Good news for Hollywood and other producers; not so much for affiliates
With NBC looking to add more multi-cam sitcoms and procedural dramas, the network has decided to shelve the idea of giving affiliates back the last hour of prime-time – for now.
As first reported by Deadline, the decision was made after a careful canvass was made of what the network needs going forward – it appears the success of multi-cam sitcom Lopez vs. Lopez – the first Friday night sitcom hit it’s had since Sanford and Son and Diff’rent Strokes in the 1970s – may have factored in the decision, even though the sitcom airs in the first hour of prime-time. Another factor is the continued success of Dick Wolf’s Law & Order and “Chicago” franchises. The idea was first floated around in August, as declining linear ratings led corporate parent NBCUniversal to question whether or not programming the 10 p.m. (ET) time slot was still a good idea.
In addition to multi-cam sitcoms, NBC is also on the hunt for more procedural programming – albeit with a different take. Procedurals – which are mostly crime dramas with plots that doesn’t straddle episodes, are easier to repeat and to sell into syndication and other platforms such as FAST channels. Off-network episodes of some shows in the Law & Order and Chicago universe are already airing on local stations, Ion, cable networks, and streaming platforms.
The news is also a good one for Madison Avenue, as advertisers wouldn’t lose any inventory to buy nationally.
NBC’s commitment to scripted programming is indeed good news for a battered Hollywood at a time when a dose of hard reality is coming to streamers, as programs are getting canceled after only one or two seasons and HBO Max is going as far as to wipe shows out of existence in order to save money on residuals. However, a 10 p.m. exit is still possible down the road as NBCUniversal continues to evaluating their business operations and is allocating resources to areas of the company showing growth.
Affiliates were hoping NBC would give up programming the last hour of primetime, which would have marked the biggest shift in television in a generation. In 1971, NBC, CBS, and ABC were forced to give back the 7:30 p.m. ET time slot to stations due to the FCC’s now-defunct PrimeTime Access Rule, which barred the networks from programming the 7-8 p.m. ET slot (unless it was a network newscast) as stations filled the open time with local news, public affairs, and (mostly) syndicated programming and prohibited stations in the fifty largest markets from airing off-network programming of any kind. Hearst Television head Jordan Wertlieb was quoted at a gathering of TV executives in October saying he hoped NBC would give the last hour back to stations so his station group could programming locally (and of course, make more ad revenue.) Hearst owns several NBC stations, including WBAL Baltimore and WYFF Greenville, S.C.
But CBS threw cold water on any 10 p.m. giveback plan noting they would program the time slot for years to come, while ABC officials declined to take up the issue. And there was some debate among local station groups on how best to program the slot if it became available as a few thought airing more local news wouldn’t be a great option. With NBC now locking in network programming in at 10 p.m. ET for the next season or two, it puts to rest how stations would program the time period if the opportunity came up – for now.
[Editor’s Note: An unfinished draft was mistakenly posted and has since been corrected. – T. H.]