NBC Renews And Reduces Its Thursday-Night Comedies, And That's A Good Thing

May 11, 2012
Originally published on May 11, 2012 4:31 pm

Everybody settle down.

News came in late yesterday that NBC was confirming that next season would be 30 Rock's last — and that that show, Community and (unconfirmed as of this morning) Parks and Recreation would all receive shortened 13-episode orders instead of the standard 22.*

Certain parties — not you, I'm sure — interpreted this as the network's kicking the shows to the curb and gnashed your teeth — sorry, their teeth — at yet another batch of low-rated but beloved comedies being canceled by the suits.

But before the rending of clothes reaches Hulk levels, it's important to understand that despite the shortened seasons, none of this is a death sentence. For 30 Rock, it's a victory lap. And for Community and Parks and Rec, it's a stay of execution.

What it decidedly isn't is cancellation. It is, in point of fact, the opposite of cancellation. All three shows have been given the go-ahead to resume production and return to television. Thirteen episodes is fewer than 22 episodes, to be sure, but it's a lot more than zero, by a percentage of approximately infinity.

Even if NBC plans on running out the clock on Community and Parks and Rec, that's a lot more of a pat on the back (for both the shows and the fans) than most shows whose plugs get pulled.

Besides, 30 Rock excepted, there's no actual reason to assume that they won't be renewed after the end of next season, simply because of those reduced orders. As noted over at The AV Club, the last three seasons of spy-geek show Chuck each began with a 13-episode order. All but the final one eventually got the go-ahead to make more than that. More important, all but the final one got renewals. In all, Chuck ran for 43 episodes beyond its original third-season order. There's no reason to assume that NBC doesn't reserve the option to do the same for Community and Parks And Rec.

There's also an argument to be made that 13-episode seasons for these particular shows make for smarter programming. Certainly, they more closely resemble the short-run British model that comedy nerds are familiar with, and occasionally laud for being lean, efficient and devoid of filler. While I was writing this, in fact, Alyssa Rosenberg went ahead and offered a nice defense of this model for these specific shows over at ThinkProgress.

Not only that, the shorter orders might solve scheduling problems in a way that appeases fans of the shows while minimizing ratings damage. If, for example, Thursdays at 8:30 were devoted to viewer-challenged prestige comedies, NBC could run, say, Community in the fall and Parks And Rec in the spring, assuring a happy, loyal year-round audience without locking up more than one time slot.

For shows with low ratings and devoted fanbases, this might be the most sustainable model available. It would allow NBC to offer something for every audience, if not everything to a specific audience. It provides flexibility and ensures the shows' immediate survival. For people who love Pawnee and Greendale, that counts as a win for now.

*UPDATE: Parks And Recreation has now been officially renewed (expected) for a full 22-episode order (unexpected). You may wish to substitute 30 Rock for it in, for instance, the discussion about timeslot-sharing with Community. But since my point was simply "Don't panic" (at a time when there were those who were panicking quite hard), Parks And Rec's full-order renewal shouldn't affect too much of the above.

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