Friday, July 8, 2011

NBC's Diversity Bet Fails

[Editor's note: work/family issues required a break from blogging. Hence the lengthy hiatus.]

NBC's past season, from Fall 2010 to Spring 2011, was a massive bust. NBC's big bet on diversity failed. Gone, was "Undercovers" (a glamorous Black couple running a high-end catering service are also super-sexy uber-spies). The show failed fairly quickly, and was pulled in November 2010. "Chase" featuring a waify blonde woman all of 120 pounds beating up on hefty evil White guy fugitives, as an uber-US Marshall, in February of 2011. "The Event" with an Obama-like President uncovering an evil White guy conspiracy involving Aliens was canceled in May 2011. So too was "Outsourced," the wacky comedy about the hilarity of firing Americans and moving a call center to India. So too was "Law and Order Los Angeles," with the usual Law and Orderen lineup of evil White guys (is there anything they can't do?) and downtrodden non-White victims (not reminiscent of the Los Angeles I know, where the Azusa 13 Gang was indicted by the US Attorney for hate crimes against Blacks).


Diversity just did not pull in viewers. NBC's big bet came a cropper. The failure was so bad, across the board, that NBC even ... renewed "Chuck" for a fifth and final season (a limited 13 episode run). Likely that move was taken in consideration of a likely NFL lockout. Given that "Chuck" is the only NBC show (and outside Fox's Sunday animated shows, one of the few on network TV that at all) that skews male. NBC tried betting big on "diversity" and hoped that would draw in lots of female viewers. Who in turn are mostly White. The dirty little secret is that while Univison and Telemundo are posting dramatic gains in audiences, their night-time audiences are still tiny. Less even than the CW, itself a baby netlet often drawing fewer than one million viewers for some shows. NBC thought that going all out for "Diversity" would provide an alternative to what other networks were doing. In this they were correct. Where NBC went wrong was in thinking that the mostly White/Female audience was interested in this diversity. By and large, they were not.

Now NBC has resorted to lots of comedies, crummy reality shows, and hoping NFL football comes back in its new 2011 Fall Lineup. The only things original are the "Sliding Doors" type dual-reality show "Awake" (in one reality his wife is dead, in another his son), and "Grimm" (about a police procedural involving ... Grimm Fairytale characters). These may fail. But NBC should be applauded for at least taking the risk. Both are a bit different, offbeat, and not the same old procedural stuff.

[Interestingly enough, both NBC and CBS, during their fireworks broadcasts on the Fourth of July, heavily promoted their upcoming shows, the first time I can recall them doing so. It seems they feel the need to expend more time/money in promotion than in years past.]

CBS only has "Person of Interest" with Jesus (Jim Caviezel from "the Passion") and Michael Emerson (the bad guy from "Lost") about a covert op teamed with a software mogul aiming to stop crimes before it happens. Basically, a variant of the Equalizer, done decades ago, but hey that was a good show. Everything else is either a renewal or tired re-run (Poppy Montgomery from "Without a Trace" has a new show "Unforgettable" about a detective who cannot forget anything). "A Gifted Man" is a weepy-ghost-chick-flick show (so naturally it should do well). I'm shocked Katherine Heigl is not in this one.

ABC has a "Mad Men" clone ("Pan Am") and a Charlie's Angels remake, plus a woman in jeopardy Lifetime Movie Network series ("Missing") with a global twist, and another with a "Lost" in the Amazon style twist ("the River") and a couple of night-time soaps ("Revenge" and "Good Christian Belles") the latter of which was changed from "Good Christian Bitches." Nothing of interest to anyone not gay and possessing a Y chromosome. "Once Upon a Time" has again, the Grimm Fairytales characters inhabiting the modern world, in the town of "Storybrooke" seeming to mix Harry Potter with conspiracy-theory heavy shows like "Lost" or "Fringe."

Fox has the usual assortment of lame comedies, plus the dramas "Terra Nova" (much delayed) about a family moving to the Earth of 80 million years ago to escape Global Warming and pollution, or just the neighbors, or something. Plus mid-season replacements "the Finder" (about an Iraq War vet with a talent for finding things that have gone missing) and "Alcatraz" (another "Lost" clone about criminals from Alcatraz who never age and go on killing sprees, or something.

CW has "Ringer" with Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar, as a woman on the run from the mob posing as her missing twin sister ... who is herself pursued by unknown enemies. The rest is teen witches, teen vampires, and so on.

FX has picked up for pilot Brian Michael Bendis (who did an excellent turn on Marvel's "Daredevil" years back) based on his own comic book (he retains ownership in other words) "Powers." The series features gritty cops investigating crimes committed against ordinary humans and super-powered people by people with ... powers. Meanwhile ABC is prepping for the following season a number of Marvel properties, including "the Incredible Hulk," "AKA Jessica Jones," and "Cloak and Dagger." [Sadly for ABC/Disney, Marvel's drop-off in superhero quality from their first tier is substantial. "Jessica Jones" and "Cloak and Dagger" are both "diverse" and low-rent superheroes, who while having been around since the 1970s never really caught on. By contrast DC has tons of superheroes, poorly used, with rabid followings.]

As usual, AMC has a violent/provocative show ("Hell on Wheels" about the building of the Transcontinental Railway) and various other basic cable and premium cable outlets have new series they will premiere in dribs and drabs.

But of all of them, NBC has fallen the farthest, and the hardest, from a state of grace. NBC, after all, was the network of such male-oriented shows as "the A-Team," "Miami Vice," "Hunter," "Misfits of Science," along with "Hill Street Blues," "Seinfeld," "St. Elsewhere," "Crime Story," "Private Eye," and even "the Rockford Files." Heck what I would not give for a DVD release of "the New Maverick," (the abortive, one-season western with the great James Garner replaying his Brett Maverick character). While CBS may have had "the Equalizer," and ABC briefly "Max Headroom," NBC remained the place for guys in the 1980's and even into the 1990's. Heck as recently as 2009, NBC aired "Life," one of the most shockingly tough-guy shows ever put on network TV.

As Newton Minnow said in his Vast Wasteland Speech

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.


While Minnow is often quoted as noting the vast wasteland, the first part of his speech is often forgotten. I have seen over the course of my life TV go from a purveyor, even though flawed, of a mass culture and matching model of traditional masculinity (do the right thing, don't stop trying) to one of total camp, attention-whoring, and paralyzing uniformity. A place where men exist only as female-oriented studs or gays, without even a smidgen of action, adventure, and excitement.

TV, when it is good, is simply unbeatable. Its restrictions on budgets and effects are matched by the advantage of time. A typical movie will have to clock in at around 2 hours, more or less. A TV series, going 22 episodes, even with only 43 minutes devoted to story (less commercials) can still clock in at around 17 hours. That 17 hours allows for a richer story to be told. One with more detailed and developed characters, one with more complex and emotionally arousing storylines. TV at its best helps unify the country and provide (all the more necessary with the collapse of church attendance and religion) a unified morality, and one based on what the people themselves believe, not what elites in Hollywood and NYC believe.

So, it has been good and refreshing to see NBC's diversity line-up fail. Other networks have followed suit. None have launched copies of what has failed at NBC. No laugh-a-minute yuks about outsourcing to India, or super-glamorous super-spy couples who are Black, or Obama-clones fighting off Aliens and corporate White bad guys. Instead, NBC has basically punted, relying on junk reality, a final season of "Chuck," (at least Adam Baldwin will be on TV again in the role of John Casey, he's completely hilarious) and two new series trying something a bit different. Even so that network will have a huge Sunday night hole if the NFL (hopefully) remains on lockout. ABC, CBS, FOX, and CW are merely repeating in new shows what they've always done before. More soaps for ABC, more procedurals for CBS, more big-budget Sci-Fi for FOX, and hunky magic teens for CW.

Eventually, one network will have to take a chance to break from the pack. More of the same fighting over a constantly declining female audience will not cut it. "Diversity" and other tricks, aping "Lost" or pushing a big-budget (soon to be trimmed) Spielberg-driven Dinosaur show won't do it. "Terra Nova" seems set for the success of "the Young Indiana Jones" or "Amazing Stories." Back when Spielberg was not corrupted by a posse of toadies telling him his every brain fart was genius, he made some pretty compelling movies. He's been consistently bad in TV, however, not realizing that TV requires story-telling emotion over a budget always under assault. The network most desperate is obviously ... NBC. So it was good that "Diversity" failed. Nothing gets network attention (and all the networks pay attention) like spectacular failure.

Sooner or later someone at a network will take a gamble on men, and provide a staple of cheap, entertaining, and amusing male-skewing shows. The country will be better off, because traditional male-oriented shows for the most part must embody fairly conservative values. Honor your word, show physical and emotional courage, stand up and fight, protect the weak, punish the wicked. Those are the stories men of all ages are interested in, and are almost completely absent on the TV screen every night. Let's hoping those stories return soon.

25 comments:

Jules said...

Great to have you back & commenting on culture. Do you think powers will take off? I've detected some uber feminist/multicultural themes in bendis work, beyond the stilted dialogue & sex.

Of course, what none of the networks will admit is that their public domain fairy tale shows are rip offs of Willinghams Fables, but why give a conservative artist a chance unlike the utterly nihilistic & expensive game of thrones. Conservatives geeks who didn't know GRRM were loving the series which was infuriating and funny.

An Unmarried Man said...

Sooner or later someone at a network will take a gamble on men, and provide a staple of cheap, entertaining, and amusing male-skewing shows. The country will be better off, because traditional male-oriented shows for the most part must embody fairly conservative values. Honor your word, show physical and emotional courage, stand up and fight, protect the weak, punish the wicked. Those are the stories men of all ages are interested in, and are almost completely absent on the TV screen every night. Let's hoping those stories return soon.

Well this will only happen when network execs have reason to believe such a demographic is likewise watching television and its conjoined commercial advertising in profitable droves, which of course is not happening. Such a demographic as you describe is doing anything but sitting in front of TV's.

Anonymous said...

"Even so that network will have a huge Sunday night hole if the NFL (hopefully) remains on lockout"

Why is that? Football is the only sport I watch, and that is because I like the packers. Without football there is no sport on TV worth watching IMO. Are you worried football will end up like baseball where the teams with the most money will always dominate?

Polichinello said...

NBC also ran Columbo, arguably the best detective show ever. Sure, it had a cast of villains as white as Westchester Co, but there was no offensive moral preening written into the dialogue to turn off audiences.

Interestingly, Spielberg directed the premiere episode of Columbo (not the two prior made-for-TV movies), and he also directed the excellent Duel, with Dennis Weaver. So the man could do good TV one upon a time.

Whiskey said...

Anon -- I hate Michael Vick, so anything that keeps him off my TV for a year is good. Besides I'd like to see the College game take down the pros a peg or two. Going without the Giants or Colts or Saints for a year is worth it to shake up the nets and the NFL.

Anonymous said...

This what DVD/Blu-Ray movies, box sets and big screen displays are for. I can watch what films and TV series I want and don't have to rely on the hopeless drivel the television networks and Hollywood try to peddle nowadays.

Anonymous said...

Whiskey, do you have anything to say about the BBC series "Being Human" that airs on SyFy? Somehow, they've managed to make boring a show featuring vampires, werewolves, and ghosts.

Jesus Christ Supercop said...

Well, at least Burn Notice is back.

Anonymous said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/10/magazine/the-dark-art-of-breaking-bad.html

Anonymous said...

But at CBS there is "Blue Bloods" which has strong male characters, good-conquers-bad story lines and even a religious sensibility (the Irish family goes to church, is friends with priests and says grace before meals). One can hope this is a harbinger of better TV.

bootsie said...

Nice to have you back blogging,Whiskey.Speaking of TV, has anyone else noticed the recent reduction(not elimination) in commercials which feature stupid betas as well as the automatic pairing white women and black men?

How about those Dogers?

Kevin J. said...

"Eventually, one network will have to take a chance to break from the pack.... Sooner or later someone at a network will take a gamble on men, and provide a staple of cheap, entertaining, and amusing male-skewing shows... Those are the stories men of all ages are interested in, and are almost completely absent on the TV screen every night."

You and others have done a thorough job of documenting Hollywood's overriding committment to boring, ideological diversity. An attentive TV viewer can easily figure out the "diversity rulebook" of the industry.

But what if that rulebook isn't informal? What if it's written down and enforced?


If there is a monopoly in an industry, it's often because there are government penalties suppressing competitors or perverse financial incentives for people to toe the line. It's not just social status jockeying.

What if entertainment networks cannot break away from the diversity mindset because of regulatory pressure? What if they are like an Eastern European factory required to produce only left-footed shoes?

Let's look into the laws and bureaucracies that help the diversity monopoly.

NBC's 30 Rock itself spoofed some of the political hoop-jumping in the NBC/Universal/Comcast merger diversity agreement. Lots of patronage and quota-like requirements there.

The California Film & Television Tax Credit Program requires applicants to fill out a form "to illustrate the
diversity of the workforce employed by the applicant during the production." (A similar credit requirement appears to be active in Illinois, Rhode Island and who knows where else).

And check out the DIVERSITY-IN-CASTING INCENTIVE of the Screen Actors' Guild, which affects production costs for productions which set aside "A minimum of 50% of the total speaking roles and 50% of the total days of employment" for women, seniors, the disabled, or "people of color."

The EEOC also has its hooks in Hollywood: "The EEOC works to address matters of interest to SAG performers from the following racial/ethnic groups — African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino/Hispanic and Native American Indian. The EEOC explores ways to promote more diverse casting and enforce the contractual policy of non-discrimination and fair employment," the SAG website says.

Since California and other key moviemaking states also ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gay activists can just use the same diversity bureaucracy to agitate for plot and casting decisions as well as for characters they like.

These penalties and incentives must be particularly intimidating to the new filmmaker or TV producer who has better things to think about than diversity. It's no wonder our entertainment industry can be so uniform, and it's why I'm less optimistic about the prospects for change.

GreatWhiteNorth said...

@ Bootsie

I'm beginning to notice the same trend (less black male / white female couples, less beta men as morons) even here in French-speaking Quebec.

Advertisers probably thought this approach would endear them to their target market i.e. white females. Maybe those white guys sitting beside them finally got tired of this and started complaining

Robert the Wise said...

Welcome back, Whiskey. I thought we had lost you for good.


July 8, 2011 11:34 AM
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Even so that network will have a huge Sunday night hole if the NFL (hopefully) remains on lockout"

Why is that? Football is the only sport I watch, and that is because I like the packers. Without football there is no sport on TV worth watching IMO.

Anonymous, why do you like the Packers? Do you think they like you? Do you think the Packers give half a fuck about the travails of Anonymous' life? Are you a Big Fan?

Grow up. Stop caring about a bunch of retarded steroid freaks.
They're not playing for you.
They're playing for a paycheck the likes of which you'll never see.

They're laughing at you for being a sucker who pays them millions to play a child's game.

And don't forget: the black players will always be up for a game of Beat Whitey, Knockout King, or Polar Bear Hunting. Good thing you're paying their defense attorneys.

Robert the Wise

Anonymous said...

Hello Whiskey:

I already know you from another blog. Excellent piece above!I retained particularly the mention of the "Sci-Fi" new serie " "Undercovers", because instinctively when I saw previews on NBC, I told my bf that it would fail miserably.

I never studied marketing, but I believe I can intuitively assess trends. If "Undercovers" had been presented as a Kafkaesque nightmare/dark ( all puns intended ) comedy, it could have fared much better.

Anonymous said...

From Australia, glad to have you back Whiskey.

raliv said...

glad to see you back whiskey

Anonymous said...

Hey Robert the Wise:

I liked Whiskeys answere better. His anti football blub seemed out of place.

Anyways I dont believe they are laughing at me, I dont pay anything unless you count watching commercials, most packers seem to like their fans, they should get paid whatever they can get away with for doing their "job" just like anyone else in a free market, some people actually enjoy watching them do their job, and not all blacks want to stick it to whitey.

Anonymous said...

All those wonderful shows cancelled? Gee, what a shame.

Reminds me why I don't watch anything on TV except horse racing and cartoons.

- Everyman

Anonymous said...

I occasionally watch a rerun of "The New Adventures of Christine" late at night. I never watched it while it was on prime time because I was turned off by the racial themes in the show. (The show I watched last night featured the joke of Christine drunkenly calling her ex-husband and telling him that "he was the best white man she ever had.") This show could have been a success but I'm sure the racial aspects of the show turned a lot of people off, and I don't think much of that racial angle (the romance with the black teacher, for example) was done to reach an audience, I think it was done because of the social and political convictions of the show makers. They pushed these lines regardless of the effect it might have on their success. Hollywood, and to a lesser degree television, has a long history of spending vast amounts of money and effort pushing agendas even when no one wants to see them ("Salvador"). You can't put it all on attempts to capture this or that demographic - they believe, and since they have no real organized opposition in the long run they are able to push many of their beliefs through. That's what keeps them trying.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention the lesbian theme in "The New Adventures of Old Christine", who was that supposed to appeal to? Surely not even lesbians found it amusing, though they might approve of it as an attack on traditional marriage and morality.

www.islas-baleares-3d.com said...

It will not succeed as a matter of fact, that is what I consider.

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