NBC garnered around 111 million viewers for the Superbowl. They have the London 2012 Olympics, sure to draw record viewership. They should be sitting pretty, right? Not really. NBC is mired in last place, often falling below Univision in the coveted 18-34 demographic. Only by drastic measures can NBC save itself. Should ordinary conservatives care? In a word, yes. Because while NBC is currently mired in PC idiocy, it was not always so. And there is nothing to replace NBC or broadcast television in terms of breadth of viewership, national impact, and culture changing. America’s culture has gotten rotten, mostly because the elites are out of touch, living lives vastly removed and different from most Americans. The way back is not through revolutionary change, but the hard work of evolutionary renewal.
Focus on Men
NBC is currently fighting over the 18-34 female demo with every other network. How’s that going? The Voice, and a zillion other junk reality shows, either the competition variety or celebrity genealogy, or what have you, has little appeal. Even ABC is trying to gain male viewers, for “the River.” Recognizing that women alone are not enough:
ABC describes “The River” as “an experiment.” Channing Dungey, senior vice president of network dramas, said the show’s creators were careful to avoid an overdose of shaky video and skewed angles that might be “off-putting” to a mainstream audience. She said the network hopes “The River” will lure more young viewers, especially males, to its existing female-skewing audience.
Yes, it is marketing dogma that women influence up to 85% of all consumer purchases. Everyone else is chasing them too. So what? Unless the network can magically recast itself as a low-low cost netlet like CW, there is no use in chasing the young female demographic. Even if successful, NBC will have to share them with everyone else. Meanwhile men are under-served. The Superbowl got 111 million viewers or so, far in excess of the Oscar Telecasts. Because the broadcast is male-appealing. NBC can’t get that every day. Or even most days. But there is no reason to suppose that with effort and commitment, at least 20 million viewers would not tune in weekly to top shows oriented towards men.
And this fits right in with NBC’s heritage. Miami Vice, the A-Team, Hunter, the Rockford Files, were all shows aimed primarily at men. Not the 18-34 demo. NBC has created and broadcast shows like this, before, and could do so again.
Build a Brand
NBC has to build a brand. Most networks today have little identity. You know only that they’ll have the same mix of heavily female-skewing slop: reality competitions, talent competitions, celebrities, soap operas in various forms, and tired morality plays masquerading as crime dramas. Once upon a time, NBC was known for action and adventure appealing to men: Miami Vice, Hunter, the A-Team, Stingray, Private Eye, and Crime Story. Action, style, and intense performances by charismatic leads: Don Johnson, George Peppard, Dennis Farina, and Fred Dryer. That was what NBC was known for, primarily, and could be again.
That means, NBC has to decide what it will be, promote it heavily, and deliver. All the marketing in the world won’t help if the shows themselves are made into female-appealing soaps. Building a brand means at the fundamental level, asking and answering who the audience is, and building a show around that audience. Delivering a consistent, style and content across all NBC shows, even if it takes years to develop an audience and burns cash.
No More Chucks
This particularly means, no more “Chucks.” While “Chuck” debuted to decent ratings of 8.6 million viewers the first season and 7.36 million the second, the show epitomizes what is wrong with NBC: taking a good show, aimed primarily at men, and ruining it. By remaking it into a female-oriented show catering to online female fans. The show was also incredibly cheap, and it showed. Cheap in a bad way, that is, showing constant budget cuts on screen.
The premise of the show: downwardly mobile nerdy guy becomes a secret super-spy with a hot CIA agent and growly NSA officer looking over him, was right out of the old NBC playbook. The late Stephen J. Cannell would have been proud. Particuarly amusing was the hijinks involving the retail staff at the Best Buy parody: the “Buy More.” Anyone who has ever worked a retail job will recognize it and the characters. Hilarious. And quite accurate on the guys that had “given up” and worked only for a paycheck.
NBC and the show’s producers, no doubt responding to feedback from the almost universally female fans on forums such as TelevisionWithoutPity.com, proceeded to ruin the show: de-emphasizing the retail hell environment, the massively talented comedians (Vik Sahay, Scott Krinsky) who portrayed the show’s loser characters (Lester and Jeffrey). Meanwhile amping up female-friendly love triangles (something repellent to the male audience) and making the lead character into an ever-more traditional Alpha male. [Which was beside the point, the show was about a guy who wasn't that Traditional kick-ass Alpha guy.] Comedy was pushed to the wayside and soap-opera drama emphasized.
This move did not pay off. Male viewers left in droves, and women did not embrace the show enough to make up for the male losses. The Wiki article shows clear losses, each season (though Season Two briefly outshone strike-shortened Season One) with growing unhappiness at the end of each season, ever greater losses as the show became more and more a soap opera fulfilling the female fans wishes.
The show also suffered losses in the budget, with action sequences shot on the cheap in soundstages, and looking sad and tired. Even worse, the most talented writers of Season One and Two left, as the uncertainty over the show’s renewal led in-demand writers find another, higher paying and more certain job elsewhere.
Give Writers an Investment
This is the Achilles heel of NBC. Because they broadcast shows which face renewal uncertainty every May, the best writers migrate from their shows to other networks. Thus they have quality problems. Anyone looking at the writing of “Chuck” over the years can see how sharply the writing went downhill, after the first two seasons. NBC, to combat this, must at least for in-house produced shows, give writers an investment. A guarantee of working on a show for at least four years. If the show is canceled, early, the network is on the hook, paying for the writers, even if they find employment elsewhere. Only this guarantee of security will enable the network to attract the very best writers for its shows. Yes it means that the network would be on the hook for writer salaries, this can be offset by a mechanism like Silicon Valley’s stock options. Since no writer will trust anyone in management after a century of dirty dealing and underhanded accounting, this would amount to something like a contractually agreed lump-sum payment at the end of Seasons Two and Four. Writers could be free to leave, but they’d give up the payment, and the guaranteed four years. Thus they’d have an incentive to stick around for four years.
There are only a few good writers who can produce winning scripts. They often make the difference between success and failure. For NBC to have a competitive advantage, it must have better writers. Simple as that.
Try Out on SyFy and Bravo and USA … and the Web
NBC needs to experiment with new writers, producers, along with show concepts, and the like. The pilot process, winnowing hundreds of pitches to dozens of pilots to a few green-lit shows, is clearly broken. About 85% of all new shows fail, season to season. There is no reason for this. Almost no MLB player comes up directly to the Big Leagues, that is what the minors are for. Same with the NHL. College provides that function for the NFL. SyFy and Bravo have low ratings, why not try out a limited, six episode series there? USA is more of a premiere network, but even they have dead spots. Programming hours to fill. And the Web …. well a limited two or three episode mini-series, can draw viewers to NBC’s site, increasing its pull with advertisers. It is fine to run old A-Team episodes on NBC.com, yes they’re paid for, but what about new content? Designed to draw in viewers, and more importantly see what sort of producer, writer, concept, and the like works with viewers and what does not? All under less budgetary pressure.
NBC clearly needs to try out new producing/writing talent, in low-risk environments. There are people they could work with, easily, by simply making a few shows for a lesser budget. This is how sensible sports leagues develop talent, and NBC is in the same boat. They ought to copy success. Not continue the failure of the current model.
Save Money Wisely
Consider the Miami Vice opener done years ago, shown below on Youtube:
Now, that shot probably cost in today’s money at least $200,000. Maybe even $300,000. Requiring a helicopter, and speed-boat rental. Today, that could be done for far, far less. Technology, specifically the UAVs outfitted with cameras, allow for that sort of “helicopter shot” to be done far cheaper. The Red Digital Cameras allow cheaper shooting than traditional film or tape, and at various price-points different performance. The show “Sanctuary” used the Red One cameras exclusively.
LA is beautiful. There are many local landmarks, scenic locations, and beautiful places that don’t cost that much to film outside, particularly with the Red One cameras, and new UAV technology replacing booms and cranes and helicopter tracking shots. There is no reason lower cost has to look “cheap” like a crummy soundstage. NBC shows should be shot on location whenever possible. Trying to save money while making the screen look beautiful. After all, many viewers have HD sets by now. Why wouldn’t you want a beautiful picture, instead of a recognizable sound-stage?
Stay With It For Five Years
Speaking of money, NBC will have to stay with their plan for five years. It will take years of losses to return to profitability. It is true that Comcast has far shallower pockets than say, former owner GE. But that’s just the way it is. Continuing down the same path with “the Voice” and various shows where people get dumped into trapdoors or fat people get screamed at won’t make money. That will still lose money. At least making a sustained effort to get male viewers has a hope of succeeding. Continuing on with the current strategy is a recipe for simply managing defeat.
NBC has such a toxic reputation, that it will have to endure at least two and more likely three years of viewer skepticism and refusal to commit, which means a willingness to stick with shows it believes in beyond the usual one and done season. This means a strong budget aimed directly at covering operating losses as NBC seeks to rebuild an audience, one drawn in by unique male-oriented programming. This means paying for action-adventure series it will likely not see an immediate profit on, banking that succeeding series will make large profits, and that the initial loss-makers will at least be profitable when sold to someone like Netflix for streaming.
NBC can’t turn around the better part of twenty years of bad programming in one season. They must be ready to endure losses if they want to turn things around.
Promote, Promote, Promote: Cross-overs
NBC ought to realize much of its problem is that each show exists in its own silo. A unique creative world that doesn’t partake of the advantages of the network itself and sister shows. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why NBC did not have a cross-over early with “Life” and “Chuck,” in the first season, and the season finales of both that season. Or certainly the second season. That might have been enough to keep “Life” around for another season.
Superman shows up regularly in other DC Comics titles. If say, the Flash is struggling against a real terrible villain (low sales), the Man of Steel is there to help save (the sales figures) day. The same with Batman, and fans love it. The Superman-Batman team-up is one that fans regularly love, and is offered almost every year. That’s part of a comic-book universe. Characters on the same side, that don’t always get along, teaming up. Sales generally go up quite a bit during these “events.”
NBC currently has one show that has even a smidgen of appeal to men: “Grimm.” That show ought to be paired up with whatever new show they can come up with that has any male appeal. Promotion is more than just advertising “the Voice” during the Superbowl. It means getting fans of one show to sample another. The best way is to have characters from one show suddenly appear on another. CBS has already done so with CSI and the now canceled “Without a Trace.” Why they have not leveraged their “Crime Time” and had a massive cross-over involving most of their Crime Dramas: Blue Bloods, CSI, CSI New York, CSI Miami, the Mentalist, and Person of Interest I’ll never know. Talk about a Sweeps event. Yes, writing a series of comic books is easier than coming up with a story line progressing from series to series, and tying up loose ends neatly (so if you are a fan of say, the Mentalist, you’ll watch the other shows to see what happens). But there you have it.
Content, Content, Content: Heroes and Villains
What makes TV very tired and derivative, is PC stillness and the crushing burden of “diversity” which mandates that no non-White person ever look bad, for fear of offending … the female White viewer. Well, not aiming for that viewer, NBC could find more interesting, and challenging villains, for heroes to come up against. Not the same tired “White corporate bad guys” or “evil racists” or “militia members” or such-like. But real, topical, and challenging villains. Miami Vice got made off it’s signature villain, Calderone. A ruthless and fabulously wealthy drug lord who could order up hits from the world’s finest hitmen, and scurry off to foreign locales immune from police prosecution or extradition.
Consider this scene:
[Yes, ignore the Italian or Spanish dubbing.]
The scene looks utterly bizarre. From the little shirtless boy dancing, the tension filled background music, the cocaine in a shape of an “M” (for Morales) and the various bad guys with automatic weapons hanging around. The menace and threat of violence is strong. It is an arresting scene worthy of a first class movie. Right there on your TV screen. No one had seen anything like it.
Because finally, non-Whites were not simply moral props to be used in fights among White people over who was more moral. They were independent agents. They had the self-realization, the independence of action, to be … villains. Bad guys. And not cardboard, simplistic, Law and Order “bad White guy” bad guys. But rather real bad guys. Bad guys who were genuine threats, a real challenge. Not just for the heroes, but society at large. Bad guys who enjoyed killing, and were good at it. Who laughed at drug laws. Who ruled by fear and intimidation and wealth.
Every great hero needs a villain, or two. Worthy of defeating. Beowulf did not defeat Puff the Magic Dragon or Barney, nor Arthur take on “mean kids.” Part of the fascination with anti-heroes, or outright villains (looking at you Tony Soprano) is that the cardboard “Evil Upper Class Corporate White guy” is just no threat. Menace is absent, and thus any real male energy against the villain is impossible. Instead we get a moral lecture.
Calderone, and characters like him, are great because the regular workings of government are useless against him. It TAKES the hero, and no one else, to defeat him. He’s worthy of defeat. He’s intelligent, ruthless, cruel, and causes great misery. That’s the mark of a true villain, not the dreck that TV and NBC shows in particular dole out today.
NBC needs to make a special effort to create both heroes and villains the male audience will respond to. That means the hero has to be tough, willing to do things that ordinary, PC-driven and rule-following bureaucrats won’t, but within moral limits. He’s not the villain, he’s not Tony Soprano. Or the lead character Walter White from Breaking Bad. But he is tough, resourceful, and surprising.
The villain ought to be one of the following: a master terrorist (and not a semi-sympathetic one either as in Homeland). Or a drug lord in Mexico or Latin America. Or Chinese gangster. Or a PLA Master Spy. Or anything along those lines: a man with money, power, ruthlessness, who has to be stopped. That the audience wants stopped.
Will NBC Ever Return?
Will NBC ever return from the dead? Reclaim its Miami Vice, A-Team glory? My view is likely, no. Everyone in entertainment is agog at the purchasing power and enthusiasm of the female audience, and in particular the teen female audience. Suddenly it is as if those Star Wars nerds didn’t exist. They didn’t camp out, just the Twihard Tweens (and their moms). Barnes and Noble’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy section, formerly male nerd city, is over-run with books featuring sultry red-heads (predominant, for some strange reason) and brunettes (only a few blondes, weirdly) in “Teen Paranormal Romance” and the like. Complete with angsty looks and lurid come-ons out of romance novels. Everyone is chasing the next Twilight. It is as if Harry Potter never existed. Or the Star Wars films (dreadful but minting money). Or the Lord of the Rings films.
Everything runs in fashions, and NBC is no stranger to this. Its execs are mostly folks who have spent decades in the business ruthlessly chasing after the same thing: women age 18-34. Even if that is not the solution, it is likely that is their answer.
It does not have to be this way.
Personally, I would prefer a renewal at NBC to crash. The culture is rotten, and a dose of traditional male heroism is not a fix, but a step in the right direction. America would be better off, on balance, if NBC started cranking out Miami Vice type shows, than if it went under going full junk-female-reality like “Fattest Loser” and “Celebrity Roots” or whatever its called.