Earlier today, I posted some thoughts on Robert Greenblatt‘s first press tour session as head of NBC entertainment. But there were certain topics that didn’t come up during that press conference, and a few others I wanted to go into a little more depth on, including the future prospects of “Parks and Recreation” and “Community,” juggling timeslots, “Parenthood,” “Chuck” and more. So I sat down with Greenblatt towards the end of NBC’s day here at the tour.
It’s been tough at the network in the years leading up to you coming here. But one of the nice things about those tough times was that a lot of really good shows that would’ve been canceled in about five minutes in healthier times have been allowed to stick around for a while. You said that the goal now isn’t just to run out the clock on the broadcast TV business and maintain, but to actually build and grow again. How do you balance the desire to keep these really good shows you inherited with the desire to grow?
I think these really good shows will stay around for as long as there’s creative life in them. They’re all getting older. I guess “Community” and “Parks and Rec” are younger. But with my desire to put more comedy on the network, I think there will be a need for those shows. And the critics have been so incredibly supportive of those shows that we have to really take all of that in consideration. It takes time to replant the garden. So I think it’ll be a little while before we can just clear the decks and replace shows. I think it’ll be one here, and one there, and then hopefully a new one gets to a second season, and then another. But being patient and giving shows time is a need and a challenge. You’re occupying slots with shows that are either going to work in the long run or not, and you just don’t know how long you can wait before you have to replace something.
Because you’ve got “Community” and “Parks and Rec,” which I would say are the two best comedies on TV, and they’re going to be on opposite “X Factor,” “Big Bang Theory” – they’re going to get their butts kicked.
That’s the other thing: everything is such a difficult time period, no matter where you looked. That was the beauty of “Community” this past season. Coming up against all that new competition in that time period, it actually decreased a little bit, but held up so well against the big guns that we felt, “Wow, there’s a strong core here.” Look at the time-shifting numbers, and that’s a measure of engagement for the viewer. To some degree it doesn’t help us monetize, but that’s a measure we do look at. Hopefully, every year it gains more traction.
Is there a specific plan for where you’re going to deploy “30 Rock”?
Not yet. We’re going to have to see how the season unfolds. The beauty of bringing it on later is that we’ll run them straight through. Not that those shows don’t repeat fairly well, but I think it’ll be great to just burst it through. We have to see what Thursday looks like, what Wednesday looks like, after the armageddon of the fall.
“Parks and Rec” was in a similar situation last year and you wound up only needing 16, where “30 Rock” will be doing 22. So you’ll either have to put it on sooner or double-run it a few times just to get it through the season.
We may do a couple of weeks of an hour bloc of it, but we’ll get the 22 out. We haven’t laid out the full schedule yet. But I think there’s a luxury to it. You have January, February, March, April and most of May. That adds up pretty quickly.
And one of the things you’re doing with Monday at 10, assuming both shows work, is you’re going to get 13 originals of “Playboy Club” and 13 originals of “Smash.”
We’re doing 15 “Smash”es, because that’ll coincide with the 15 “Voice” weeks. Look, I hope that we have that problem of “Playboy” works, and we’ll figure out where to bring it back. We’re trying to do more of these serialized shows in sequence, without pre-emptions. Because you lose the audience when you take a break.
Well, you come from Showtime, and one of the things that cable discovered over the last decade was that you rotate: you do 13 episodes, then a new show comes in for another 13, etc. Shorter seasons, keep the quality up, originals year-round, and you don’t have those weird breaks in March and April where you get one original episode in a 5-week period.
I think we’ll gradually see more and more of that. It’s obviously easier to do that with reality shows, for economic reasons. We already do that with “Biggest Loser.” You can tailor those, because they’re expandable or contractable. Harder to do with scripted shows, but we’re trying a couple of versions of that this year. There’s 16 “Parenthood”s, 15 “Smash”es, 13 “Awake”s because it’s mid-season. There could be a scenario where “Parenthood” runs all 16 episodes almost sequentially, which is a benefit to “Parenthood.” We saw as we ramped up through the finale in May, it grew, grew, grew. Then when “Parenthood” is done, we’ll probably have 10 or 12 weeks of the season left where we could put a show like “Awake.” But of course that’s more costly. That’s stretching one show throughout 35 weeks.
But at what point does the amount you get hurt by the ratings dropping every time there’s a long stretch of reruns outweigh the extra cost of doing all originals?
That’s the question I think we’re exploring this year, to see if it makes sense.
Speaking of “Awake,” that’s a wonderful pilot, but there are going to be some questions about its future, especially given what happened with Kyle Killen’s last show (“Lone Star”). What are your expectations for that?
I expect it to be a great show, and I think it will be, from what I know about the later episodes. Can I even have the expectation of success? I don’t even know if you can have that anymore. But I hope people will see the show, and the critics love it, and it gets on and has some traction. I think it’s a little more complicated, a little denser than the average show. But people seem really engaged by this pilot (in which Jason Isaacs plays a cop who keeps bouncing between two realities: one where his wife died in a car crash but his son survived, and one where the opposite is true) I know some people loved “Lone Star,” but I think we have a much more sympathetic character, and a franchise that’s familiar. It’s very clever, this show.
Finally, “Chuck” came to Comic-Con, and everywhere they’ve been going, it’s been, ‘Oh, this is the last season,’ and yet there are certain elements of fandom that will always hold out hope.
I know! I hate to disappoint fans, but it really is going to be the last season. I wanted to properly end it so that the fans, who deserve to know when it’s over, weren’t left hanging again, like it has every season, practically. At this point in time, there is no talk of extending it. They’re writing to the series finale.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com