Peacock still needs to think broad despite 'Practice's" demise

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Just because “Animal Practice” got canceled doesn’t mean NBC should monkey with its new comedy strategy.

The network decided Thursday to replace the rookie half-hour, which saw a cute primate named Crystal emerge as its unlikely breakout star, with the second season of “Whitney” beginning Nov. 14.

“Animal Practice” was emblematic of the new creative direction NBC wanted to take with its comedies, as entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt first laid out in his presentation at the TV Critics Assn. press tour in July. With comedies like “30 Rock” and “Community” winning over critics but few others given their meager ratings, he signaled a transition in development to “broader” comedies that appealed to a wider audience.

“Animal Practice’s” failure could be cited as a rejection of NBC’s new direction. But that would be a mistake.

The Universal TV laffer had an uphill climb from the start. The offbeat comedy, starring Justin Kirk as a veterinarian, averaged a 1.2 rating in the adults 18-49 demo and 4.4 million viewers over its four in-season airings. “Animal Practice” had a tough assignment in opening Wednesday night for NBC.

The Peacock has gotten better results with other new comedies like the Tuesday pairing of “Go On” and “The New Normal,” which have already earned full-season orders. But those shows bring a little more nuance to the table than “Animal Practice.”

With the misadventures inside a animal hospital as its silly premise, “Animal Practice” was tailor-made to play to the cheap seats instead of the Emmy crowd. When a Capuchin monkey attracts more attention than any human in the cast, you have the kind of show that plays better in Peoria than either coast. Same goes for its Wednesday 8 p.m. hour mate “Guys With Kids,” which isn’t faring much better in the ratings.

“Whitney” may prove a better companion for “Guys With Kids,” which has performed slightly better than “Animal Practice.” “Kids,” like “Whitney,” is also a multi-cam laffer.

NBC earlier this month delayed the sophomore-season bow of the Whitney Cummings starrer, which had been set for a Friday berth starting Oct. 19 in tandem with “Community.” That Sony-produced half-hour still doesn’t have a start date.

In the scheme of NBC’s fall, “Animal Practice” is not a big loss. With the wind finally beneath the Peacock’s wings thanks to the success of “The Voice” and “Revolution,” the network is posting a healthy 15% increase in the demo year over year-to-date at a time that its rivals are in decline.

This is the trouble that sometimes comes with repositioning a network’s programming. Even a decent comedy like “Practice” may have been doomed from the start for little other reason than fans of broad comedies have been conditioned by NBC for years not to expect shows targeted to appeal to them.

Sure, “Practice” could have exploded into a huge hit off the bat and singlehandedly accelerated NBC’s broader approach. But just because that didn’t happen doesn’t mean NBC should run back to its comedic comfort zone: narrowly appealing half-hours that really belong on a cable network happy to get the kind of audience that just doesn’t cut it on broadcast.

Consequently, it’s going to take more than a few cracks at a new crowd-pleasing style of comedy for viewers to perceive NBC as a home for the kind of broad laffers that the net made a specialty in decades past, including “The Cosby Show.”

But the fact that the memory of “Cosby” et al still linger in the brand DNA of NBC is partly what enables the network to mine this territory again. The failure of “Practice” shouldn’t discourage the network from staying the course on its new comedy direction.

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