But all is not lost, my brothers - and sisters. Despite its weak showing in the upfront, and lagging performance in the scatter marketplace, NBC is curiously showing some strong signs of underlying financial health. In fact, NBC Universal delivered strong results, according to TheStreet.com's coverage of parent General Electric's second quarter earnings release.
Earnings at NBC Universal rose 27 percent from a year ago to $979 million on a 35 percent jump in revenue, to $3.86 billion. Not surprisingly, the highlights included strong results by the unit's cable channels, including USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel, which have had strong audience and ad sales growth.
"But the news was less good elsewhere at the flagship NBC network," reminded TheStreet.com. "While too much emphasis may be placed on the annual TV buying season known as the upfront, it is nonetheless a bellwether for how the networks are likely to fare next TV season."
Still, NBC lost nearly $1 billion in upfront market share, enough to molt even the proudest of peacock feathers, and the kind of forward sales slide that is bound to send future quarterly earnings plummeting. Or so Madison Avenue would have you believe. The reality is that NBC still has some well-performing assets. Prime-time aside, the network's late-night lineup of Leno and O'Brien still dominate the lucrative 18- to 34-year-old demographic race.
And there will be at least one quarter during the 2005-06 that will clearly shine bright, albeit because of the glint of Olympic gold. Let's not forget that NBC will dominate the first quarter of 2006 when it plays U.S. TV host to the Winter Games from Torino, Italy. And beginning in 2006, NBC will once again become an NFL network, with a schedule of new prime-time games on Sunday nights. And we all know what happens when lagging networks regain the NFL.
While those all are good long-term bellwethers for NBC, it was a prime-time entertainment announcement that may reveal some truly divine inspiration - and quite possibly, intervention.
As it turns out, NBC plans to add Jesus to its prime-time lineup. Before you cry blasphemy, you should know this isn't your run of the mill version of Christ, but according to Reuters, a modern-day version who is "a contemporary confidant to a pill-popping priest." The priest is played by theatrical movie vet Aidan Quinn, while the character of Jesus, says Reuters, "is portrayed by relative newcomer Garret Dillahunt, a regular on HBO's gritty, Emmy-nominated western 'Deadwood.' He played the man who murdered Wild Bill Hickok."
Sound implausible? Maybe that's why the new series, "The Book of Daniel," failed to make it on NBC's fall lineup. But the network announced it has given it a mid-season commitment. NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly acknowledged the show is a "different, out-of-the-box" project, but that's no reason to reject it. Religion has been good to networks in need of a turnaround and to NBC in particular.
And religious media fervor has been mounting, noted Reilly, citing the success of religious novel "Left Behind" and Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of Christ." No doubt Reilly was also influenced by the strong numbers turned in by NBC's "Revelations," a six-part miniseries last spring about a Catholic nun and a scientist who try to prevent a religious Armageddon.
Of course, both NBC and CBS have had longer-term successes with what might have seemed like outlandish religious themes. Remember "Highway To Heaven" and "Touched By An Angel"?