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Editorial: A Regal Attempt

3/21/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern

At the risk of being made fun of by the cool kids, we are going to do something that is decidedly un-hip these days: We are going to praise the primetime efforts of General Electric's NBC television network. Well, one of its efforts, anyway.

And that effort is Kings, the King David story set in modern times, a series that NBC had hoped to highlight on Thursday but ended up relegating to Sunday.

It debuted on March 15 with a two-hour premiere, and it absolutely tanked, no matter what measure you choose. A 1.6 rating in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demo and approximately six million viewers overall tells the tale.

To which we say: well done, NBC. And we say well done not in jest, perhaps for continuing the network's impressive streak of failing new shows. Rather, we say well done for taking a shot. A big, loud shot that blew up in their faces. But a shot nevertheless.

Just one week ago in this space, we called for more risk across the board in our business, even as tucking into the fetal position is the easy way to go in tough times. And Kings was indeed a gamble. As was a big, expensive pilot about the survivors of a plane crash on an island, and another about a crime scene investigation unit that a few of its own network's execs wanted to shoot down because they felt it was too gruesome for television.

That this gamble didn't pay off is not the point. NBC can't seem to do much right in primetime lately, from waiting to launch its Christian Slater show until weeks after a huge Olympic push to everything about Kath & Kim. But they deserve full marks for trying something new with Kings.

With every production dollar being obsessed over like never before, taking a big shot may seem harder to justify. It seems network execs would rather—foolishly—look for the next iteration of something that has already worked.

Take, for example, NBC's own reality flop The Chopping Block, an unscripted show in a restaurant setup (imagine that?). When it tanked, we cheered, as we do when any derivative show is voted down by a viewership that wants its content providers to show a little effort.

So as the networks prepare to pick which of their projects to take to series in the coming months, we can only hope they have the bottle to roll the dice a little—which historically is the only way big hits are born. Kings didn't work, and that is too bad. Because if the networks continue to play it safe with cheap knockoffs and forced spinoffs, their kingdom will just continue to shrink.

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