How clever: An NBC ‘Friends’ reunion
Rumored deal would be a sure ratings-booster
January 23, 2006
The rumors started flying at midday Monday. NBC, after months of negotiation, had reached a deal with the six Friends cast members for a series of four one-hour specials, set to air next season.
The story spread across the internet and even made it onto MSNBC. NBC quickly went into denial mode, saying there was no truth to the report, despite being confirmed by an NBC insider to Hollywood.com.
Why the denials?
It’s possible that in fact the rumor is not true, but more likely NBC is holding off until all the details are worked out. It’s also possible that the network is playing coy, floating the whole thing as a rumor to see what buzz builds in its wake.
But no matter. It’s an intriguing notion on several levels for a network that has struggled mightily since Friends went off the air nearly two years ago.
At one level it would seem a short-term fix, the ultimate ratings stunt and one guaranteed to bring in at least half of the 54 million who watched the Friends sign off. That would certainly help NBC on Thursdays. And on the downside, it has about it a taint of nostalgia, yet another ploy by a struggling network seeking to revive a past that is no more.
But looking still deeper, bringing back “Friends,” even on such a limited basis, would be a strong forward move for NBC. Indeed, rather being a look backward, it would serve to reinforce the momentum the network has built over the past two months.
“Friends” in some ways would be a triumphant return, as NBC’s best argument that it is in fact poised to come back, and far quicker than ABC did following the collapse of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” five years ago.
Further, the timing of a “Friends” reunion announcement would be ideal, heading into the upfront selling season in May.
For sure, NBC has a selling job to do on media buyers. For the longest time it simply refused to admit how deeply it has sunk, and it seemed to be making few bold moves to rise from the basement as the fourth-ranked network.
At last year’s upfront, NBC angered buyers by sticking with its Thursday schedule, refusing to change a lineup that had been bloodied by CBS. For buyers back then, the one bright spot was My Name is Earl.
The first signs of a turnaround came in the fall when “Earl” caught on with viewers, quickly becoming the highest-rated sitcom among adults 18-49.
But it wasn’t until December that real change came, when NBC executives admitted Thursdays were in fact sorely hurting and annnouced they were moving Earl and The Office to Thursday.
Over the weekend, speaking to TV critics, they announced yet more sweeping changes to the primetime lineup, such as putting Apprentice on Mondays and moving longtime Wednesday closer Law & Order to face ABC smash Lost at 9 p.m.
However those shows do in their new timeslots, they prove to buyers that finally NBC is no longer afraid to taking chances in order to rebuild its schedule.
Smartly scheduled, a Friends’ return could give NBC that final boost it needs in its turnaround. Next fall will bring Sunday Night Football and with it some 15 million or so viewers, giving the network new leverage on a night where it has struggled.
Friends, even with just four specials, would provide an ideal platform, a huge one, for NBC to promote its new shows, building on all the powerful associations of the past.
Just one question remains: Will NBC in fact do it?
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