NBC Bet on the Past Instead of the Future

Like many critics, I tend to want NBC to succeed if only because it gave me 30 Rock, Community, and the utterly sublime Parks and Recreation, and would like the network to be rewarded for sticking with those shows with improving ratings. But the last five or six months have neither given me faith that America will suddenly and against its basic stated desires recognize the fundamental greatness of watching Leslie Knope run for office, nor that NBC has a plan that will work to provide a subsidy for its weird, brilliant shows. And this analysis from Deadline—which, mind you, is analysis, not fact—kind of confirms my sadness:

While it is an office comedy, It’s Messy has a strong female lead. By last November, before the majority of the pilot scripts commissioned by NBC, including Kaling’s, were in, the network had already given early pilot orders to three pilots with female leads, the Sarah Silverman project, Save Me and Isabel. Save Me‘s order was cast-contingent and it looked touch-and-go for awhile but, after a long search, on January 19 Anne Heche signed on to star. Four days later, NBC made the bulk of its pilot orders, including a fourth female-centered comedy, the Roseanne Barr-starring Downwardly Mobile. It may have been Roseanne vs. Mindy for the fourth and last female-lead comedy slot on NBC’s pilot slate as around the time of the Downwardly Mobile pickup, the network passed on Kaling’s script, which had made it to the final round of consideration at the network.

If this really was a choice between Kaling and Barr, Barr was, to me, the wrong bet. There’s no question that Roseanne is brilliant. But it’s been a long time since it went off the air, and Barr’s most recent project, a cracked reality show about her macadamia nut farm did more to suggest that she was not the person to bring in to be the voice of a recession comedy than to confirm her old bona fides as a working class prophetess. Instead, she’s been running that venture, campaigning for the Green Party nomination and futzing around on Twitter, all worthy pursuits to be sure, but ones that read more as her coasting on her past success than gearing up for new ones.

Kaling, on the other hand, has been doing yeoman work holding up The Office, a comedy NBC should have cancelled years ago but that is worth tuning into occasionally almost solely for her presence on it. How nice would it have been for NBC to recognize that work, as well as her charming social media presence, her successful other enterprises like her blog and book, and to affirm the value there. Kaling may not have been able to speak for working-class women, as Barr did so effectively for so many years, but she could have been part of the explosion of South Asian women on television, one of what are still very few female show creators. It may have been that in between sending off 30 Rock and renewing Whitney, NBC felt like it had made its contribution to the female-comedy boom, and it was set. But picking up Kaling’s show would have moved that boom forward into its next iteration, beyond white women, and beyond a particular kind of hot-but-clumsy-or-awkward white woman. NBC bet on its past, instead, and ended up with neither Barr’s show on its schedule, nor Kaling’s. And Kaling’s, though it needs a name transplant, looks fantastic: