NBC Surprisingly Passes on Its Victory Dance at TCA (Analysis)

Taking the industry's little-used high road, the network doesn't gloat about being No. 1 -- even if the changing nature of the business makes having this chance again very small.
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Robert Greenblatt

It was disappointing to see NBC chairman of entertainment Robert Greenblatt not take a victory lap when he came out at the Television Critics Association summer press tour on Sunday. After all, he deserved it. It was a long, arduous and often uncertain turnaround, but he took NBC from a perennial fourth-place position (for the once-mighty Peacock) and made NBC into the reigning No. 1 broadcast network.

That's not only impressive (he could have been fired at any time during the rebuilding phase), but well-deserved. That's because Greenblatt did it by playing by the rules of the broadcast industry, which will soon be a dusty old bag of former glory, like the cremated remains of a once-talkative grandparent.

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Times are changing. And being in the network TV business is a brutally unrewarding job.

So, what, no gloating?


Maybe Greenblatt refused to partake in that because he knows all too well that such success is fleeting. Maybe he didn't want that glee pushed back in his face by mean little TV critics in six months' time, when we meet again and who knows what will have become of NBC (Greenblatt is not known for the thickest of skin). Maybe he just wanted to take the high road.

But he missed a real opportunity for happiness. Nobody would have chided him for gloating or celebrating excessively or telling those critics and reporters in the room to suck it, or whatnot. Because victories in broadcast television are damned rare. Take the victory lap. Enjoy it. Because nothing is promised you tomorrow.

And that's precisely where we sit right now. Looking at tomorrow. Even if the notion of an actual television season is antiquated -- it now goes 52 weeks instead of starting in September and ending conveniently in May, pre-summer, when you could put your clam diggers on and have a gay old time -- claiming victory is essential. No matter when we decide to mark said victory. Hell, these TCA events used to make perfect sense (in July, to preview the fall; in January to preview midseason until season's end). Now we just seem to have them as a way to honor history. (And help as we can with the mentioning of titles, either with buzz or disdain -- because all ink is good ink, even if it's mean or snarky ink; a show stands out or it dies).

Either way, press tour is when you claim victory or explain where you screwed it up.

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That Greenblatt didn't get to do a hand-stand or a crazy victory dance is kind of a shame. Because these jobs are never easy. "Next season" promises nothing but hope now and often cruel rejection when it starts.

So if NBC falls victim to another network's success, more viewers cord-cutting, or just a shift to a new viewing trend (and/or business model), he may not see No. 1 again. He may have missed his chance to dance.

I can't say for certain -- nobody can -- how NBC's comedies and dramas will do in the fall. Or in midseason. Or next summer. All we know for sure is that coming out as No. 1 will be a brutal battle, with much toll-taking. The shows might be rejected as broad hits -- and NBC (like ABC, CBS, Fox and even the CW -- each of them coming to TCA in the next days) are all broadcast networks, plying their trade in the Big Tent, needing big hits. For them, critically acclaimed darlings with modest viewer totals don't help. And yet, the pool of available viewers has shrunk as competitors have risen up like weeds -- offering up quality shows everywhere. Compile those shows onto your DVR from random sources, and you might find yourself overwhelmed by greatness. You'll have loyalty not to a network but to a show -- a show coming from NBC or HBO or FX or AMC or Amazon or Hulu or Netflix or Yahoo. You don't care. As the home viewer, you just want something good to watch.

Oh, but Greenblatt will care. Because if only a tiny fraction of your choices come from NBC, he's in trouble again. As is CBS or Fox for that matter (which just got rid of its leader, for not delivering on a promise that is almost impossible to deliver on, thus he's out). All the networks will, in fact, wail and pull their hair out. You, the home viewer, will reap the benefits of an over-saturated marketplace. I will tout the beauty of all of this bounty. And those networks will wonder why they spent millions on a show that's pulling in the same numbers as something exponentially cheaper (fewer episodes will help that) from a streaming platform.

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The big tent will become ever-more drafty. Amazon will get an Emmy nomination. And Greenblatt will be in the-gods-only-know-what place, wondering why he's even doing this crazy job.

That's why he needed to dance and celebrate Sunday. That's why he needed to gloat and do back-flips. Greenblatt didn't just turn around a bloated NBC ship, mired in the dank harbor of failed broadcast dreams. No, he turned around a barge-stuck, left-for-dead wreckage from another era.

That's a near miracle, people. So you take the victory lap, accept the kudos -- even taunt your rivals if necessary. Because you may not -- in fact the industry is set up so that you likely will not -- see that glory again.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine