Chuck Lorre is arguably the most successful TV producer of the past decade. His ability to connect to the zeitgeist is legend. At present, he’s winning a throwdown between his program, The Bang Theory, and network TV’s other college-based show, Community (they air directly against each other Thursday evenings). Both are well-written, ably-acted, and sport a loyal fan base. Yet Community struggles to survive, while Mr. Lorre’s show is already generating millions in syndication profits. What gives?
The surface answer is that Community is more innovative, and therefore, less mainstream. To be sure, Community has taken some surrealistic turns - but that’s what its fans love about it. The real secret to TBBT’s success and Community’s struggles are deeper, at the zeitgeist level.
Take a look at the pictures above. Community, for all its innovation, is actually the more old-fashioned of the 2 programs. Its stars are rooted in a 1990s version of 20-something glamour. Yes, Abed’s quirky, but its stars are mostly beautiful - Jeff Winger’s attractiveness is a consistent plot device, and a part of Annie’s anatomy is so celebrated it’s (they’ve?) spawned its own fan sites.
The Big Bang Theory understands that geek culture celebrates its otherness. The stars of BBT aren’t working towards fitting into the larger culture. None of them, for example, wants to get back a high-paying law job, as Jeff Winger on Community does. TBBT crew wouldn’t even be tempted by the notion.
Anthropologist and marketing consultant Grant McCracken, writing in The Harvard Business Review mused, “Our heroes used to be the people who stole lunch money. Increasingly, they are the people from whom it was stolen. This has got to have something to do with the rise of Silicon Valley and people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.“
Put simply: Jeff Winger is the guy who stole your lunch money. Look at that grin on his face - he looks like he swiped your chocolate milk, too. Now, look at the picture on the right. Yeah. They’re the guys he swiped it from.
Advantage, Mr. Lorre.