The Television Shuffle

We're four months away from the critical May sweeps and twice as far away from the next fall season, but the networks are already busy shuffling their programming calendars. Over the weekend, General Electric's (NYSE: GE  ) NBC announced that it will cancel The West Wing after it completes its seventh season on May 14.

That wasn't the only recent move on the tube. News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS  ) Fox announced plans earlier this month to can Malcolm in the Middle. And the fate of its Arrested Development still remains to be seen, though Showtime and Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) ABC are waiting in the wings to catch the critically acclaimed Ron Howard sitcom if Fox does indeed let it go. ABC itself is giving Emily's Reasons Why Not the ax after just one show.

Disney's quick-hook flexibility is a sign of how far its ABC network has come over the past 18 months. With hit shows such as Desperate Housewives, Lost, and Grey's Anatomy, ABC is not too far from top dog CBS (NYSE: CBS  ) in the ratings heap.

However, it's a different situation entirely over at NBC, where the peacock is fighting for primetime relevance. It figured that shows such as Joey and a version of The Apprentice starring Martha Stewart Living's (NYSE: MSO  ) namesake guru would help offset audience defections after Friends and Seinfeld signed off for good. But it hasn't worked out that way.

GE is such a huge, multifaceted conglomerate that the weakness at NBC may hardly be felt. Even so, NBC can't seem to catch much of a break these days. Earlier this month, The Office star Steve Carrell won a Golden Globe, and now the series will go on hiatus when Carrell goes off to film a new movie come March. (It's slated to return with a new 22-episode season in the fall.)

Maybe it's not too late to swap the signature NBC peacock for an ostrich. At least then, it can avoid the difficult questions it faces by burying its head in the sand.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz knows better than to get too attached to shows, but he was really starting to enjoy the stateside version of The Office. He owns shares of Disney.The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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