Broadcast Trailblazer Continues Winning Tradition of Hit Shows
By Diedre Johnson
NBC is as old as television itself — proof that it’s possible to be enduring and cutting-edge at the same time.
Throughout its history, the legendary broadcast network has led the way with more than 5,000 Emmy nominations (and over 1,000 wins)— including 47 noms and eight wins last year alone, beating out all the other broadcast networks and topping even some trendy streamers.
Those honors began with the earliest days of the Primetime Emmy awards and have continued through the years with the much-honored comedy-and-drama duo of “The Good Place” and “This Is Us,” which were saluted at last year’s awards. With recent shows such as “Mr. Mayor,” “Kenan,” “Young Rock” (loosely based on the early life of The Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson) and “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” the network is following a tradition of making stories that hold audiences’ attention and gain industry respect. NBC also serves as a reminder that broadcast networks are the go-to platform for millions of loyal viewers.
“By matching A-plus talent with A-plus creators, we are building fresh comedic stories that have the same familiar feel of NBC’s past hits,” says Lisa Katz, president of scripted entertainment content at NBCUniversal Television and Streaming.
“And in the case of ‘Young Rock,’ which has quickly become one of the top new comedies of the season, we are telling very personal and specific stories that resonate with audiences due to its universal themes,” she says.
Grace Wu, executive vice president of entertainment casting at NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, adds: “Our new comedies ‘Mr. Mayor,’ ‘Young Rock’ and “Kenan” maintain the tradition of NBC’s brand of smart comedy programming by blending astute, clever writing with appealing comedic actors.
“They lean into the central characters and worlds they have created with empathy, and forge lasting bonds within the storylines that appeal to our audiences and make them care deeply about what is to come next.”
NBC was founded by Radio Corporation of America in 1926 after several radio station consolidations and mergers. In its early days, the radio network featured news, music, continuing dramatic shows or serials, and groundbreaking events such as the first prize-fight broadcast on radio and the first solo trans-Atlantic flight.
Although a television set was displayed at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, it wasn’t until the late 1940s and early ’50s when television sets became more readily available to consumers that a full schedule of televised programming began. In 1948, Variety declared that the network and its programming had created “a milestone in television” by demonstrating what the new medium could be, at a time when there was much confusion over its potential. Since then, NBC has lived up to that early promise.
Fast-forward to the 1960s and NBC created the first movie for television (“See How They Run,” 1964), and still-watched classics such as “Star Trek,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and “I Dream of Jeannie.” The network also broke ground with sketch comedy show, “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.” In 1968, “Laugh-In” won an Emmy in editing for use of the jump cut, which until then, had been used in film not broadcast TV. It was also tapped as one of the “50 greatest TV shows of all time.”
NBC also pioneered diversity in programs by featuring Black actors in leading roles in primetime with drama (“I Spy”) and comedy alike (“Julia” and later “The Flip Wilson Show” and “Sanford and Son”).
NBC’s current slate of scripted shows are carrying on a proud tradition of award-winning shows including “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law,” “Cheers,” “Frasier,” “Friends,” “ER,” “The Golden Girls,” “Will & Grace,” “The West Wing,” “Law & Order,” “Seinfeld” and “Friends.”
In 2020 and 2021, the network has come up with a slate that is befitting to their prize-winning heritage. NBC premiered “Mr. Mayor,” written by Tina Fey and starring Ted Danson, plus “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” which was praised by critics and garnered a Juried Emmy win for Outstanding Choreography for Scripted Programming. Katz attributes the show’s success to the creators and cast.
“’Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’ has been such an amazing critical darling for us and we couldn’t be prouder of the response. The show originated from a very personal place exploring the creator’s (Austin Winsberg) relationship with his father who had a terminal illness. While it was emotional, it was never maudlin,” she says.
“Instead, Austin and the creative team made a completely original show about relationships — workplace, family and romantic — told through the unique lens of a woman who could hear people’s innermost thoughts through song,” says Katz. “We assembled a remarkable cast, led by Jane Levy, and together they really set this series apart from anything else in the marketplace.”
Wu adds: “With such a personal through line, we knew we had something special with ‘Zoey’s’ and were thrilled everyone else saw it as well. The show’s critical success can be attributed to having such an original concept that resonated with our audiences, an excellent execution of the premise and a compelling lead surrounded by a strong ensemble cast.”
As with all successful creative endeavors, there is also an element of luck and surprise in creating TV shows and that is not lost on Katz.
“What makes a show successful is obviously great writing and incredible actors to elevate that writing or embody the vision of the creator. Chemistry is something you always hope for but it isn’t always delivered,” says Katz, “but I think it’s writing, it’s cast, it’s chemistry and that magic that nobody can predict or count on. It just happens.”