When the Television Critics Association met with NBC back in January, Robert Greenblatt had yet to be formally installed as NBC Entertainment Chairman, which left us with an executive-free press tour session.
Monday (Aug. 1) morning represents Greenblatt’s first time meeting with us in his current job, but he has many years of Showtime panels under his belt. That makes him far better prepared to illuminate NBC’s ongoing difficulties for reporters than several of his less media-savvy predecessors.
Let’s see if it makes a difference as Greenblatt sits down to chat about subjects inevitably including “The Voice,” “Playboy Club” controversies and the evergreen topic of Jay Leno.
9:01 a.m. Ah, soothing NBC music. They’re playing Jack Johnson now, perhaps in the hope that we’ll be too mellow to ask about “Chase,” “Law & Order: Los Angeles,” “The Paul Reiser Show,” “The Event” and one or two other shows that failed last season. Mission accomplished. I only want to frolic in the jungle with Curious George.
9:12 a.m. We launch the day with Joel McHale making an obligatory “Wow, thank you” crack at our lack of applause. And an “Outsourced” joke. “It’s just like Comic-Con, but with more nerds… Sorry. It’s like summer camp for shut-ins. Sorry,” McHale cracks, followed quickly by a Christian Slater joke. McHale proposes a game counting the number of times executives say “exited.” The winner, he says, gets a copy of “The Paul Reiser Show” on BluRay. NBC’s new strategy: “We’re going to wait for all the people who watch ABC and CBS to die.”
9:15 a.m. McHale’s doing fairly well. He’s excited about the upcoming NFL seasons “The teams will be as injured and confused as you were after the second episode of ‘Perfect Couples,'” McHale cracks. “Of course my show, ‘Community’ is back. The Chevy Chase Babysitting Service,” he calls it, celebrating that “Community” and “Jersey Shore” earned the same number of Emmy nominations. Regarding “The Voice,” he’s also excited. Ditto with “Playboy Club,” which he calls “‘Man Men’ with boobs” and says it was about the day Hugh Hefner had “only 13 different strains of herpes.” He laments the grammar in “America’s Got Talent,” which he says might as well be called “America’s Done Got Talent.” And “Fear Factor” is back! And “The X Factor,” albeit on a different network. McHale says the show is “big time.” “I know what the ‘X Factor’ is. Paula Abdul is the X factor. Will she show up for the show? Will she slur her speech?” Meh.
9:15 a.m. Robert Greenblatt shows up and McHale greets him with, “Nice to see you. They’re very excited, as you can tell.” Greenblatt leads with a Conan not-joke and a debt-ceiling not-joke. Greenblatt appreciates our patience in waiting to talk to him during his chaotic first six months. “I guess I have no more excuses,” he says. “For better or worse, I was very engaged in this process,” he says of his first development season.
9:22 a.m. Announcements. Jennifer Salke’s on board. We know this. Lots of changes, in fact, in the development team.
9:26 a.m. New development deal with Greg Daniels. It appears that this deal will focus on animation. But live-action as well. Also Gary Sanchez productions. And with Sean Hayes to star in an NBC comedy for next season. “Sean is a friend and I really think it was time for him to star in a comedy again,” Greenblatt says. They’re also developing a half-hour comedy that “The Voice” star Adam Levine is producing. And what the heck, another drama from Dick Wolf, this one involving firefighters. And for the holidays, a Michael Buble special and… Celebrity Game Night! Or something.
9:30 a.m. February 5, post-Super Bowl, will be the one-hour premiere of “The Voice.” On February 6, “Smash” will premiere after a two-hour episode of “The Voice.”
9:31 a.m. “It’s no secret that NBC is in fourth place. We’re working very hard and aggressively to turn that around,” Greenblatt says. Indeed, it’s no secret.
9:32 a.m. There’s good news, though, including Emmy nominations for comedies in particular. He’s also very pleased with “The Voice.”
9:33 a.m. Greenblatt wants to clarify that Mariska Hargitay is going to be in EVERY episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” She won’t be reducing her role as had been reported/rumored/expected. “It’s my goal to make sure that continues past this season, he adds.”
9:34 a.m. Good news in sports. Good news in reality with “Celebrity Apprentice” up. And good news for Greenblatt: He’s managed to filibuster his way through most of the scheduled time for this press conference and the question time will be limited.
9:35 a.m. The goal: “To revisit this schedule.” He repeats several times the desire to remain “more upscale.” “We want to restore NBC to its leadership position in comedy,” Greenblatt says. He’s “very excited and bullish” about the fall, but he wants to look at the whole year, with Olympics and “Smash” and the Super Bowl set for 2012.
9:37 a.m. What adjectives would Greenblatt use to describe the new lineup? They’re hoping to “inject some excitement into this schedule.” He says that cable has taken the excitement. “Original.” “Attention-getting.” “High quality.” But is there a theme? “Exciting,” is his one word.
9:38 a.m. Will we be seeing differences now that NBC is owned by Comcast rather than GE? “I just think what you’re going to see from the Comcast ownership is a genuine excitement in these businesses,” Greenblatt says. Joel McHale was correct: Everything is exciting. He senses “an enthusiasm for broadcast television” from the new Comcast overlords. He’s experienced “a thoughtfulness” and “a desire to invest in things we believe in” from Comcast.
9:40 a.m. Greenblatt suggests that in recent season, unscripted shows have taken a bit of NBC’s focus. “I think there’s a really important place for those shows in our schedule. I would like to rebalance that a little bit with more scripted shows that become long-running hits,” he adds.
9:40 a.m. “I think every other affiliate will be airing the show and on-board,” says Greenblatt of the one affiliate that won’t air “The Playboy Club.” He adds that the station in Utah also doesn’t broadcast “Saturday Night Live,” so “it didn’t really surprise me.” He notes that “The Playboy Club” isn’t really all that revealing.
9:42 a.m. “There’s no negative to the reality stuff and if you do it well, like ‘The Voice,’ there’s a huge enthusiasm for shows like that,” Greenblatt says to a question about fears that drama is moving to cable and that network is becoming increasingly reality-laden. “I don’t think it’s going anywhere You have to manage the economics of it and you have to find things that people really want to watch,” Greenblatt says of scripted programming. The goal is to making scripted shows “must-see” again, to equal the event nature of reality.
9:43 a.m. Regarding Mariska Hargitay, Greenblatt says that she may have lightened her load in terms of weekly shooting days. “I think it’s not unreasonable to think that she might want to lighten her work-load,” Greenblatt says, but adds that we won’t notice, if we haven’t noticed already.
9:44 a.m. Regarding shows that work on cable, but not on network, Greenblatt agrees that a slew of Showtime shows work in a universe in which the business model isn’t based entirely around viewers. He says, however, that what’s interesting “psychologically” about Showtime shows is what NBC wants to bring on board, that they have to find ways to “conceptually excite the audience.” Greenblatt actually compares NBC’s current condition to the condition FOX was in back in the ’90s when he was there. “I think you can be broad and still come up with things that people are genuinely conceptually excited about.
9:47 a.m. Why will something like “The Playboy Club” be broad enough to be a big hit when “Mad Men” isn’t even a cable hit? Greenblatt calls “The Playboy Club” a “energized soap opera,” saying that he doesn’t think it’s going to feel like “Mad Men.” He says that what it has going for it is “a recognizable brand that’s automatically going to draw attention to it, good and bad.” He says “I think it’s the right kind of thing for us to try.”
9:48 a.m. A question about “I Hate That I Love You.” Greenblatt calls it “a pilot that didn’t come together.” Greenblatt calls himself the poster boy for shows with gay leads.
9:49 a.m. What are expectations for “The Office” going forward? “My expectations are always very measured, so we can under-expect and hopefully over-deliver,” Greenblatt kids. He adds, “Shows go through transitions as they age.” Greenblatt has been at a table-read with James Spader, saying that Spader brings “his own iconoclastic acting style” and saying that “he’s the perfect fit in that mix,” even if it causes “some slight adjustments for the rest of the cast. “I would be thrilled if it continued to do what it was doing, even if as shows age, they usually erode,” he says.
9:51 a.m. What’s the future for “Days of Our Lives”? Well, none of the cast changes have been brought about by network urging. “It’s the only soap that we have and I think that it does relatively well for us,” he says, adding that ABC’s cancelation of several soaps could help. “We may also be seeing this genre going into the twilight years of its existence,” he cautions, but as that “I think it will be on for a while.”
9:52 a.m. What is Greenblatt telling producers about how he’s different at NBC from at Showtime? “I certainly don’t want to turn NBC into Showtime, but I’d love to bring some of the creative vitality we had at Showtime,” he says. He says, “While I want to guide them into a broad arena, I don’t want to tie their hands so the creative gets sucked out of the show.” The goal is to find people’s whose voice you love and “do everything you can to stay out of their way.”
9:54 a.m. What show epitomizes his approach? He praises “Prime Suspect” as being an example of the kind of franchise show they’d want to do. He praises “Smash” as being ‘adventurous,” but also possibly “narrow.”
9:56 a.m. Where’s NBC’s diversity at? “I think we’re very committed to diversity,” Greenblatt swears, mentioning Eddie Cibrian and Maya Rudolph. “Does it compare to ‘Outsourced’ and ‘Undercovers’ which had more diverse leads in them? Probably not,” Greenblatt admits. He shows his resume as a producer, which included a number of minority-driven shows. Then he repeats that NBC is “embedded in diversity” and that “hopefully you’ll see these statistics going in our favor.
9:57 a.m. Does NBC see value in future variety programming? Greenblatt says he’s had talks with Lorne Michaels. He says that the key is finding the personality to front such a show and that “there’s a couple of people we’re thinking about.”
9:58 a.m. “This is a playground for really extraordinary comedy actors,” Greenblatt says of “The Office,” promising “a few” actors who will be guesting this season, saying that it will be “comedic actors who are not that well known.” No names for now. Greenblatt says that comedy is a goal for NBC and that they need to move it off of Thursday. Another goal involves helping to redeem multi-cam comedy with shows like “Whitney” in the fall and the Chelsea Handler comedy at midseason. The key will be patience and marketing and whatnot.
That’s all, folks…