Press tour: Post-gaming NBC’s executive session

Senior Television Writer
07.30.10 20 Comments

NBC

NBC’s executive session with entertainment president Angela Bromstad and chairman Jeff Gaspin just concluded. Fienberg has the full play-by-play in his liveblog, and after the jump, I have some thoughts on what it was they had to say.

We are not your punching bag: Because Bromstad and Gaspin have been working together for more than a year, and because ABC at the moment seems more dysfunctional with Steve McPherson’s abrupt resignation (and all the reports of sexual harassment tied to that), they seemed pleased to present NBC not as The Embattled Network, but as The Patiently Rebuilding Network.

“I think we made too many changes too quickly from a position of weakness,” Gaspin said of some of the bizarre moves of the last few seasons. (“The Jay Leno Show,” perhaps?) But he later said, “We’ve taken too few chances in the last few years, we’ve taken too few shots.”

So which is it? The NBC fall schedule doesn’t look like one with a ton of gambles. There’s a Jerry Bruckheimer procedural (“Chase”), a “Law & Order” spin-off (which everyone at NBC is trying to dub “LOLA,” to the point where I wonder if it’ll have a Mike Post theme or one by The Kinks), only one change to the Thursday comedy line-up (which I’ll get back to), etc. The only show on the fall schedule that seems like it has the potential to be a big hit is “The Event,” and that’s still open to question because of…

Mythology fatigue: The earlier panel for “The Event” was pretty much non-stop with skeptical questions about how much trust we should put in the show’s producers to give us consistent, entertaining payoffs after “FlashForward,” “The Nine,” “Heroes,” etc. failed so miserably in that regard. (And after many viewers, albeit not this one, felt betrayed by the “Lost” finale.)

“We are aware of the skepticism of returning to this genre of show,” Bromstad acknowledged. “If you can get the show right, the rewards are tremendous, even though the risks are great.” Later, she said, “We are going to do everything in our power to guard against (the failings of) ‘FlashForward.'”

But do viewers really want to give another of these shows a try? And if not, what else on the fall schedule has potential to be the kind of out-of-the-box hit the network so desperately needs?

Is there life after Michael Scott?: Bromstad said that “Office” developer Greg Daniels and current showrunner Paul Lieberstein have known for a while that Steve Carell would leave after this year, and “they do have a plan in terms of who’s going to replace Michael.” After the press conference, she wouldn’t commit to whether she preferred an internal or external candidate as replacement, and when I suggested an external one would have an uphill climb in terms of comparisons to Carell, she said that Carell himself had to face Ricky Gervais comparisons. (Of course, that was only from TV critics and the five other people in America who had seen the British “Office” at that point.)

When a critic posed the creatively sensible but fiscally questionable idea of ending the show with Carell’s departure, Bromstad asked, “Would we have ended ‘ER’ when George Clooney left? I think that would have been a shame. This is a tremendous ensemble cast. We’ve know about it for some time, and planned for it. I would be very sad to be ending the show. I couldn’t go home and face my 14-year-old son if ‘The Office’ went off the air.”

Again, another apples-to-oranges comparison. While Clooney was the biggest star of “ER,” he was never the central character, and that show was always much more of an ensemble than “The Office” is. And how will she face her 14-year-old son if the show continues, with or without Carell, to be as weak as it was for most of last season?

Must-see TV?: NBC has a bunch of mid-season comedies, including the still on-hold “Parks and Recreation” (which has promoted Rob Lowe to a regular castmember, alongside Adam Scott), and Bromstad suggested that at some point the network might want to expand to a second comedy night again. The problem is that, as wonderful as the four returning comedies have been in the past, “The Office” is the only one that’s an actual hit, and even it only occasionally wins its timeslot in 18-49.

Gaspin suggested that “Community” could co-exist with CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” at 8, but I fear “Big Bang” will swallow “Community” whole. And there is no excuse from either a business or a creative standpoint to keep “Parks and Rec” on the bench in favor of the heinous, offensive “Outsourced.” Bromstad insisted that the pilot for “Outsourced” is just a pilot, and that they want the show to be “super, super funny,” and expect it to be “broader” in audience than the pre-existing comedies. But it’s going to sink, quickly. And just on the offchance that “Office” viewers will leave with Carell, NBC needs to have another show in a position to succeed it. And the most likely show among NBC’s current comedies to do that is “Parks and Rec,” which is also the only one that has yet to air at 9:30.

In Development: Two shows that got a lot of attention this past development season but were never picked up were remakes: of the landmark British cop show “Prime Suspect” and the landmark American private eye drama “The Rockford Files.” Both are apparently still alive, with “Prime Suspect” being assigned to Peter Berg’s production company, and to “Desperate Housewives” producer Alex Cunningham as writer. (She doesn’t seem a particularly logical fit, even with three late-period “NYPD Blue” episodes on her resume.) And Bromstad confirmed that “Rockford” lives, but the lead role (played in the unsold pilot by my nemesis Dermot Mulroney) will be recast. Um… I hear this guy named Josh Holloway is available and would be kind of perfect.

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