NBC need not monkey with its comedy strategy

With the wind finally beneath the Peacock’s wings thanks to “The Voice” and “Revolution,” the network might be tempted to shrug off Thursday’s cancellation of “Animal Practice” as just another casualty, the kind of loss every broadcaster will inevitably suffer every fall season. But “Practice” isn’t just another sitcom for NBC.

“Animal Practice” was something of a sneak peek at the new creative direction NBC wanted to take with its comedies, as entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt first laid out in his presentation 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.

With the misadventures inside a animal hospital as its silly premise, “Practice” was tailor-made to play to the cheap seats instead of the Emmy crowd. When a 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.

The comedy’s failure could be cited as a rejection of NBC’s new direction. But that would be a mistake.

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 NBC before it can be seen again as the place for viewers to perceive the network as a home for the kind of broad laffers that NBC made its 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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