Canceled TV shows: What NBC's thinking with its cancellations and fall lineup

NBC, once the home of such sitcoms as 'Seinfeld' and 'Friends,' just canceled multiple comedies and is loading its fall schedule with dramas. Here's why the network is heading in this direction (and why there's hope for shows succeeding without great ratings).

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
'The Blacklist' stars James Spader.

As NBC cancels multiple comedies and moves forward with a drama-heavy slate, viewers are getting insight into how the network thinks it can achieve success in the coming years.

As we previously reported, NBC canceled two comedies, “A to Z” and “Bad Judge,” earlier this year and now the comedies “About a Boy,” “Marry Me,” and “One Big Happy” have also been canceled by the network. “Boy” recently aired its second season, while “Z,” “Judge,” “Marry,” and “Happy” were all new this year. 

And now there will be only two NBC comedies airing next fall. One will be the show “Undateable,” which will be airing its third season, and the other will be a new show titled “People Are Talking.” 

NBC is, of course, the home of such classic sitcoms as “Seinfeld” and “Friends,” and NBC was the home of the famous Must-See TV comedy block on Thursdays, with early iterations featuring such shows as “Cheers” and “The Cosby Show.” Later versions of the block saw shows like  “Friends” and “Seinfeld” being added.

But later on, its Thursday night comedy block consisted of shows that were critically beloved but didn’t score in the ratings. The network had success with the sitcom “The Office,” but ratings slid as the show continued, according to Vulture. Later, comedies like “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Community” came to Thursdays, and while all were well-received by critics, none were ratings hits. 

So now NBC is moving forward with dramas, at least for the fall season. Their recent show “The Blacklist,” which stars James Spader, was a hit in its 2013 debut season (though its ratings have been down this year, according to Deadline, with the show hitting a new low last month). So now there’s only that single hour of comedies for now, with them airing on Friday, no less, a night now considered to be less prestigious than Sunday through Thursday. New shows for NBC for this fall include a new iteration of their drama “Heroes” and dramas titled “Blindspot,” “Heartbreaker,” and “The Player.” (If you consider a variety show comedy, there will be Neil Patrick Harris’s new program titled “Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris,” which is debuting this fall, and comedies like Rob Lowe's new show "You, Me, and the End of the World will be debuting midseason, according to the Washington Post.) NBC appears to be thinking that this fall, viewers want serious, not silly.

But streaming services are showing how quality shows can continue without being subject to ratings. “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” which was co-created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock of “30 Rock,” debuted on Netflix this past spring. Was it a ratings hit? We don’t know, because Netflix is famously secretive about its viewership numbers. But “Unbreakable” already has a second season planned, according to an interview Carlock did with Entertainment Weekly, whereas “30 Rock” often seemed to be hovering on the edge of cancellation. Broadcast networks are obviously subject to different pressures than streaming services, but as Los Angeles Times writer Robert Lloyd noted of Netflix being the home of “Kimmy,” “This is good news all around: ‘Kimmy,’ wonderful odd duck that it is, might well have foundered and floundered in the roiling waters of broadcast TV… but it has already been guaranteed two seasons in its new, commercial-free home.”

It’s probably too much to hope for that ratings will cease to be a factor in a show’s renewal or cancellation. But services like Netflix are showing how not having to worry about them can allow a show to flourish.

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