There has been a lot of early news about the next TV season already–Bill Cosby signing up with NBC, Fox doing away with pilot season–but ratings-wise the biggest news may have broken today: CBS will air eight Thursday-night NFL games in the 2014 season. (The other eight will air on NFL network.)
In an era of declining viewership for most every program save for live events–read sports–pro football games are expensive for a network, but the equivalent of acquiring a weapon of mass destruction. And while this is clearly an asset for CBS and a blow to any network competing against them, this is especially rough for NBC, for a few reasons.
First, the network was reported to be very interested in the Thursday games as well; in recent seasons, its ratings have been buoyed by football, The Voice, and little else. Second, while NBC’s dominance of Must-See Thursday nights is by now as fond a memory as the Rachel haircut, dropping the long bomb on NBC’s Thursday is still a symbolic blow, against a network that was trying to regain its footing with moderate successes like The Blacklist. Finally, success begets success: putting football on Thursday, a night CBS already ruled, gives it the flexibility to save episodes of its powerhouse The Big Bang Theory, or schedule it on another night, against other programs.
If there’s a positive spin I can put on this for NBC, it’s that dependence on Thursday football might have been bad for it in the long run anyway. The NFL may just be trying to build a Thursday franchise it can move wholly to NFL network. And NBC’s greater fortunes will depend on developing new series, not just acquiring more sports (or adding yet more nights of The Voice).
Meanwhile, for fans of NBC’s current Thursday lineup, at least Parks and Recreation has already been all-but-promised a seventh season. But to put it in the terms of that show: sometimes Pawnee just can’t outspend Eagleton.