At this morning’s executive session, I asked NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt if the network could turn itself around by taking its success building fanatical fanbases for its shows among nerds and identify underserved demographics like black and Latino viewers and program to their needs*. His answer wasn’t particularly specific, but it was revealing, and suggested that NBC is doing some development work in that direction. He told me:
It’s always tricky to think about the niche and trying to build on the niche. Because unfortunately that’s been the good news and the bad news of a show like Community. It has such a strong core audience, and yet it’s been hard to expand that audience. What we’re trying to do is seize on the audience that’s going to come to it at the beginning…we’re developing all kinds of those things. I’m not sure yet what it’ll yield out of development. But we have to some degree do the thing that no one else is doing but we have to be broad. You can just program for 18-year-old twins and get a hit show on a cable network. We just have to figure out how to seize on that but also not end up in the narrow place.
I think this is probably true, even if it’s deeply unfortunate that shows aimed at a black audience, or that star black or Latino characters, count as such a niche that programming in that direction means networks assume they’re giving up white viewers. But a recession seems like a good time to try to win some minority viewers back to the networks by showing them that cable isn’t the only place that will tell stories about their lives or meet their needs. NBC’s very good at fan service for nerds. It would be cool to see them try to do something similar for other categories of underserved viewers. And it would be nice for someone to demonstrate an understanding that Tyler Perry products aren’t just popular because they’re Tyler Perry products, but because they’re an entrant in a comparatively bare market.
*I maaaay have used Living Single as an example of a black sitcom that’s the kind of thing NBC could do. The Hollywood Reporter may have made fun of me for it, but NBC would flip if it had a freshman comedy that pulled 9 million viewers per episode in its first season.