9.21.2006

What Are You Doing, NBC?



by McKayle Davison


It’s fall again. It’s the time when television networks begin their incessant promotion of the new primetime lineups. One of my favorite pastimes is watching all of the obnoxious variations on the same basic commercial, trying to guess which shows will be hits, and which shows won’t see a second episode. This year, I was struck by a particularly bold (or stupid) move by NBC. The network is running two shows based on a “behind-the-scenes” look at live comedy sketch programs, both obviously based on NBC’s long-running gem, Saturday Night Live.

The first is an hour-long drama, running on Monday nights, called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, created by the genius behind The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin. Studio 60 features a parade of viewer favorites, including Bradley Whitford, Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, Judd Hirsch, and more. I caught this week’s premiere, and I fully expected not to enjoy it. I was pleasantly surprised, but I honestly couldn’t tell you many major plot points. I was primarily watching to
get a dose of the oh-so-snappy dialogue I’ve been craving since West Wing went off the air, and Studio 60 was just the cureI needed.

The other show is a thirty minute sitcom called 30 Rock (taken from 30 Rockefeller Plaza, SNL’s studio) featuring SNL’s former head writer, Tina Fey, former cast member Tracy Morgan, and everyone’s favorite Baldwin, Alec. It won’t premiere until Wednesday, October 11th, but I must say it looks promising.

I’m sure both shows are very entertaining. NBC has had to refine its programming skills since rival ABC came out of nowhere with the smash hits Grey’s Anatomy, Lost, and Desperate Housewives. I’m a faithful NBC viewer; I think My Name is Earl and The Office are brilliant. But I can’t help wondering where the originality has gone with this new move. My first thought when I heard about these shows was, “Seriously, NBC? Two shows based on SNL?” It’s not as if SNL is still as innovative as it was in the golden years of John Belushi and Dan Akroyd, or even in the days of
Chris Farley and Adam Sandler. Sure, it still gets viewers,
but I have to think this is partially due to lack of competition.
What else is on at 11:30 on a Saturday night? No self-respecting 18 to 36-year-old watches Fox’s Mad TV anymore. SNL has moments of hilarity, but let’s face it: SNL is no longer a conversation starter.

I wonder about NBC executives. Do they really think we are all desperate to know what is happening behind the scenes of the nation’s premiere sketch comedy show? Or desperate enough to watch two shows about it? Having two shows about SNL (three if you count the actual show) doesn’t even seem like the best way to gain ratings, but I can only assume that that is NBC’s motive. It seems like a copout. The lack of originality is almost enough to make me nostalgic for Friends.

(Because NBC likes variations on a theme, we have also included the network's variations on its logo from the present back to 1943.)



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