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NBC's "New Approach"

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NBC got the jump on the rest of the networks by announcing their plans for the 2008-09 season on April 2. NBC execs have been saying for months that they wanted to embrace a new approach. Apparently, the key to that "new approach" is this: more of the same old stuff.

Not more of NBC's same old stuff, though; that much is clear. Instead, they're going to try a bunch of things that are new to NBC, who's apparently taken to heart the slogan that they used to use for summer reruns: "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you!" Which wasn't meant to be insulting, even if it does sound too much like the line your Dad tried to feed you about the '79 Mercury Zephyr that passed for your first car.

The "new approach" that NBC announced Wednesday, April 2 includes:

-- A "superseason" of year-round programming. Which is new in the same sense that no one else has used the superlative "super" to describe it before. CBS and FOX have both done this for years now, primarily with reality programming, but also with scripted shows like The O.C. Which, to be fair, were super in their own rights, even if they didn't go blowing their own horn about it. (Though blowing your own horn probably would have gotten you a spot on America's Got Talent, for sure.)

-- A return to the '70s tradition of spin-offs for successful sitcoms. This used to be a television mainstay until producers realized that the practice, while profitable in the short run, aided in the early demise of the original shows by draining them of some of the very assets that made them great in the first place. For every Laverne and Shirley (spun off from Happy Days), there are a dozen The Ropers (unsuccessfully spun off of Three's Company). But NBC is nonetheless returning to the spin-off well, this time with The Office. Rumor has it that the spin-off may involve Rainn Wilson's Dwight Schrute role; if this is true, I hope Dwight enjoys his long retirement, sitting on the failed spin-off retirement home porch with Flo, Enos, Nick Tortelli, and the entire cast of AFTERM.A.S.H..

-- The beating of very dead horses that were once prize-winning stallions, if only in a pandering, lowest-common-denominator sort of stable. Namely the expected but nonetheless depressing return of Knight Rider, which had a lackluster (at best) TV movie earlier this year that ushered in this return to series television. Nostalgia makes good fodder for VH1 specials; not for new and inviting television programming.

-- Lots of strange adaptations from other media and markets. NBC's new series Kath and Kim is based on Australia's most successful comedy ever—because, you know, when you think of classic comedy, you automatically think Australia. And then there's the Christian Slater series called My Own Worst Enemy, which loses me with the title alone. I mean, come on. Why not add a Matthew McConaughey vehicle called Stuff I Do with My Shirt Off and a Tom Cruise drama called The Many Ways I'm Deluded, and call it NBC's "Super Self-Evident Sunday"?

-- Utilizing writers from the Georgian era. As if all this reaching back to past successes didn't reach back far enough, NBC has greenlighted a series based on the 1719 proto-novel Robinson Crusoe. Mainly because author Daniel Defoe is long dead and can't strike for internet residuals. Far be it from me to look askance at a return to classic literature, but seriously—this is movie of the week stuff, not series television. And besides, Bob Denver is dead, so there's no chance of a Gilligan's Island crossover, which pretty much spoils the whole thing.

Obviously, NBC is distantly trailing in the ratings, and has nothing to lose by trying new things. NBC President and CEO Jeff Zucker was right when, at a conference of TV execs in January, he said, "We must acknowledge that a significant part of the industry is under pressure and needs to change." That's absolutely true. But it needs to catch up to where entertainment is going, not fall back. It's not that borrowing ideas from '80s, the '70s, and even the 18th century isn't a good idea. It's that it's not even a step in the right chronological direction.
-- Teague Bohlen


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