Comedy Is Not Pretty: End of 'Parks and Rec' Exposes NBC's Weak Sitcom Slate

Going Broader Hasn't Panned Out but NBC Is Sticking to its Guns

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"Dying is easy; comedy is hard," or so goes the show-biz adage, a sentiment that's particularly relevant as NBC's "Parks and Recreation" reaches its series finale tonight. After seven seasons of what perhaps can best be described as unabashed cerebral goofiness, the little single-cam that could tumbles into history, bringing with it an entire comic lineage.

The last vestige of NBC's portfolio of quirky, critically acclaimed ensemble comedies, "Parks and Rec" once rubbed elbows with the network's "30 Rock," "The Office" and "Community." While those shows each cultivated a fiercely devoted fan base, however, they never broke out in the same way that CBS and ABC sitcoms have.

The last time all four shows shared the Thursday night spotlight, during the 2012-13 broadcast season, they combined to deliver an average 3.47 million viewers and an anemic 1.6 rating among adults 18 to 49, where one ratings point is equivalent to 1% of TV households -- or just under 2 million members of the advertiser-coveted demo. That same season, "The Big Bang Theory" on CBS averaged a 5.3 rating, or 6.73 million adults 18-49.

"Parks and Rec" may have almost literally hit its ratings peak in its very first episode -- the April 2009 pilot averaged 6.77 million viewers and a 3.0 in the 18-to-49 demographic, a high-water mark it would best only once in its seven-season run -- but the show itself never stopped improving. Blessed with what was arguably the funniest writers' room on network TV, "Parks and Rec" also boasted an absolutely ruinous ensemble of actors (Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Rashida Jones, Adam Scott, Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari, etc. etc.), and together they created a smart and warm show that elicited love letters from the likes of The New Yorker, the L.A. Times and The A.V. Club.

If "Parks and Rec" never found the mass audience it deserved, the niche it did serve was a great consolation to NBC. Advertisers looking for young, upscale consumers found a reliable outlet in "Parks and Rec," as the show regularly outpaced its rivals among viewers 18-to-49 with a household income of $100,000 or higher. The youngest-skewing series on any of the Big Three broadcast networks, "Parks and Rec" was also a relative bargain, as a 30-second spot in its final season could be had for around $112,000 a pop.

As much as NBC effectively burned off the final season of "Parks and Rec," stacking two new episodes to compress its 13-episode run into seven weeks, the show certainly held its own down the stretch. The Nielsen averages are underwhelming (3.18 million viewers and a 1.3 in the demo), but it's worth noting that "Parks and Rec" is tied for fifth place on the list of NBC's highest-rated shows. It also stands as the network's No. 1 comedy, which admittedly isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for the Peacock's recent development efforts.

In fact, with "Parks and Rec" sliding off the schedule, NBC now bears the lightest comedy load of the Big Four broadcast networks. Including the yet-to-debut "One Big Happy," the summer transplant "Undateable" and a project that may never see the light of day ("Mr. Robinson"), NBC's total comedy arsenal adds up to just six series. Two of these ("About a Boy" and "Marry Me") are almost certain to join the doomed freshman comedies "A to Z" and "Bad Judge" on NBC's Do Not Resuscitate list.

Thus far, NBC has 13 sitcom pilots in development for 2015-16, all of which can be filed away neatly under "family," "workplace" and/or "rom-com." Last year at this time the network had 18 comedy pilots in the works; 4 made it to the schedule.

Since the network jettisoned its recent signature brand of comedy for more inclusive/cookie-cutter stuff, not a single new sitcom has broken out. Of those that survived to see a second season, none saw a third. Going broad hasn't panned out, but judging from the development slate, NBC's sticking to its guns. Long story short, you won't see the likes of "Parks and Rec" again on NBC any time soon.

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