Searching For the Appeal of 'Outsourced'
by Joel Keller, posted Nov 12th 2010 4:30PM
The folks at TVByTheNumbers.com do a bang-up job of compiling overnight and weekly ratings numbers and presenting them in an easy-to-read format. But sometimes visiting their site is just depressing.
Not because of anything they did, of course. It gets depressing when you go there and see overnight results like Thursday's. While the site pointed out that all of NBC's comedies were up from the previous week's levels, it still was disheartening to see that 'Outsourced' scored higher in all three categories listed -- 18-49 rating, 18-49 share, and Millions of Viewers Live + Same Day -- than both 'Community' and '30 Rock.'
In fact, 'Outsourced' is doing so well -- at least by NBC standards -- the Peacock picked it up for a full season last month.
All of this leads to the question of why people seem to be watching 'Outsourced,' which can be kindly classified as a show that's still trying to find its comedic legs, over its more established and creatively-solid schedule-mates. There are a few theories:
Having 'The Office' as a lead-in has its benefits. Even in its seventh season, 'The Office' is still the ratings standard-bearer for NBC on Thursday nights. Over the last few weeks, it's kept pace with 'Grey's Anatomy' in both the 18-49 share and rating, either tying for first or coming in a close second. In some weeks, the show's overnight rating has been double that of 'Community.' And say what you want to say about people having more entertainment choices than ever, but people still tend to leave the channel right where it is after their favorite comedy airs at the top of a particular hour. As it is, though, 'Outsourced' does tend to lose a quarter or more of 'The Office's' lead-in audience most weeks.
The 8:00 shows are getting killed by CBS. 'The Big Bang Theory' is the monster comedy that CBS has expected it would be on Thursdays, coming in first in its timeslot with consistency. It wipes the floor with all the competition, often attracting twice as many viewers in the key demo as 'Community.' But there is a pretty severe drop-off between 'Big Bang' and '$#*! My Dad Says,' especially this past week, with 'Dad' off almost a full ratings point from where it was last week. You'd think that the people who have been turned off by William Shatner's potty mouth would come back to Tina Fey and company, but judging by the numbers, they're going elsewhere.
People may just like the show. Despite the fact that 'Outsourced' still trolls in the murky waters of Indian stereotype jokes, viewers don't seem to mind. Perhaps audiences enjoy the office archetypes they see on the show, or they just want to vent their frustrations with overseas customer support by watching a comedy about it.
When I spoke to producer Bob Borden earlier this fall, he seemed to think the critics' reaction to the stereotypes were overblown: "We're not really hearing from the people who theoretically would be offended by it," he told me. "So yeah, I think it is critics anticipating, and some critics maybe are actually sensitive to it and are worried about shows in the past that may have been a little stereotypical, not about Indians, but just other shows in the past. So I think it's a natural angle."
But the show has problems beyond the stereotypes. Because of its limited budget, it has had to reduce the huge city of Mumbai to an office building and the market outside where everyone runs into each other all the time. While it can be said that every huge city can be reduced to a series of small towns, this seems like a bit of a cosy arrangement to me. The marketplace scenes look and feel more like they were shot on a soundstage than in the hectic streets of Mumbai. And now there is a "love triangle" of sorts between Todd, Asha, and Tonya that feels intrusive, mainly because it was established before the audience could sense any chemistry between Ben Rappaport and either Rebecca Hazlewood (Asha) or Pippa Black (Tonya).
Meanwhile, 'Community' has been on a creative roll this season. The writers have found the characters' comfort zones, which generates more consistent comedy. The trampoline episode, the Abed/Jesus episode, and the 'Apollo 13' episode could stand with last season's 'Modern Warfare' among the show's best episodes. And, while '30 Rock' has been about as inconsistent as it's been for the last couple of years, it can still bring the funny when it has to, as evidenced by its daring live episode.
Either one of these shows could have benefited from the 'Office' lead-in, but at least '30 Rock' has had its shot. 'Community' got the briefest of chances to grab eyeballs from 'The Office;' its first three episodes last year aired at 9:30 as a placeholder before '30 Rock' was ready to go.
As it is, the back-nine pickup of 'Outsourced' doesn't spell doom for either of its Thursday schedule-mates, as 'Community''s order got extended to 24 episodes and '30 Rock' has been safe from day one this season. But the pickup does carry foreboding implications to 'Parks and Recreation' and some of NBC's other mid-season comedies; they'll have to likely make hay on a new night, one where NBC hasn't had comedy for awhile. But maybe that fact will force NBC to have patience with those shows, allowing them to survive through the season and beyond. Let's hope that's the case.
Speaking of 'Parks & Rec,' I spoke to executive producer Michael Schur earlier this week about his reaction to the 'Outsourced' pickup and where he thinks his show should air. One thing he doesn't know right now is when NBC is bringing the show back. Stay tuned for the interview, which I'll publish on Monday or Tuesday.
Are you watching 'Outsourced?' What do you like about it?
(Follow @joelkeller on Twitter.)