Press Tour 2012: NBC president on ‘The Office,’ Dwight spin-off and more

Even though the bulk of yesterday’s NBC executive session at press tour was spent discussing the network’s comedy strategy – and the hope of finding shows with broader appeal than “Community,” “30 Rock,” etc. – there was still more to discuss about those comedies. So when I ran into new NBC entertainment president Jennifer Salke at NBC’s press tour party, I asked her about the current plans for an “Office” spin-off built around Dwight, the state of “The Office” itself, and what might happen with all the marginally-rated returning NBC series that have shorter-than-normal episode orders for this season.

“The Office” spin-off is still not technically ordered, right?

What happened was, Rainn (Wilson) came in and talked about what he wanted to do with the spin-off, and they made the decision at the show to incorporate it as an episode. Just yesterday, I went to see the first and second episode table reads for “The Office,” where I could see that starting to percolate in Rainn’s story. They’re leading up to that, but I don’t have any creative material on the spin-off yet.

But the assumption is that it’s going to happen.

Yeah. Obviously, we’d have to see it, but that’s the assumption until we know differently.

Back when this idea initially came up, the idea was that “The Office” ends and this takes its place. Is that still the thinking, or do you now think the original show could co-exist with it?

I remember that we said that, but their choice is up for grabs. With “The Office,” Greg (Daniels) is very involved, beginning a little bit of creative renaissance, there are some interesting, original ideas he’s bringing in. We couldn’t box ourselves in in that way (of saying it definitely ends when the spin-off starts), but I think the series and the spin-off could co-exist.

Well, I want to ask about the original. Greg’s now back and being hands-on, some people have left, others will be doing part-time work – what is the show going to look like this year?

Having just come from the table reads, it looks like what it’s been. There’s the same characters you know and love, minus one or so. Obviously, Mindy’s not there. I think Greg’s really invested in it, and I found it creatively to be really exciting. I can’t tell you what the concept is, but if he wants to, he can.

You said this morning that because you ordered a lot of shows, many of them are getting shorter orders. Are there certain ones that can more easily, based on your scheduling needs, get additional episodes? Can “Parenthood” get more than that 15?

Absolutely. All of that’s up for grabs at a time when we’re just trying to stay afloat and watch the new shows and increase our viewership. Those (veteran) shows, some of them are finding a creative resurgence. “Parenthood” has really great storylines that are coming up. We want to build on what we have. That’ll be the telling information.

But at the same time, you have all these shows that are terrific shows, but as we discussed today, the ratings are iffy. So there’s a chance that, for many of them, this 13 or 15 could be it.

It could be, but I don’t think anybody here at the beginning has the ego or the thought that we can all do better than those shows. Basically, what we’re trying to do is build some new assets and support some assets that we love that are important to us. And we’ll have to re-evaluate after we see the new assets.

What I’m asking, though, is that these shows have been for several years, and there has to come a point in the season where you have to let the people making those shows know if this is it. Or is it going to be a case where people will produce finales that may retroactively be series finales?

I’m hoping that wouldn’t be the case, because it’s much better to find a natural ending to something, obviously. But it’s hard to say where we’re in a position to look at how these new things do. We’re not like, “Oh, get rid of that stuff we love that doesn’t do as well!” We love those shows, too. We respect what those shows bring to the network also. I think it’s a moving target. The best-case scenario would be we’d be able to make clear decisions early and give people concrete information. That can happen sometimes, but not always.