The Peacock Needs New Plumage (Again)

Tuning In: NBC's In for Yet Another Program Overhaul Under Comcast

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NEW YORK ( -- Looks like it's time for the Peacock to get new plumage.

With the departure of Angela Bromstad, president of NBC's prime-time entertainment, it's clear that all bets are off for the network's first fall season under Comcast instead of General Electric.

Ms. Bromstad comes across as a cerebral executive intensely interested in creative concepts, but no one will tell you the team she fielded this year has done well. New shows that got a lot of attention -- "The Event" or "Law & Order: Los Angeles" -- have more or less been scrapped, with "The Event" taken off the air in hopes of resparking it later this season and "Law & Order: Los Angeles" pulled with no date announced about when it might return. We can't help but think "L&O" top dog Dick Wolf, who had wanted the original show to last one more season so he could claim title to producing the longest-running drama on U.S. TV, must be miffed that NBC made him launch this watered-down West Coast version of his baby only to push it to the graveyard.

NBC once launched successful programs with unerring accuracy. The network owned the all-important-to-advertisers Thursday night for years, boasting top dramas like "ER" and "The West Wing" that appealed not only to a broad section of the viewers but also high-income urbanites, whose wallets marketers were eager to tap.

These days, the Peacock can't get a break. Its saving grace is "Sunday Night Football," but once the NFL season ends, there's little else to brag about. Praise "The Office" and "30 Rock" all you want, but these cult favorites would never last on CBS. What's worse, NBC has failed to use its sports bonanza to generate sufficient audiences for its prime-time entertainment fare. Networks routinely argue that it's OK to lose money on expensive-to-secure sportscasts because they provide a huge platform to promote the rest of the schedule -- but NBC's ratings don't lend that theory much ballast.

Robert Greenblatt
Robert Greenblatt
What's next? Comcast has named former Showtime exec Robert Greenblatt to helm NBC entertainment, so look for programs that have more popcorn appeal. This is a guy who helped develop such fare as "Nurse Jackie" and "Dexter" at Showtime, and, in earlier days, "Ally McBeal" and "Beverly Hills 90210" at Fox. These shows may snare the upper-crust viewers that NBC once attracted so well, but they also have enough cheese slathered on them to bring in the curious and the thrill-seekers.

In an era when so-called quality drama has been relegated to cable, popcorn shows are what make broadcast run, and NBC doesn't have enough of them -- or any of them, perhaps. Mr. Greenblatt's first attempt at fixing NBC will be on display in May at the upfronts. Until that time, the network's entire prime-time schedule may as well be made out of tissue paper.

Tuning In is an ongoing series of commentaries by Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg on the TV schedule, the ads it carries and changes within the industry. Follow him on Twitter.

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