One of the most famous Monty Python sketches is the one in which a hapless consumer attempts to return a recent purchase to the pet store. The bird, you see, is dead — but the shop owner argues it's just resting. But when shouting and shaking fail to rouse the feathered friend, the owner changes course: The poor bird is just stunned! And what's more, it's the customer's fault for carrying on so loudly! It goes on like this for a while. Mustaches and the commuter train to Ipswich become involved. Eventually, the police are called on account of everything getting a bit too silly.
It's funny the lengths people will go to, to deny the obvious — much, much funnier than NBC's ill-fated comedy Up All Night ever was. The show — starring Will Arnett and Christina Applegate as harried hipster parents, and Maya Rudolph as someone cut and pasted from a completely different sitcom — has been reinventing itself almost from the start.
If corporations can be people then so too can networks have personalities. Fox, for example, is youthful and brash, rife with protagonists who refuse to play by the rules, be they doctors, ten-year-olds, or megalomaniacal Brits. ABC has long been the Secret of networks, strong enough for a (sensitive) man but ph-balanced for women. While CBS is essentially what everyone down in Lower Manhattan is currently protesting: rich, old and crushingly successful. (#OccupyStudioCity!) NBC, however, is a bit more complicated.
It’s been ever so for the peacock, or at least since Chandler Bing snarked his last back in 2004. Back then, NBC was top bird in the demographics that mattered: hip young urbanites (and the strivers that wanted to be like them). Seinfeld, Friends, ER were all massive hits that projected an air of confidence and cutting-edge cool. Then somebody Zucked it all up: the last half decade has been a near-satirical spiral of dud shows, ill-advised “reinventions” and a crippling Leno addiction so powerful it would leave Charlie Sheen shaking his head and recommending rehab. In the midst of the macro, “NBC is a disaster” narrative, though, a smaller micro trend emerged: we media types mocked NBC with abandon but it also quietly became home to our most loved, least watched shows, comedies like Parks & Recreation and 30 Rock and touchy-feely hours Friday Night Lights (RIP!) and Parenthood. If you were to ask any casual industry watcher what NBC’s identity was, the answer would probably still involve the words “cool” and “Tina Fey.” But here’s the thing: making a show precisely for the commenters on the AV Club isn’t exactly profitable. This generous, art-endorsing era that bought The Office time to succeed and gave Coach Taylor five seasons of pep-talks and uplift was, in reality, an aberration, an almost accidental flowering of excellence while corporate eyes were busy putting out larger fires and taming wilder white tigers.