Business Lessons Courtesy Dunder Mifflin

Rash Report: 'The Office' a TV Template Comcast Can Learn From

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Can a show about corporate incompetence offer a business lesson for the new Comcast-NBC? Sure -- if they heed the example of "The Office," one of the few bright spots on NBC's prime-time schedule. Like nearly all great scripted series, it led with an idea, as opposed to a star. And it realized great writing -- whether it was from the original, instant classic from the BBC or the emerging classic NBC remake, is the key to creating content that can find an audience.

'The Office'
'The Office' Credit: NBC
And find one it has. "The Office" delivered a 4.1/11 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic Thursday night, making it the highest rated show on broadcast (based on Nielsen fast affiliate ratings, with final live + same day data to be released Friday afternoon).

Of course, NBC not only learned the lesson, but taught it as well, as it stuck with the show despite its initial low ratings, partly by protecting it with higher rated sitcom lead-ins. And then NBC gave it the best promotional platform possible, the post- Super Bowl last February.

It's a lesson NBC -- and its ratings rivals -- too often forget. Its big-budget "Trauma," for instance, seemingly skimped on scriptwriters and became the network's first cancellation this year.

"The Office's" success was also fueled by critics and kudos, as it has won an Emmy for best comedy and has been nominated numerous times for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe. It's lost the last three years to its lead-out, "30 Rock" (3.0/8), which has concurrently learned and taught several lessons of its own.

Just as creator Ricky Gervais did with the BBC "Office" version, Tina Fey, the creator and writer of "30 Rock," has become a big star in her own right. NBC is trying to catch lightning in a bottle again with Fey's former "Saturday Night Live" co-star, Amy Poehler, but she seems miscast in "Parks and Recreation" as a naïf, instead of a nasty, snarky (and undeniably funny) anchor on the "SNL" Weekend Update segment. Accordingly, her show is struggling, finishing fourth with a 2.1/6, just below its lead-in "Community" (2.2/6).

Despite "The Office's" top spot, it was CBS and ABC, however, that made enough of the right moves to tie for first with an overall 2.9/8. This, despite CBS running reruns from 9-11 p.m. ("CSI," 2.3/6, and "The Mentalist," 2.6/7). But CBS was buoyed by "Survivor" (3.9/11), which was up 5% from its normal levels.

And ABC didn't have its hit "Grey's Anatomy," but a two-hour episode of "Private Practice" (3.2/9) kept it healthy enough after the fall season finale of "FlashForward" fell backward to a series low 2.2/6, which suggests a rough return in the spring.

Rash gridsEnlarge
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

Fox (2.7/7) was third as "Bones" (2.9/8) led into "Fringe," which stole share from "CSI's" repeat and "Grey's" fade to black, as it was up 14% to a 2.5/7.

The CW finished fifth with reruns of "Vampire Diaries" and "Supernatural" (both .8/2).

So Comcast can count on "The Office" as a TV template, testifying on how even a struggling network can create appointment viewing. Conversely, due to a programming decision that would seem to come straight from "The Office's" Scranton, Pennsylvania's Dunder Mifflin than NBC's Midtown Manhattan's Rockefeller Center, the network still finished fourth overall with a 2.4/6, as "The Jay Leno Show" once again finished last with a 1.5/4, losing half its "30 Rock" lead-in audience.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Friday: Back to holiday specials: "Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa" on NBC and "Dreams come True: A Celebration of Disney Animation" on ABC.
Saturday: Not holiday, but special: "The Incredibles," which, like all great animated features, works with kids and their parents, runs on NBC.
Sunday: Not special, but regularly scheduled, NBC's Sunday Night Football, which features the defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals against Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
A big weekend for football, even beyond the way pigskin usually hogs the screen, as NFL action is joined by Saturday's SEC Championship Game between the nation's top two teams, Florida and Alabama, and the Big 12 Championship Game between third ranked Texas and 22nd ranked Nebraska. Then the BCS bowl match-ups will be revealed live on Fox at 8 p.m. Sunday night.

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

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