NBC Brass Officially Turn Backs to Broad Comedy; Talk Olympic Sampling, OTT and Trump (Yes, Again)
No, NBC technically did not win the 2015-16 broadcast season — but that didn't keep entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt from indulging in some healthy gloating about the network's long streak back atop the Big Four on Tuesday morning.
Speaking with press at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour, Greenblatt (later joined by president Jennifer Salke) echoed his upfront messaging that NBC would have finished the recent calendar No. 1 among adults 18-49 had CBS not aired the Super Bowl. He also noted that NBC will easily finish the 52-week season (also known as a year) at No. 1 thanks to a robust summer lineup and the upcoming Olympics.
Perhaps for those reasons, NBC kicked off the broadcast stretch of the TCA with one of the most candid and agreeable executive sessions since the marathon conference started last week. Greenblatt and Salke spoke confidently about young series — sophomore comedy Superstore is emerging as a clear network favorite — and eagerly mocked their own missteps. (Animal Practice jokes just never get old, folks!)
Tuesday's line of questioning focused on programming, particularly the network's hobbled comedy brand, but there were some moments of wonk. Greenblatt teased upcoming news about an over-the-top streaming initiative for the network.
And, of course, nobody stood a chance of escaping the room without the obligatory question about former Celebrity Apprentice host, current GOP presidential candidate and eternal conundrum Donald J. Trump.
They're Being More Strategic About Olympic Sampling
Seventeen days of Olympics competition gives NBC a huge promotional platform (the London Games averaged more than 30 million viewers a night). After many attempts to preview new shows out of the Games, this time NBC will give plum post-Olympics slots to two of its most popular (read: not new) programs. Superstore will get a preview on Aug. 19, following primetime Olympics coverage. And The Voice will have a half-hour audition show after the closing ceremonies on Aug. 21. Both are in a much better position to capitalize on the potential lift than unproven series. Responding to a question about why NBC won't launch new fall shows after the Olympics, Greenblatt admitted that there is “viewer fatigue” after nearly three weeks of wall-to-wall Olympic coverage. (HUT levels — homes using televisions — also traditionally drop after the Games.) “You get that huge Olympic platform,” he added. "If we’re then going to jam into our new fall shows, it’s probably not the best time."
A Comcast-Approved OTT Stream Is on Its Way
When pushed about when the network will catch up with its competition that has deeply invested in over-the-top streaming, Greenblatt reminded the audience that no other broadcast network is owned by a cable company — the very institution trying to stay afloat as viewers drift toward streaming. "Whatever we do in that space, we want to make sure it's not an affront to the cable space," he said. "We're trying to craft something that is a good thing for them as well. We're just not there yet." Greenblatt added that he optimistically expects to have some kind of announcement in the coming months. "We know that some kind of OTT strategy is going to happen," the exec said. "It's where the audience is telling us to go. I'm not ready to talk about it today, definitely, but hopefully in the next couple of months we will."
All Right, Broad Comedy Was a Mistake
After multiple seasons of sitcom failures, Greenblatt and Salke have credited Superstore with (hopefully) revitalizing NBC’s core comedy brand. To that end, the show will move to Thursdays this fall, where it will give Mike Schur’s new comedy The Good Place an advantageous lead-in. And both Greenblatt and Salke seemed to admit that a now-aborted strategy to go broad after more niche shows including Parks and Recreation never really brought in a big linear audience. Superstore, said Salke, “feels back to an NBC smart, specific show that has heart. It’s not trying to please the whole world [kind of] show.” Of course, the measurement of success has changed in an on-demand, time-shifted TV landscape. And Greenblatt noted that when all of the long-tale consumption of Superstore is factored in, its premiere episode was as viewed as The Voice's season opener. It's a stat he admitted “surprised” him. "We’re defining success of these shows in a different way, and we’re watching the economics catch up with that,” added Salke.
Reboots Aren't Going Anywhere
"For every failed show based on a movie, there's probably an example of one that worked well," Greenblatt admitted when asked about his undated TV prequel of the Taken franchise. "I think if we move into territory that looks familiar, is to not do it in a straightforward way." He and Salke added that screenings of the first episode have gone well and that a surprising number of people weren't actually familiar with the Liam Neeson film series. "It isn't as big of a title as a Lethal Weapon," Greenblatt added, noting the buzzy Fox reboot set for fall. Speaking of franchises, the exec said he wasn't sure about Dick Wolf doing a fifth Chicago series, though Salke expressed interest in a new New York-based series from the Law & Order creator.
Donald Trump: Still NBC's Elephant in the Room
Difficult as it may be to believe, this is the third press tour since Trump announced his bid for the presidency of the United States. And, in perhaps the only tense moment of the 50-minute meeting with critics and reporters, Greenblatt was asked (in so many words) to address TV's culpability in creating Trump and this unprecedented presidential race. "It's certainly interesting, and we do talk about it," he said. "Bedtime for Bonzo helped [Ronald] Reagan become a national figure. ... We were happy to have a show that was doing really well with a guy who was a big TV star. It's impossible to see where it would go from there." Greenblatt closed by noting that The Apprentice, a show on the air long before his tenure at the network, probably didn't cause the current political scenario. "I don't think there's one correlation from one to the other," he said. "It is interesting." (Later, in a scrum of reporters, Greenblatt asserted the obvious — that Trump would "never" host the franchise again.)