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March 8, 2013

NBC's Thursday lineup becomes 'must flee TV'

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Back then, the Thursday lineup generated nearly 60 percent of NBC’s prime-time revenue, according to people familiar with the network’s finances who did not want to be identified divulging internal information.

Now, by some estimates, NBC’s entire prime-time schedule loses substantially more than $150 million a year.

“They really need something that can ignite a night,” said TV historian Tim Brooks. “But in an odd way, maybe losing ‘The Office’ and ‘30 Rock’ was what needed to happen to help NBC start to turn things around.”

Indeed, allowing the comedies to gracefully retire was part of NBC’s strategy.

After the Philadelphia cable giant Comcast took control of NBCUniversal two years ago, new programming executives were installed at the broadcast network. The team inherited a prime-time schedule full of holes and a cupboard that was bare.

NBC soon began ramping up development to mount a turnaround, which Comcast has estimated could take five years. A year ago, as NBC put together its fall schedule, programming executives made a decision to not worry about Thursday. They worried that new shows would get flattened because the aging “30 Rock” and “The Office” were not bringing new viewers to the night. Instead, they marshaled their meager resources during the first half of the week when the network had stronger shows, including “Sunday Night Football” and the hit singing competition “The Voice.”

“We had to take it one piece at a time,” said Jennifer Salke, president of NBC Entertainment.

The gambit paid off in the fall with two new 10 p.m. dramas. J.J. Abrams’ “Revolution” attracted nearly 13 million viewers an episode, while Dick Wolf’s “Chicago Fire” averaged nearly 8 million. Even the veteran Tuesday family drama “Parenthood” experienced a lift.

NBC rocketed to first place in the important advertiser category of viewers ages 18 to 49 in the fourth quarter. But when “Sunday Night Football” ended its season and “The Voice” and “Revolution” went on hiatus, NBC’s schedule came crashing down.

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