The rise and fall of NBC

CNN has a piece up about NBC’s plummet from glory, and the network’s vow to start doing things right.

Accustomed to success, the network had failed to recognize “underlying problems,” Reilly said. He took over as entertainment chief after his predecessor, Jeff Zucker, was promoted. Zucker now is NBC Universal Television Group president.

“We’re insane if we stay on the same track. That is the definition of insanity to keep making the same mistakes and doing things the same way,” Reilly said.

I often notice patterns and think it would be cool to write a piece exposing them, but then never get around to actually doing the research it would require. (One of these, a discussion of the use in movie soundtracks of what I call “the scream” and what is officially titled the Wilhelm Scream, has been preempted by others.) An expose on the standard jokes and plotlines used in 1990s-2000s NBC sitcoms is an idea that rattles around in my head every time I watch Friends.

Friends, as you know, is one of my all-time favorite shows, but even it fell victim to NBC’s rampant self-plagiarism. Monica was fat as a kid? Wait, that was done in Wings (Helen). Joey and Treager (the super) as ballroom dance partners? Wait, that was also done in Wings (Antonio and Roy). Friends even recycled some of its own jokes–sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. In one episode, Rachel serves Monica a cup of something at Central Perk. Monica says, “I didn’t want cinnamon on that.” “Oh, sorry,” says Rachel, and scoops off the cinnamon with her fingers. In a later episode, after Ross and Rachel have broken up, Ross hands Rachel a mug, and the exact same event occurs, this time with Rachel on the receiving end. It didn’t play out as if it was meant to be a throwback to the previous incident, though I suppose there’s a slight possibility that it was.

There’s plenty more where that came from, spanning quite a few NBC series. All the series that shared writers shared jokes. After awhile, it just got old. I’m not sure why they thought they could get away with it–maybe they had a really low opinion of their viewers?–but now it seems to have finally come around to bite them in the ass. (It helps that the other networks are putting out quality shows at last.)