margins rather than ratings, one has to wonder whether Silverman will be quite the "boy wonder" that he currently appears to be when advertising revenues decline as a result of those poor rating that he seems not to be managing for. I suppose it is more likely that, like Jeff Zucker, Ben Silverman won't be fired but rather "fired up" into a more highly paid and important position. And that would seem to be the real problem with NBC.