We’re Talkin’ Cars, Cars, Cars

I’m a little late saying anything about NBC’s fall lineup (yeah, I know they’re calling it a lineup for the whole year, but come on — I don’t believe them and neither do you) in part because Todd already said it better. But it’s your basic Ben Silverman aggregation: one low-rated show he personally loves (30 Rock), one low-rated show the network managed to save with a weird cost-sharing arrangement with the satellite gods (Friday Night Lights), and an assortments of adaptations, imports and spinoffs.

I find it intriguing how networks’ “personalities” can change very quickly: if you look at their respective lineups, it’s pretty clear that NBC and Fox have traded places. NBC is the home for fast-paced, young-skewing, flashily-edited shows including some low-rated darlings that keep getting picked up because they’re on the cutting edge. Fox is mostly surviving on old hits the way NBC was doing a few years ago: House, American Idol, their animated hits. Basically NBC is slowly climbing its way back to relevance while Fox seems in danger of crashing pretty badly if/when it loses some of those old hits.

The other thing is that NBC is now clearly dominated by programs it produces itself, through its sister/parent (I can never remember which), Universal. Because NBC took longer to merge with a big studio than the other networks, it had the most reliance on non-home-grown programs even after Fyn-Syn rules were revoked; many of its biggest hits, like West Wing, Friends and ER, were produced by Warner Brothers (which gave them Chuck last year). Universal is actually one of the more interesting studios now when it comes to TV product — they seem to be pretty decent at attracting good writers and letting them do their thing, the way the Fox studio was in the ’90s and early ’00s — and that might be a partial explanation as to how NBC wound up with a lot of good shows despite being so directionless.

Eventually we may reach the point where the decisions of the network bosses matter less and less; they’ll always matter, in the sense that they pick and choose programs and no network’s schedule will ever be entirely self-produced (I hope),   but just as a major league baseball team’s quality is partially determined by how good its farm system is, a network’s lineup is going to be more and more dependent on its “farm system,” the studio TV production department. In fact you could say that the transformation of studios from semi-independent production arms (selling their work to all the networks) to arms of whatever networks they’re affiliated with (selling other networks only the stuff that their network already passed on) sort of resembles the transformation of minor league baseball from an autonomous system to a mere training ground for the majors.

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