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NBC’s newest drama, Do No Harm, premiered last week to laughable ratings and even less critical success. The show follows a young doctor with a split personality disorder who has spent the past several years knocking himself out in order to reign his dangerous other personality in. The Jekyll and Hyde premise seemed sound enough when first described and put together at the network, but now that week 2’s ratings are in and ratings are down from last week, it looks like one of the worst flops the network has encountered in a long time. It’s likely Do No Harm is headed the way of cancellation, but it’s not all the show’s fault—NBC’s Thursday at 10 p.m. timeslot has been a death slot for the last few years and there are numerous factors contributing to its absolute suckiness.
In the years since NBC featured a fabulous “Must See TV” Thursday lineup, a lot has changed. It’s easy for procedurals like ER to do well when they are backed by shows like Friends, Seinfeld, and even Will & Grace. However, in recent years, NBC’s Thursday night comedy block has focused on unintentionally niche programming from Parks & Recreation to the highly under-viewed Community. Even The Office at this point isn’t really bringing in the same numbers in that it used to. If NBC can’t build a lead-in audience, people aren’t going to stick around for the 10 p.m. slot, especially for a show that has an extremely oddball premise.
If you read my first paragraph, you know Do No Harm is pretty strange, a show that is part medical procedural and part split personality story. It is succeeding last spring’s Awake, a show about a cop existing in two different realities and solving a case in each reality. This succeeded a fall 10 p.m. Thursday program, Prime Suspect, about a super-strange female police officer who dealt with violent offenders and was horribly beaten up in an early episode. Even if we take a look at unscripted programs in the timeslot, like The Jay Leno Show or The Marriage Ref, we see oddball efforts that a high number of people just can’t get on board with. No one wants to watch late night talk shows before the local news and no one, especially, cares about Jerry Seinfeld doling out relationship advice to schmucks.
It’s clear NBC doesn’t have a winning formula, but the network’s implosion isn’t the only problem regarding the Thursday 10 p.m. slot. The other networks are sharks, and while Fox may be a baby shark that bows out after Glee on Thursday nights, both CBS and ABC are willing to go for the jugular. CBS has figured out how to crush the 10 p.m. slot with variations on procedurals for the last several years. For a while, The Mentalist raked in audiences before moving to Sunday nights and this year Elementary has taken over, becoming the highest ranked new program of the season. That’s fine, we’ll give it to the network, because at this point, CBS isn’t NBC’s big competition, ABC is.
NBC was in a bad bind, but not the worst bind when Shonda Rhimes worked her magic and got Scandal on to the air. In recent weeks the show has been pulling in around 8 million total viewers, and while those numbers aren’t super high, they do represent millions of eyeballs straying even further away from NBC’s timeslot. The fact that Scandal’s ratings are up during this portion of Season 2 tells me the show has nowhere to go but even higher up, and NBC has a bigger problem on its hands.
Think of a night of television like a mixtape. All of the pieces should generally appeal to roughly the same audience. With NBC’s comedy block, that’s actually in play. The general audience for 30 Rock is the same as the general audience for Parks and Rec and The Office and, to a lesser extent, Community. None of these programs are very highly-rated, but they have loyal fanbases, and most of them have earned critical praise. The network already tried extending the comedy block to another hour with additions like Outsourced and The Paul Reiser Show, and that imploded. NBC needs to go broader, which means the network really needs to blow up Thursday nights and start over.
Any network in its right mind would want to shoot for eight figures in total viewers and, in order to do this, NBC needs to pick an anchor program from another night and launch it on Thursdays around a brand new programming block of procedurals or dramas with broad appeal (or, anything, really, other than the programming the network is currently rolling with). Sure, it’s a little scary and there aren’t a ton of anchor programs NBC could pull from one night and throw on to another, but if the network can make one new show work on Thursday night, then the next year it can hopefully find another until the 10 p.m. slot. is no longer the death slot and NBC is no longer the most pathetic horse in the Thursday night race. Skeptics are probably thinking this may not work, and you might be right, but I can guarantee what NBC is doing right now will continue to fail.
I’m a fan of Community. I love Parks and Rec too, but with The Office and 30 Rock retiring, NBC’s best call is to blow up the night and start over. There’s no point in letting this poorly rated horse limp along any longer. NBC can’t control the success of Scandal or Elementary but it can choose to take a real chance rather than sitting on its haunches into the foreseeable future.