I wrote a story in October of last year called How NBC can get its groove back as a guest post on Alex Epstein's blog. In it, I suggested a few things to get the train moving again. Going to a year-around schedule (they won't), scaling back on reality programming, doubling or tripling their pilot orders, luring successful producers away from rival networks, and a few other things you can find in that story.
Some of those ideas were no-brainers. If your problem is that all of your current shows suck, producing fewer new shows is obviously not going to help.
NBC's Jeff Gaspin is figuring this out for himself and doing a lot of the things I mentioned last year. Not because I said so (I did), but because this is what needs to be done.
Bill Carter's story in the New York Times on Gaspin and NBC reads like a checklist of ideas from my feature.
They need to put triple the number of pilots on the air than anyone else, do whatever it takes to give themselves a reasonable shot at gaining ground.
The money NBC paid Conan to avoid getting sued for breaching his contract was enough to pay for four big expensive pilots from J. J. Abrams. It may have been necessary from a legal standpoint but it's going to hamstring NBC this year.
Still, according to the Times, they are doing the right thing on pilots in general:
NBC had for several years been contracting, part of a stated strategy to rewrite the financial rules of television. Last spring, the network ordered only 10 pilots for new series; this year, it almost doubled that number.
The first year I covered the upfronts in 2007, NBC only had six new series to present to advertisers out of I don't know how many pilots. Bionic Woman bombed, Journeyman didn't go anywhere, Life had its fans and desperately hung on for a while but didn't make it, and Lipstick Jungle shared the fate of the one new sitcom and one new reality show that year.
Chuck is the only series from that spring that is still on the air, and the only show to get a second season.
If Heroes gets renewed -- it probably should for reasons beyond this post -- then NBC will be in the awkward position of having two shows that aren't bona fide hits, but are still around.
Maybe that's not such a bad thing.