NBC execs on what didn’t work with “One Big Happy”

Despite the rise in major LGBT characters in television over the last few years, the only network sitcom to focus on a lesbian character, NBC’s One Big Happy, was pulled from the schedule after its six episode run was unable to bring in enough of an audience. 

“Oh, it was a lovely show. I don’t know. It’s just one of those things where, in the volume of all the things you have, it just didn’t seem to, you know, get enough of an audience or a buzz or a sort of head of steam to bring it back,” said out NBC Entertainment chairman Robert (Bob) Greenblatt.

One Big Happy - Season 1

President of NBC Entertainment  Jennifer Salke echoed a similar sentiment.

“We loved the show so much and Elisha [Cuthbert], they were all such a great cast and we love Ellen, obviously,” Jennifer told us. “Part of it is the show—getting awareness out there for the show and being at our network right now where we’re still really trying to platform comedy in a great way and not maybe doing such a good of a job as others at the moment. There’s a big push for comedy right now to sort of rebuild the slate. So there will be better opportunities for comedies. So, unfortunately, I think there’s a little bit of that and then it’s just so hard in general to get attention to six episodes of a show and that’s what we had on the schedule, and to really get people there. Maybe One Big Happy didn’t quite reach a certain audience the way it could have, maybe there was could have been more outreach we could have done that would have driven a community who would stand behind those kinds of things to really come forward. But you need time and strategy to do that and all those things didn’t really come together.”

While NBC’s upcoming slate includes shows focusing on and starring people of color, LGBT characters are non-existent. There doesn’t appear to be any queer themes in primetime dramas like Blindspot and Chicago Med or comedies such as Truth Be Told. Jennifer maintains that NBC is “more inclusive than ever” and that the network is “really open to all of that and excited about.” But when pressed on why there are no LGBT characters in new shows, Bob responded, “Well, shame on me, because I’m gay, as you know. We’ll work on that.”

NBCUniversal Events - Season 2015

In June, Bob penned a piece for Variety‘s equality issue where he wrote about the importance of putting gay characters on television

We’re now at a revelatory political moment that has crystallized — and expanded — the definition of marriage in our society. Does it seem insignificant to talk in the same breath about the impact of a gay or lesbian character in an episode of network television? Not to me.

So where are they on NBC? With Hannibal being cancelled, Parenthood (whose queer character had minimal presence) now off-air, and Chicago Fire having killed Leslie Shay off in Season 2, the only lesbian on NBC currently is Jane Lynch as host of Hollywood Game Night. This is a serious downgrade for representation, as NBC has long been seen as a leader in LGBT visibility. From E.R. to Will & Grace to Smash, the network has made significant strides to feature three dimensional queer characters. But perhaps because of the failures of more recent gay-focused series The New Normal and One Big Happy, they are no longer trying to create shows that speak to the community as well as a more mainstream viewing audience.

If a show about a white, cisgender, heterosexual man fails, NBC doesn’t say say, “No more of THAT anymore! Let’s try something completely different.” Instead, they find a great story based in a world that people want to live in every week. And if The New Normal and One Big Happy were not those worlds, it’s not because we didn’t show up, but because they weren’t strong enough to keep us connected and tuned in. And not just us as the LGBT community, but TV viewers at large. Will & Grace was not successful just because gay people watched the show; it was successful because it was hilarious, timely and unafraid of being “too gay.” 

Even on other networks this fall, there are more lesbian and bisexual characters but none that are the central character. We exist, but on the periphery. Attempts to put us in the spotlight have not been strong enough, and if television execs see this as a reason to give up, we are all going to lose.