For a network that's been in first place in prime time for . . . forever, it seems, NBC is doing an awful lot of shuffling these days.
In the past week or so, the Peacock has changed its lineups on Sundays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and in daytime. The reason? Crummy ratings, of course.The latest changes come on Sunday. "Lifestories," the critically acclaimed but little-watched medical drama, has been pulled from the schedule and will reappear as a series of monthly specials.
The network had previously pulled the awful "Hull High" off the air, leaving a two-hour gap from 6-8 p.m.
NBC will fill the second hour with a couple of news programs beginning Jan. 6 - "Expose" and "Real Life with Jane Pauley."
"Expose," an investigative reporting series, has been seen as a series of specials. Tom Brokaw will host the show. And "Real Life" did fairly well when it got a five-week tryout last summer.
Just to make things a bit confusing, every fourth week "Real Life" will fill out the entire hour from 7-8 p.m.
Although it has not yet been officially announced, it appears that NBC has really strange plans for Sundays at 6 p.m. The Peacock is apparently planning an hour of "highlights" from the previous week's programming.
You know, like Bill Cosby wearing a weird sweater, the Fresh Prince mugging for the camera and Arnie Becker thinking about breaking his wedding vows.
This is sort of like a drowning man making one last attempt to grab the life preserver - NBC has fared so abysmally against CBS' "60 Minutes" that the network is willing to try anything.
And this highlights show won't cost the Peacock much of anything, so even with equally abysmal ratings it can still make money.
SWITCH THOSE SITCOMS: NBC has also decided to that swapping "Working It Out" and "The Fanelli Boys" will become permanent - "Working" moves to Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. and "Boys" goes in the other direction, to Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Both series have been extremely disappointing to the network in terms of the numbers. It's not that either show is particularly bad - "Boys" isn't great, but still has possibilities and "Working" has quietly developed into perhaps the best new sitcom of the season.
But if they don't producer better ratings, they'll both be gone soon - permanently.
NBC is also making "Amen's" return to Saturdays at 7 p.m. permanent. "Parenthood" heads into the limbo-land of hiatus, but it will be back at some point.
DAYTIME DESPERATION: To say that NBC's daytime schedule is a disaster would be an understatement. If this lineup were an earthquake, we'd be talking a 9.0, maybe 9.5, on the Richter scale.
The most recent Nielsen ratings show CBS' daytime schedule averaging a 6.3 rating and a 23 share. (A rating point equals 931,000 homes, a share is the percentage of viewers watching TV who are tuned in.) Second place ABC pulled in a 5.5/20.
And way back in third place is NBC, with a 3.7/14. And those numbers are about what happens every week.
The ratings are even worse here in Utah. Some of NBC's daytime programs were pulling in 1 ratings for KUTV - almost no one at all was watching. Consequently, Ch. 2 dropped much of the NBC lineup in favor of syndicated fare like "Joan Rivers" and "Sally Jesse Raphael."
In still another attempt to remedy this situation, NBC began with some house-cleaning - "Generations," the soap opera that began with lousy ratings in March 1989 and declined from there, will have its last broadcast on Jan. 25.
Because the Peacock has done so poorly with traditional daytime fare - soap operas and game shows - the network has begun turning time over to NBC News. It's first show is "A Closer Look," a half hour hosted by the "Today" show's Faith Daniels, which will premiere Jan. 28.
NBC says "A Closer Look" "will include two segments daily, with stories pulled from the headlines and driven by the social issues facing us in the nineties. NBC News correspondents, experts and everyday people will discuss and debate topics as in-studio guests or via satellite."
The folks at Ch. 2 haven't made a final decision on whether to pick up "A Closer Look," but Maria Smith, KUTV's vice president of programming, said she's leaning toward moving it into the vacated "Generations" time slot at 9 a.m.
But that's just the first step. NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield said the Peacock's ultimate goal is to incorporate a two-hour block of information and entertainment programming into the daytime schedule.
Among the other shows on the drawing board are: "Women's Diaries," a "real-life soap" about average women that might be hosted by Linda Ellerbee; "A.M. Assignment," an in-depth news show staffed by and intended for women; "Trialwatch," as magazine about real-life court trials; "Today's Woman," a series based on stories from national magazines; and "Today's People," an interview program featuring newsmakers, personalities and everyday people.
Ch. 2's Smith, who's seen several of NBC's other big plans fail, isn't overly excited about the "new" ideas.
"For every one of these shows, I can show you a similar show in syndication . . . that failed," she said.
"But nothing else has worked. Maybe some experimentation in programs new to network, if not new to syndication, will work. "We've been real dissatisfied with what they've been giving us, so we'll probably be supportive of this . . .
"Things can't get any worse."
Well, let's hope not - for the sake of both the viewers and Ch. 2.