Monday, April 15, 2013


In all the aftermath of the NBC Late Night clusterfuck, something finally dawned on me that's remained curiously overlooked since the last time we went through all this. I was one of the few people who actually liked, and watched "The Jay Leno Show", the 10 p.m. version of "The Tonight Show". Maybe I was a sucker, but I did, and yeah, in hindsight, the entire idea was bad, probably starting with putting Jeff Zucker in charge of anything at NBC. (Or anywhere else, CNN?!) I'm hardly the first person to say that about him, so I don't think I'm breaking any new ground here, but you see, on top of, everything else, NBC apparently had gathered some media research, and one of the reasons that they decided to keep Jay Leno, and move him to 10:00 p.m. was because this research indicated that the audience wanted to see more comedy on NBC, (Which for some reason, their wasn't much on after Zucker started putting on more "Fear Factor" and "The Apprentice" instead.) and that they wanted it at ten o'clock. This, and Leno's continued popularity, along with the upcoming "Tonight Show" switch-over, led to Zucker Leno at ten.

You see, there's always been something that's struck me odd about that, and not the stuff that everything else was thinking. Let's pretend for a second, that Zucker isn't bullshitting about the statistics, and if you look at the time when the show was on the air, it seems completely probable that he isn't. In 2010, there hadn't been a new hit drama series at ten o'clock, in over two years, and that was across all the major networks, and in 2010, only "The Good Wife" bucked that trend. There's been a few other since, but the jury's been out on that for awhile, and there's another factor when we're talking dramas, especially. Cable dramas have so overtaken network dramas, in terms of quality, and they're approaching quickly on viewership, that it's almost impossible for a network drama to even really be adequate enough to compete. The last great drama series on network was "The West Wing", (Sorry, "Lost" fans, you're all wrong.) but other than that, your basic TV drama is either, your "Lost" lookalike and wannabes, as well as, the more traditional investigative shows with half-naked, dead raped hookers at the beginning of the ten o'clock. As well, whatever crap CW's insists on airing. Now, even the very best of these dramas, "House, M.D." "Law & Order", "Law & Order: SVU", "Smash", "Elementary" now, even "Vegas" basically follows that structure,...- I mean, let's face it, none of them are comparable to any of the drama series on cable, which has more creative and content freedom, and frankly are better. I mean, put the best "CSI" episode you want, the worst "Breaking Bad" episode is in another league. The best network dramas right now are on PBS, and that's not gonna change, with "Grimm", and "Revolution".

So, why exactly are we holding so firmly to the notion that 10:00 p.m. is for Dramas, and nothing else, except possibly reality TV? At its very best, network can't compare, at it worst, it won't be able to compete, but comedy just doesn't work at ten. Now, we're approaching the problem that I had with this research results. Who thinks "Comedy" and "Television", and immediately thinks Jay Leno, other than Zucker apparently? Nothing against Leno here, but when I think TV comedy, I think sitcoms. It's the entire basis of primetime television as far as I'm concerned, and it's the art form of television, plus NBC used to be the domain of sitcoms, especially in the nineties, and I'll give them credit, they're definitely trying to expand their sitcom bio. Maybe too much so in some cases ("Up All Night"), and too little in others ("Community", although I am in the overrated camp on that one, it is good.) and sometimes they're forcing it a bit ("Whitney"), but they're trying. I found one article in fact, where they discussed a rumor about an idea of moving "30 Rock" to ten o'clock, just last year. It was a short-lived, and I'm betting non-existent rumor, but clearly the idea is still bouncing around. I mean, consider this for a moment, up against all the Late Night, reruns of the then-cancelled "Family Guy", were destroying all of Late Night in the ratings on "Cartoon Network" at the time. Does that mean, we want animated sitcoms at 11:30, I doubt it, but that's what propelled that show from coming back from cancellation famously. Now, as much as we knock on the network dramas for all their crude content, "Family Guy", and other comedies, past and present, animated and live action, have in some ways been just as over-the-top, and featured more mature content. This is one of other tricks with 10:00 p.m., that a lot of people, might not fully realize, because the networks, never really take advantage of it, is that, they can basically show anything after ten o'clock. I guess "NYPD Blue", would the be the last real example of a network taking advantage of this, when the show would occasionally air nudity, but "Indecent" material, whatever-the-hell that means, can be aired after 10:00 p.m. and before 6:00 a.m. Now, "obscene" material, like... (counting on fingers) four of George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words still can't be said, I think, (Definitely "fuck," motherfucker" and "cunt", not sure about "cocksucker") but "indecent" material, is a little more subjective. This actually comes from the famous Carlin court case that determined the differences between "obscene" and "indecent", but instead of reviewing, that here the actual, FCC rules on "Indecent" material, and I copied this from their website here:

The FCC has defined broadcast indecency as "language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms of patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities." Indecent programming contains patently offensive sexual or excretory material that does not rise to the level of obscenity.

The courts have held that indecent material is protected by the First Amendment and cannot be banned entirely. It may, however, be resticted in order to avoid its broadcast during times of the day when there is a reasonable risk that children may be in the audience. 

Consistent with a federal indecency statute and federal court decisions interpreting the statute, the Commission adopted a rule that broadcasts -- both on television and radio -- that fit within the indecency definition and that are aired between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. are prohibited and subject to indecency enforcement action. 

You see, this is why that all the drama series can have the dead naked prostitutes on at ten o'clock. They can even say "shit" and "asshole", after ten o'clock, and other words as well. Now, this is all subjective of course, and I don't know what should be obscene and what is merely indecent and frankly those "contemporary community standards" have a way of changing all the time, and it's not like 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., is exactly all "Leave It to Beaver". A lot of obscene dialogue and images are depicted on shows like "Parks and Recreation" on a semi-regular basis, and they're just bleep and blacked out, on the screen, but they're there, in the show. That wasn't always the case, usually the FCC would go over the scripts, and have those lines/scenes completely rewritten or taken out. I see it now, on reruns of "30 Rock", where a line of Tracy or Jenna's dialogue, gets edited out, even though it originally aired unedited, before ten o'clock.

Okay, here's where I'm getting at here; let's combine a couple of these thoughts. Supposedly ten o'clock doesn't work for comedy, but it's never been tried with sitcoms. Drama series at ten o'clock have more content freedom, in general, but they can't compare with cable and won't in the immediate future. Also programs after ten o'clock legally can be more "indecent" or discuss more adult subject matter, and there's proof that cable viewings of TV sitcoms, that are more edgy, do get ratings, even against network staples, such as late night programming. Here's my next question, why exactly can't "Girls" be on NBC? Or ABC, or CBS, or FOX, if they ever to stop airing that stupid ten o'clock news? Okay, "Girls" isn't probably the greatest example, but I'm mentioning it, because it's the best show on Cable, but I'm sure the numerous sex scenes and constant nudity probably spills over the indecent line into obscenity, but conceptually, why can't a sitcom, with adult content and themes, be on network television at ten o'clock, especially if it's a good one, or two? Sitcoms, usually come in half-hours. (Not always though, "Ally McBeal", and "Desperate Housewives" didn't, and they weren't necessarily the most decent shows) I mean, is it really just this notion that comedies don't work at that hour keeping this from happening? 

Well, we know the other reason, of course, and other reason is stupid too. The reason that they don't do it is because they're worried, incorrectly so, that mature content TV series on network won't get any sponsors. Well, that's not exactly what they're worried about, they know that once one sponsors decides to withdraw their support, another sponsor will come in, Howard Stern has proved that so many times, it's not even worth going over, but sponsors were the reason "The Jay Leno Show" got cancelled. Since he was doing a "Tonight Show" format, the monologue and comedy segments, would be in the beginning of the show, and then there'd be an interview or performer segment at the end. What would happen is that the viewers would stay for the comedy, and then switch to another channel when the interview came up. What happened is that, both "The Tonight Show", and "Late Night"'s rating fell, but even more importantly than that, the ratings for the Local News programs, after "The Jay Leno Show", went way down. When the ratings go down on network shows, they can just cancel the show, but when the local news ratings were going down, they can't be cancelled, and they keep the local stations running, because of the ad-buys they can charge the sponsors, but if the ratings fall, then the ad-buys fall, the some of the local station, who don't produce that much material, we're close to going bankrupt, and that was the real reason why the Jay Leno experiment failed. Yet, that wouldn't presumably happen if you had a sitcom there, instead of a talk show, this wouldn't be an issue. People would be waiting 'til the end of the show to see what happens, or at least, see if it was any good.

Really though, even cable shows, many of them content-wise can easily be on network, as they are, if the networks are willing to put them on, at or after ten o'clock. "Curb Your Enthusiam" is a good example of a show, that easily could've been on network television. "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" easily could be on FOX instead of FX or FXX as it is now (Stupid), with relatively few changes. If you can have a dead hooker cop show every week, why not a dead hooker sitcom every week, that'd be funny? Maybe not but, I'd watch that at ten o'clock. Look at the USA Network shows, like "Monk" or "Psycho" or whatever they're putting on now, those dramedies are lighter than most network shows, in content and quality.

BTW, there is some precedent here. Norman Lear's experimental soap opera parody, "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman", enjoy relative success in syndication, after ten o'clock, when none of the networks would air it, developing a cult fanbase, and also winning mainstream Awards. Keep in mind, that was back when "All in the Family" was continuously aired before ten o'clock, along with other controversial and edgy programming. So experimental sitcoms were the norm at that time, and still "Mary Hartman Mary Hartman", landed in syndication.

Honestly, the more I look into this, the less I buy that comedy doesn't work at ten o'clock. Almost no one's bothered trying so, we can't know for sure, but what evidence is there that it has to be this way? If anything, being that it's the post ten o'clock hour, this should be the time of night, where network TV decided to be it's most inventive and through out it's most unique material on the public, just to see if it hits. I'm not saying every night, dramas shouldn't be at ten. I certainly don't have a problem with reality of even news magazine shows on that late either, but how about once a week or so, having a whole night of comedy, including ten o'clock, ending with an hour-long adult sitcom, or two half-hour ones? You can still have the other sitcoms on the normal spots that they own, but increase it, and expand a bit. Could you imagine, if a network show, had the ten o'clock freedom. Take like, the wrongly-cancelled, "Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23," that show was crazy as all hell to begin with, and if you gave it the freedom ten o'clock has? Holy Christ! It might've been funnier, and it might've found more of the audience that it needed to stay on the air. There's room for bucking tradition in the network entertainment market, if you know how to do it, and which programs to do it with.

You see, there's a difference between what NBC did, and what I'm proposing. NBC decided, on a whim, to just put Leno on at 10 o'clock, every night, at was disastrous, even though the ratings are better than most of it's ten o'clock programming now, and actually it was the best thing on most of the time. (That's more a commentary on television than on Leno's ten o'clock show, but still.) There's almost no evidence that straight sitcoms, or even riskier and edgier sitcoms, can't work at ten o'clock. There's no reason the networks can't even air them at ten o'clock. I've always believed that the best thing to do is, not to fall into a trend, but to see if it can be bucked in any way, and when I see a bunch of the same kind of shows on network, I think where's the alternative, and I'll tell you what, lately, at ten o'clock, it's been reruns of sitcoms for me. There's an hour of "How I Met Your Mother" on one of the local channels at ten here, and if I don't want that, there's an hour of "The Dick Van Dyke Show", and "The Odd Couple" on METV. I think television has proven over-the-years, that most people just want to laugh, and the best way to do that, is to give them good sitcoms, or as many of them as possible. Two years ago, of the six Emmy Nominated Best Comedy Series shows, none was on cable. Sitcoms still remain the domain of network television, but Cable can steal that too, the way they've taken dramas if they aren't paying attention. This could be the moment, if the right network has the right shows, and is smart, and notices the pattern, that they can actually buck the comedy trend and put on an adult ten o'clock sitcom. ABC could've done this with "Desperate Housewives", they chose to play it safe, and put it on Sunday Night, at nine instead, but they had a chance with that one, and I bet it would've worked. There's gonna be a new one that comes around eventually that could make this shift, possibly the biggest primetime shift since "Survivor", if only it was good enough to put on at ten, and a network willing to take a chance, and trust that it isn't comedy at ten that doesn't work, just Jay Leno. It's there, the space the there, the content will be there, the freedom is there, all they literally have to do, is find the show(s) and pull the trigger.


Maurice Mitchell said...

That's a great question David. I get my biggest laughs from late-night sitcom watching, mainly because I'm sleep deprived.

David Baruffi said...

LOL. Yeah, that too, sleep-deprivation can make things funnier. Maybe "Whitney" at two in the morning would work? j/k. Thanks for the comment.