During the last golden age of NBC – so long ago that Warren Littlefield may have come on stage wearing an onion on his belt, which was the style at the time – the network’s presidents made an artform of filibustering their way through each press tour executive session, pummeling the press into submission with statistics and graphs and charts demonstrating NBC’s unquestioned dominance in primetime, late night, mornings and possibly day-parts that had yet to be invented. It was their way to brag, but also to drain our spirits so we wouldn’t have the energy to pounce on the network’s few weak spots from the mid-’90s through the early ’00s.
NBC chairman Robert Greenblatt didn’t quite pull off that trick during his first press tour session since the network’s return from the abyss, but his introductory remarks were significantly longer than they’ve been of late, featured lots of numbers illustrating NBC’s success in the fall, and may or may not have ended with Greenblatt dropping the mic before taking our questions.
“I think last year I came right out and admitted that we’d had a bad fall,” Greenblatt said. “Well, I’m not saying that this year.”
Of course, that success has largely come on the backs of three shows: “Sunday Night Football,” which won’t be back until next fall, and “The Voice” and “Revolution,” which won’t be back until March 25.
“No one is more aware of what January through March will bring than us,” Greenblatt acknowledged, even as he and fellow executives Jennifer Salke (in charge of NBC’s scripted programming) and Paul Telegdy (in charge of reality) defended the decisions to take the two entertainment shows off the air for months.
Greenblatt said that keeping “Revolution” paired with “The Voice” – and letting the show air without reruns – was ultimately “the safer play” than keeping it on without a strong lead-in, and having to stretch the remaining 12 episodes over five months. (And it sounds like Greenblatt, who came from Showtime, would like to follow “more of a cable model” with scheduling any serialized dramas going forward.)
Many critics had wondered if “The Voice” would struggle in the fall by airing two installments in a row. Instead, the show was up in the ratings over most of last season, and Telegdy said he hoped that the arrival of new coaches Shakira and Usher (filling in for Cee-Lo Green and Christina Aguilera) would liven up the spring installment.
We’ll see what happens over these next few months, but for now, Greenblatt gets to brag.
Fienberg did a thorough live-blog of the executive session, including the amusing moment where Greenblatt attempted to refer to “Smash” – a show which replaced its showrunner and several castmembers – as “an unqualified success.” After it ended, I was in the scrum with Salke, where topics included:
* “Parenthood,” which will be wrapping up its fourth season on January 29 before “Smash” takes over, got several shout-outs from Salke and Greenblatt during the executive session. After, I asked how she was feeling about the show. “We’re feeling really great about it,” she said. “We haven’t determined its future, but we would be crazy to tell you that we didn’t feel incredibly excited about where the show is creatively and the way the current storylines are capturing a bigger audience. We feel really good about it.”
* Salke dismissed the recent reports that David Lynch would be reviving “Twin Peaks” at the network, saying that when she first heard the story, she called around to every relevant NBC executive, and this was the first any of them had heard about it. “It sounds like an interesting idea,” she said, “but we have not gotten a call.”
* What are NBC’s expectations for the return of the critically-adored, low-rated combination of “Community” and “Parks and Recreation”? “We hope that that core group of viewers comes and shows up and helps us launch into ‘The Office’ and ‘1600 Penn.'” (Just reading the tea leaves, I’m assuming “Community” is done after this post-Dan Harmon season, while the fate of “Parks” will depend on NBC’s comedy development and how new shows like “1600 Penn” do over the next few months.)
* Greenblatt said in the session that the Bryan Fuller-produced “Hannibal” might not air until the summer. Would the success (or lack thereof) of FOX’s own serial killer drama “The Following” affect any “Hannibal” scheduling? “I don’t think so,” said Salke, who heard Kevin Williamson’s “Following” pitch after her network had already bought the Fuller show. “Having only seen ‘The Following’ pilot, it’s an incredibly different show.”
* Why did NBC ultimately decide not to go forward with “The Office” spin-off built around Dwight Schrute and his family on the beet farm? “Feeling like it was a move into an even more narrow – but probably beloved – world, instead of trying to stay loyal to the brand, but open your arms wider.” (Also, in the Greenblatt scrum, he reportedly said that he doesn’t expect Steve Carell to return for “The Office” series finale, because Carell was too satisfied with his original exit from the show.)