NBC Execs on Jimmy Fallon's Health, Trump's Value and Gervais' Globes Future

Bob Greenblatt, Jen Salke and Paul Telegdy also discussed the importance of live programming and the plans for a James Burrows tribute.
Chris Haston/NBCUniversal
Robert Greenblatt

NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt wasted no time reminding the press just how well his network is faring.  

"I know other networks have been up here this week and have said they had great fall seasons as well, but let me give you some details about what I mean when I use the word 'great,' " he told those gathered for the Television Critics Association's semi-annual press tour on Wednesday. The exec then began rattling off a string of impressive stats, including the fact that NBC led the network pack by a margin of 17 percent this fall.

Thanks to a range of successes, both old (Sunday Night Football, The Voice) and new (Blindspot, Chicago Med), NBC was the only broadcast network not to shed viewers or ratings points for the first half of the season. Even better, Greenblatt noted, NBC won every week of the fall in that all-important 18-49 demo, save for one where Fox had a collection of World Series games. But before the press could write off that success as simply a testament to the strength of the net's top-rated Sunday Night Football, he was careful to add: "When you factor out sports, we’re also No. 1 with entertainment programs only, and that hasn’t happened since 2003, when we had the final season of Friends."

After Greenblatt's self-declared "victory lap," which also included a renewal for Late Night With Seth Meyers and an announcement that Hairspray would be the network's next musical, he invited NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke and alternative / late night chief Paul Telegdy to join him on stage. Here are the highlights from their half-hour before the press.

All About Trump

What would an NBC executive session be without a series of questions about former The Apprentice boss-turned-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump? Greenblatt fielded the first, which centered on Trump’s controversial Saturday Night Live appearance. He touted the episode’s strong ratings, adding: “He was on the show for 11 minutes, and the earth didn’t fall out of its axis.” No. 2. came mere minutes later, with a reporter wondering how the execs on stage had reconciled their public decision last summer to get “out of business” with Trump with the move to invite him to host SNL in the fall. “That was June or July, when most of us thought he’d be waltzing into the background of the political arena,” Greenblatt acknowledged, noting that Trump is now the frontrunner and thus an unavoidable part of the conversation. “The poll numbers are astounding. He’s everywhere. We’re not in business with him, but he's one of the most — love it or not — important political figures of our time." When the third question came late in the panel, with a journalist reciting the NBC statement about cutting ties with Trump, Greenblatt tried another approach: “If we were in the business of never having anyone guest on the network who disagreed with our views, we would be out of business.” By that time, Telegdy had had it, commenting with displeasure in his voice, "That doesn't prevent me from booking someone who's in the public eye on a news program or an entertainment program, if they are either newsworthy or they're entertaining. Does that answer the Donald Trump question? It is as clear to us, and it is as clear to the people who produce in our news division and our entertainment division, what the differences are."

Fallon's Health

After Greenblatt used the TCA platform to announce he'd be renewing Meyers' Late Night show, he was asked if the move was done as an insurance policy given Jimmy Fallon's recent string of accidents. "Jimmy is going to be fine for many years to come," he said. "I often say Jimmy is going to be there longer than me and longer than many of you in your jobs." Post-panel, the exec was asked more pointedly about the reports of Fallon's drinking habit, to which he told a smaller group of reporters: "He doesn't have a drinking problem that any of us know about. He goes out and has fun and he's had some accidents." Greenblatt added, "We are always worried about his safety and health and yeah, there's been conversations about that, [but] the stories are exaggerated about all of it."

Ricky, Ricky, Ricky

Telegdy and Greenblatt were quick to defend Ricky Gervais’ latest Golden Globes foray, arguing the ratings were down only a fraction in the face of strong competition from the NFL. “A five percent decrease year to year [meant] we popped champagne,” explained Greenblatt, with Telegdy adding of Gervais' edgy material: “When you book Ricky, you know what you’re in for.” The reality boss added that despite the host's post-show comments about being approached to return, the network had yet to make any decisions about his future with the Globes. Greenblatt then interjected to laughs: “I think Ricky made a decision about returning, but we haven’t.”

More Live Fare

Despite Best Night Ever’s quick demise and Undateable’s ratings woes, Greenblatt and Salke are still heavily committed to live programming — when it makes sense. The live musicals will continue, of course, with Hairspray on tap for December. The team will continue to explore opportunities in both drama and comedy, too, with Salke acknowledging she approached Dick Wolf about doing a live episode of one of his Chicago shows. His response? “He laughed at me,” she said.

Post-Trump Apprentice

The trio had little more to add on the future of The Apprentice, for which Arnold Schwarzenegger will take over as host. What they did acknowledge: They're in the middle of casting now and the plan is to tape the show in the spring, which means it could be on as early as fall.

Burrows Tribute

On the heels of directing his 1,000th episode (NBC's Crowded), legendary helmer James Burrows is getting an NBC tribute on Feb. 21. Sean Hayes will produce, and a coterie of stars are set to appear. Among them: all six Friends, though it's not yet clear if they'll be able to get them all there at the same time.

 

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