NBC's Scorched Earth Strategy, Canceling "Community", "30 Rock" & "Parks and Recreation" [UPDATED]

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For anyone who eagerly anticipated Community's return to TV after its prolonged post-holiday hiatus, it was quite clear NBC's views on the series didn't mirror that of its devoted fanbase. More accurately, they appear to be of the exact opposite opinion of what most people who watch NBC would say about their current slate of comedy: it has three bright spots in the form of Community, Parks and Recreation, and 30 Rock. Although, admittedly, there's been murmurs among the fan base of 30 Rock that the show has long since passed its prime - even so, that still makes it monumentally funnier than the decaying corpse of The Office or the never funny Whitney.

Well, say goodbye to those aforementioned bright spots, because, according to OpposingViews and New York Daily News, NBC has declared all three to be on death row with shortened seasons after the current seasons expire that will lead into their confirmed demises thereafter. [UPDATE 5/10/12 @ 8:20 ET: Additional sources have confirmed 30 Rock has definitely gone this route, and now further confirmation from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter tell us that Community has been renewed for a short, 13-episode 4th season - no word though on whether or not it's a final season as earlier suspected and whether or not Parks has been renewed as well.]

It's a darkly comical decision on the failing network's part, not only because they're cutting the only shows with any real comedic merit in their Thursday night lineup, but because they will then continue the destructive process of putting up new shows and hoping at least one or two finds instant success. The ones that don't will be axed within a manner of weeks, if you trust NBC's current track record (see Bent, Life, etc.).

While networks play this game on a regular basis, it's rare that it occurs when a show has as devoted a fanbase as Community or has become as critically acclaimed as Parks and Recreation has in recent seasons. The obvious exceptions of Arrested Development, Pushing Daisies, or anything by Joss Whedon not spawned by the Buffy-verse come to mind, but the cases for each of those have a number of different variables. Also, based on those examples I suppose we should be grateful that Community or Parks and Recreation even made it past a second season.

Though the cancellation of Parks and Recreation is something of a crying shame, there is a bright spot in that this last season has been a rather nicely crafted piece of closure for the series and feels like a natural endpoint. The same can't be said of 30 Rock which won't be so much bowing out gracefully as it will be withering further into its spiral of spotty comedy. In this mix though, the real tragedy is Community, easily one of the freshest and most innovative shows on television in the last decade thanks in large part to its episodic formula of satirizing pop-culture topics and the foibles of academia with off-the-wall plots. If you can find me another show where a season climaxes with an all-out paintball war that parodies just about every cult classic action film out there or that could actually make Chevy Chase relevant again, then please, reveal it to me forthwith.

Outside of Community, such a show doesn't exist. It's the closest thing to a multi-layered sitcom that television has seen since the brilliant Arrested Development and its the only sitcom ever that would dare suggest its characters were living different lives in six alternate timelines, one of which is evil. Even in the show's most blatant moments of product placement (i.e. naming a character Subway, as in the human incarnation of the restaurant chain) it manages to defy the industry stereotype of shoving a brand down our throat by placing it unobtrusively in the foreground and instead addresses it head on, even going so far as to having sex with it. 

By tossing Community out with two shows that have either come to a satisfying close or gone past its prime, NBC proves it simply doesn't know what works with current audiences. Community might not be your traditional sitcom, and that's exactly why it's loved by fans. And so, instead of recognizing that they have a fan-favorite on their hands, they'll pitch it in favor of attempting what CBS has achieved: a slate of shows that panders to the broadest spectrum of people by being bland, unambitious, and written with the basic set-up and punchline structure that's designed to please anyone who stumbles across it at night rather than rewarding those who would actually invest in a show's characters.

Good for you, NBC, you've proven yet again that pay-for-TV networks are truly the best at gauging the quality of television and not just its theoretical mass appeal.

 

May
10
2012
Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.

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