I’m a big fan of the website Quora (specifically a place for asking and answering questions, and generally a fantastic resource for information). I’ve been answering questions there this year, and I’ve decided to start cross-promoting some of my popular answers here on my personal blog.
QUORA QUESTION - Why do NBC comedies have such low ratings?
Community, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock… These are amazing shows. Yet similar shows such as Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory, as well as inferior comedies such as Two and a Half Men, have no trouble pulling in much larger audiences. What gives?
This answer is not going to contain many facts. It’s basically entirely opinion and conjecture. That said, I firmly believe that this is what’s happening…
I believe that we are at a fundamental cultural divide point; the divide being a porous border across generations. On one side we have the traditional mega-hit mono-culture seekers, and on the other side we have the large-niche seeking audience. Please note, I think that neither of these cultures inherently have more value than the other. Great content and terrible content can exist within each of these.
The mono-culture is represented by network television, tentpole movies, USA Today, and the local top 40 radio station. The value is a shared culture so people can feel one with their community. The community in this case being their friends, family, and neighbors. Because their interests may vary, the mono-culture consists of things that broadly appeal to a wide group of people, but rarely with much passion.
The niche-seeking audience is represented by cable television, specialty blogs, podcasts, YouTube, and so on. The value is a shared culture with their community, but their community tends to be distributed. It’s not necessarily about sharing with their geographically local associates, but they feel part of a global community of like-minded people. Because the content is very niche focused, it tends to have passionate support from people within the niche and little interest to people outside the niche.
The NBC comedies sit in a weird position. They appeal to the niche-seeking audience, but they air in the mono-culture system. The result is that their ratings are lower than those of true mono-culture shows such as Two And A Half Men or House. They are being judged by the ratings goals of mono-culture shows because they live inside the business model of mono-culture shows. This is why Community on NBC can be considered commercially unsuccessful but Louis on FX can be considered successful. Louis is a niche audience show with niche distribution and a niche business model.
I think that over time and as generations get older, the niche driven culture will continue to grow in size and the mono-culture will continue to shrink in size. Perhaps NBC is just ahead of its time.