NBC's Robert Greenblatt: 'It's My Schedule for Better or Worse'
The Peacock's entertainment chief says it’s been “a challenging six months” but the goal is to get NBC back to “must-see” TV.
BEVERLY HILLS – NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt may have expected a tough crowd at NBC's portion of the Television Critics Association press tour, his first audience with the national media since taking the reigns at the fourth-place network. To lubricate the wheels, NBC delivered a goody bag of wine and chocolates to reporters’ rooms at the Beverly Hilton with a note from Greenblatt pleading for leniency.
“I’m looking forward to reconnecting with you all this week now that I’m back in the broadcast world,” read Greenblatt’s note. “I do feel like a bit of a virgin, however, so go easy on me!”
But the hour-long question and answer session was decidedly non-confrontational, though Greenblatt did acknowledge, “it’s been a challenging six months.” And he took ownership of a slate of new fall shows that he inherited from his predecessors prior to the NBC Universal/Comcast merger earlier this year.
“It’s my schedule for better or worse,” he said.
Greenblatt singled out the Christina Applegate-Will Arnett comedy Up All Night and the Maria Bello vehicle Prime Suspect for praise. But he noted that developing series for broadcast television is decidedly different than the boutique product he shepherded as head of entertainment at Showtime.
“Cable has been great for writers. Broadcast is more difficult,” he said, adding that broadcast television still must appeal to the broadest possible audience. “I certainly don’t want to turn NBC into Showtime. I’m trying to get the greatest writers and producers to come to NBC. But I also don’t want to tie their hands so the creativity gets sucked out of them. What’s really worked for me over the years is to find people who you really like their voice and just stay out of their way.”
With The Office heading into its eighth season with out Steve Carell and 30 Rock on hiatus until midseason due to star Tina Fey’s pregnancy, NBC will devote considerable marketing resources to new comedies especially as it attempts to launch a comedy block on Wednesdays with Up All Night and Free Agents.
“Comedy is a goal for us. We’ve got to have more of it,” said Greenblatt, adding that he’s looking to beef up the network’s multi-camera comedy slate.
Whitney, which will get the post-Office slot on Thursdays, is the only new multi-camera comedy on the network this fall, though midseason comedy Are You There Vodka? is also a multi-camera.
“I’m eager to see if we can bring some respect back to the multi-cam,” said Greenblatt. “It’s almost a dirty word.”
To that end, Universal Media Studios has signed overall deals with a slew of A-list comedy writers and producers including Greg Daniels, Gary Sanchez and Sean Hayes. Daniels will look to develop live-action as well as animated comedies and the studio is actively developing a comedy for Hayes to star in.
Greenblatt tempered ratings expectations for The Office without Carell while talking up new cast member James Spader and teasing there will be more comedy-world guest stars in the new season.
“My expectations are always very measured,” he said. “The Office is very important to us. Shows go through transitions as they age. And I think losing Steve is one of those. I think James Spader is completely different than Steve. He has his own iconoclastic acting style.”
Greenblatt added that the cast transition could actually have a rejuvenating effect on the show.
“It will require some slight adjustments for the other actors. But it makes the writing staff get back on their games.”
Community star Joel McHale warmed up the crowd for Greenblatt by firing several shots at his own network. He called The Playboy Club “Mad Men with boobs” and explained that the network’s master plan for getting out of the ratings basement was to wait for older viewers watching competing networks to die.
“It turns out that young people don’t watch TV when it first airs,” said McHale. “Now NBC knows how to capitalize on the young demo. NBC’s slogan is changing from 'more colorful' to 'just one more step and you’ll be at the bottom of stairs grandma.'”