January 20, 2014 4:54pm PT by Tim Goodman
The State of NBC? Pretty Good, Actually
What if, just as a change-up to tradition, we cut NBC a little slack? Even to the extent of admitting that the network has as good a chance as any network not named CBS of really being in the hunt when it's all said and done?
Part of this comes from the fact that Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, has a very clear understanding of not only NBC's place in the complicated network race, but also of the shortcomings that NBC needs to fix. Greenblatt noted that, when he took the job of rebuilding NBC, it would take three to five years and now that process is into the third year. It's important to remember how far into the ground it had been driven by the prior regime at NBC and, factoring that, Greenblatt's ups and downs are not only forgivable but expected.
I would suggest that NBC will be on the upswing soon enough.
It also must be nice for Greenblatt that he is no longer rebuilding but guiding NBC -- and that he can now give his hammers, power saws and spackle to Paul Lee of ABC, who rather surprisingly said four times that he was now rebuilding ABC when nobody got that press release prior.
Given that ABC and NBC, not that long ago, have been battling for the cellar, and now it's possible that an NBC surge could conceivably happen, let's just for a moment consider the positive gains and positive plans that NBC has accomplished or hopes to accomplish. There's nothing wrong with flipping the script and being positive.
NBC has had good numbers in the fall. It has a breakout hit in The Blacklist, has The Voice still holding on and had, in the fall, Sunday Night Football dominating.
"In total viewers," Greenblatt said Sunday, "and this surprises even me a little, we are up significantly year to year, 10 percent, in fact. We’re currently running a strong No. 2 behind CBS in total viewers. Even if you exclude sports and I don’t like to do that because you all know how much I love my sports programming (there was laughter at that) -- even without sports, we’re actually tied with CBS for first place in the demo, and we’re the only broadcast network up this season, plus 9 percent, in fact. I’m very pleased to say The Blacklist was the fall’s No. 1 drama and No. 1 new series in the demo, and in fact, it’s the No. 2 scripted series overall."
Of course The Tonight Show and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon did well and by shifting Fallon into Jay Leno's job and Seth Meyers into Fallon's old job, Greenblatt has solidified late night for, conceivably, a very long time.
Then there was Greenblatt's biggest splash -- the live version of The Sound of Music, which almost no one in this town thought was a good idea. And yet, almost 19 million viewers watched it live and another three million recorded it. It was a risk that he took -- a risk, mind you, that came after Smash, his pet project, failed and was heckled hard during its demise.
Not surprisingly, Greenblatt said NBC will do a live Peter Pan next December.
As for shortcomings in the current season, Greenblatt has glaring blind spots like anyone else -- Sean Saves the World, Dracula, anyone? -- but it would be hard to fault him for taking a chance on Michael J. Fox returning to television. Most would have. But don't look for any of those shows to return. Was he slow on the uptake in understanding what he had and what he could develop with Hannibal? Sure, but he kept it. Just as he kept Community, Parks and Recreation, Grimm and Parenthood when it wasn't a slam-dunk situation. He also put a little stabilization on the schedule with Chicago Fire and then wisely let Dick Wolf start to create an empire with the recently premiered Chicago P.D.
Greenblatt promised to renew Parks from the stage -- we are always appreciative of entertainment presidents who can both riff in front of us at TCA and aren't worried about running an idea through 1,000 people before confirming they're going to do it.
Speaking of Parks, Greenblatt is rightly enamored with Amy Poehler and gave her a three-year overall producing deal to develop for NBC. She's already delivered a script -- she co-created and is executive producing the working title Old Soul, starring Natasha Lyonne from Orange Is the New Black.
NBC also will have the Winter Olympics for three weeks in February. On paper at least, that's a helpful launching pad for new shows (though if the shows are no good, the audience will flee, which is precisely what they did the last time NBC inundated viewers with promos). Like every network president, Greenblatt is upbeat about his midseason shows (and admitted that NBC basically had nothing last midseason and lost viewers because of it).
NBC and Greenblatt have growing buzz for the drama Believe from J.J. Abrams (the pilot was also directed by Alfonso Cuaron), though none for Crisis. On the comedy side, there is early buzz for About a Boy and the panel for Growing Up Fisher, a sentimental coming-of-age single-camera comedy may benefit it.
But Greenblatt knows that NBC really and truly needs to get a huge comedy hit.
"Of course we always still have a lot of work ahead of us," he said. "Thursday night is a real challenge for us, something that we’re well aware of, as we head into pilot season and start to think about the fall schedule next year. Comedy has proven to be very difficult for us. That’s why we went directly to series on a new show from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock starring Ellie Kemper. That’s why we made this deal with Amy Poehler. That’s why we picked up The Craig Robinson Show. That’s why we also made an exclusive deal earlier this year with Mike Schur, the co-creator of Parks and Rec and Brooklyn Nine Nine.
Greenblatt could even get out of the Thursday night comedy business entirely, shifting to a different night. If that's part of the early thinking, expect NBC to be very aggressive trying to get Thursday Night Football rights from the NFL Network.
NBC is far from being in the safe zone (what network is?), but it doesn't feel like such a struggling lost cause the way it has in the past.
So, slack given, snark abandoned. Let's see what NBC can do going forward.