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Searching For the Appeal of 'Outsourced'

by Joel Keller, posted Nov 12th 2010 4:30PM
Ben Rappaport and Rebecca Hazlewood in 'Oursourced' - 'Home for Diwalidays' on NBC
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.)

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nunie44

Condescend and stereotype away!! I'm 100% Indian and I think it's hilarious. From Apu Nahasapeemapetilon to Gupta. We are certainly an amusing culture! I think any Indian who disagrees does not speak for the masses.

February 16 2011 at 1:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joseph

I was a little peeved at "Parks & Rec" being yanked from the schedule, and I didn't think I'd care for "Outsourced", but it's really grown on me. The Indian locale, artificial or not, and the foreign culture, is different and refreshing. I think the humor is pretty clever, but what I've figured out that I really like about it is that it's missing that attitude that a lot of other "smart" sitcoms have, where the characters are openly jerky to each other. Callousness reigns supreme on most non-laugh-track NBC sitcoms. You have offices full of people like that on "The Office", "30 Rock", and "Parks & Rec." It's really become pretty standard and a kind of shorthand for detached, hip irony for characters to say the most awful things to each other, and then everybody just goes on about their business like nothing was said. With "Outsourced" there's really only one character like that, the boss, Rajiv. And I absolutely echo the sentiments of previous commenters in the observation that it's usually the American guy who comes off as foolish and the "butt" of the humor. I don't think the Indian culture or characters are being condescended to at all. I do want "Parks & Rec" to return, but now I don't want "Outsourced" to be shoved out.

November 17 2010 at 10:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Herbsandcandles

The only thing I watch on NBC is Days of Our Lives and Outsourced. I started at the beginning and LOVE it!

November 17 2010 at 6:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bob

Why doesn't NBC get it? People don't want to watch so called comedy shows featuring worn out NBC personalities trying to put across their old politically correct agenda. Shows like "Outsourced" and "The Office" offer a bit of a refreshing change. New faces, new themes, maybe that's what people really want. Okay, I know that we, the unwashed masses, aren't as smart as the management at NBC but we can always change the channel.

November 17 2010 at 6:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve

Unfortunately today's sit-coms are written to appeal to the lowest common denominator, a group to which I do not wish to belong. That's one of the reasons I got out of radio many years ago. I actually had a general manager send word through my program director thst I was using words that were TOO BIG!

November 17 2010 at 3:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wax_eagle

I like NBC's comedy lineup on Thursday nights (I even get a laugh out of outsourced, but if I didn't already watch the office I wouldn't go out of my way to watch it.).

However, BBT is only available when it airs, not onDemand or online. Since I don't have a DVR those are my options. I watch BBT live then switch to NBC. if I miss Community I try to catch up, but this often happens with several episodes in a short period of time. NBC might benefit from a second comedy block elsewhere that it can try to establish new shows instead of being an easy target for CBS or other networks to lay waste to with comedy juggernauts like BBT.

November 15 2010 at 9:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Phish

i think outsourced is pretty funny, and has huge potential to be a massive hit. it all depends on the writing. i dont think its offensive, in fact, most of the so called 'stereotypes' are true.

although, i also love community and am saddened that its getting hosed in the ratings, they need to move it to a better timeslot.

at the same time, 30 rock is just boring derivative drivel that has passed its prime and needs to be shelved. the jokes are mostly recycled, they have run out of their creative juices. this is 1 show i wont miss.

November 15 2010 at 12:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
chrissthomas

"Despite the fact that 'Outsourced' still trolls in the murky waters of Indian stereotype jokes, viewers don't seem to mind."
I don't know why critics keep harping on this. If you watch the show it is more harsh to American culture than to Indian. The Indian characters are portrayed as purer, gentler and less assuming than the Western characters. It seems to be a show making fun of American culture in light of comparing it to another culture. It is a funny show with fairly good character development and stories. I am glad it has gotten good ratings and NBC is picking it up.

November 13 2010 at 7:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert Haynes

I like Community more, but I still watch Outsourced. Have you guys seen Little Mosque on the Prairie from Canada? It's not so bad to show a small part of how people live and the interactions between white people (the audience), is it?

November 13 2010 at 12:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Marcus M.

The funniest shows this season by far have been Raising Hope and Eastbound & Down. Even Terriers has me laughing a lot. Community is good but not at an Arrested Development level yet. The Office needs to end. LOVE that show but it's time to move on.

November 13 2010 at 11:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Marcus M.'s comment
Benjy

Terriers is a phenomenal show! It is must-see TV for me!!! But, unfortunately, it seems no one other than us is watching it. :-(

November 15 2010 at 11:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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