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Laughing at Leno

By the turn of the century, the anchor programs of NBC's Thursday nights (Friends, W&G, E/R) had all gone stale, and NBC had lost its nerve to take the risks necessary to develop and nurture fresh replacement shows. "Hill Street" was still going pretty strong at the end. "Cheers" went out on a high note. But "E/R" had been barely watchable for four or five entire seasons before NBC finally, mercifully pulled the plug.

NBC first forgot its brand, then it forgot how to compete. Now it's losing to F/X, which I wasn't even sure was a real network until just now.

So how does this lesson apply to General Motors?

Government MotorsGM had eight brands, and pissed them all away. Then they forgot how to compete. And now they're in a receivership of sorts. Here's the short version: Cadillac was "the standard of the world." Then it became a tarted-up Chevy. Pontiac was the outlaw performance brand. By the '90s, a Pontiac was a Chevy with plastic body cladding. "Buick" meant understated looks (and wealth), then it changed into a de-contented Caddy (which was a tarted-up Chevy). Saturn was supposed to be the import-fighter brand, but eventually devolved into rebadged Opel imports. Olds? High tech to… I have no idea. (It's no coincidence that Olds was the first brand GM killed off, ten years ago now.)

And everyone knew what SAAB and Hummer were, but no one could figure out what they were doing as part of General Motors -- not even the folks at General Motors.

Anyway, you get the idea. Eventually, GM just gave up. Witness: The Chevy Aveo. If that's not an unconditional surrender, then even the French don't know what one is.

What, Me Worry?Now we're seeing the exact same thing happen to NBC. The Peacock soiled its brand so badly, that when "E/R" finally died, not only did it not have a replacement in the wings, it didn't even try. NBC's brass just said, "Aww, screw it -- put on Leno."

There's nothing wrong with Leno. There's nothing wrong with Miracle Whip on Wonder Bread, either -- it's just not very exciting. The network that used to give us genre-busting sitcoms from 8-10PM, and cutting-edge hourlong dramas in the 10PM slot, took the blandest personality from latenight TV and used him to redefine what it meant to be on NBC Primetime. NBC's new brand is a yellow chicken on a white flag of surrender.

F/X might be tiny, but it seems to know its niche -- it has a brand, in other words. F/X is also known for "Nip/Tuck," and "Damages" as well as "Sons of Anarchy." All are not-very-nice dramas that take chances. (Not always successfully. The writing at "Nip/Tuck" finally left all consistency and believability behind, and I quit watching in the middle of Season Four.)

And so it comes as no great surprise that the funky network with the funky lineup has flipped the Peacock the bird.

*Where the hell was "Family Ties" set?