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Coming off Sunday’s ratings and critical success Jesus Christ Superstar live musical, NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt had at least one big reason to be optimistic about the future of broadcast television. But, as he explained to a crowd of the top entertainment biz attorneys at The Hollywood Reporter‘s 12th annual Power Lawyers breakfast on Wednesday, there’s much more than one hit show behind his rose-colored view.
“We’re doing as well as we’ve ever done,” Greenblatt said in a keynote Q&A with THR editorial director Matthew Belloni. Despite the shift toward streaming platforms and video on demand, the company is still bringing in about $7 billion in ad revenue. “I honestly don’t care where you watch our programming,” he said.
Some events though, like the March 27 premiere of ABC’s Roseanne revival, are encouraging viewers to watch live like they did when there were no other options. More than 18 million people tuned in night-of to catch up with the Conner family two decades after the original series ended.
Some have attributed the success to the title character’s affinity for President Donald Trump and an apparent effort to cater to his middle-America base. But Greenblatt has no plans to cater to anyone. “We’re courting all fans,” said the exec, adding that he believes the reboot is succeeding because of its “superb” quality and Roseanne Barr’s comedic talent. “I’d love to have that show.”
Greenblatt also noted that he’s excited about the appetite for what he calls the “reboot genre,” but that doesn’t mean you’ll see every popular NBC series from the past revived. “We can’t just reboot everything,” he said.
Friends, for example, he says will never happen. Seinfeld is also virtually guaranteed to never be rebooted. Asked specifically if he’d revive Cheers, Greenblatt suggested it may be beyond the point that would make sense to revive the Ted Danson comedy. “I’d love to have the Cheers reboot if it were 20 years ago,” he said. (Danson currently stars on NBC’s Mike Schur comedy The Good Place.)
The Office is another possibility, though likely without the full original cast, and The West Wing also seems to have favorable odds of returning. Greenblatt noted that West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin would get behind it “if he weren’t busy doing 10 other extraordinary things.”
Other than avoiding oversaturation, Greenblatt said another challenge reboots present is the complicated nature of talent deals. “The actors want a lot more money than we’re willing to pay them,” said the exec.
Belloni pointed out that the four leads on NBC’s Will & Grace revival were all paid equally, at a time when salary parity has been front and center amid the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
“This is a reckoning moment,” Greenblatt said. “I think we’re all very sensitive to it. … I think it’s going to only improve.”
When it comes to competing with Netflix’s $8 billion spending spree on content and nine-figure deals with prolific showrunners, Greenblatt isn’t fazed. “There’s always the next Ryan Murphy and the next Shonda Rhimes,” he said. “You don’t always need those superstar creators.”
In fact, Greenblatt’s biggest concern about the digital age of television is a simple one: volume, which he sees as a double-edged sword. So much content means some quality programming is lost in the ether, but, at the same time, the market is better than ever for anyone looking to sell a series.
“We are stretching the talent pools very thin,” he said, adding that often people are elevated to a showrunner title before they’re ready for the job. “Volume keeps me up at night.”
Greenblatt said NBC has been toying with the idea of direct-to-consumer content, like CBS All Access, for several years — but doing anything that encourages customers to cut the cord is sensitive territory considering its Comcast ownership. Still, he said, “I think we will go that direction as well.”
Earlier in the event, held at Spago and sponsored by City National Bank and Ermenegildo Zegna, THR honored Showtime executive vp and general counsel Gwen Marcus with its Raising the Bar Award.
The network’s chairman Matthew Blank introduced Marcus, describing her as Showtime’s one-woman standards and practices department. “Imagine what we don’t put on the air,” he quipped, praising her hard work, dedication and “world-class bullshit detector.”
Marcus, who has been with Showtime since 1984, discussed how the industry has changed over the years and expressed her gratitude for being part of the company’s social initiatives, including its support of marriage equality. She also told the gathered group of Hollywood lawyers that she initially feared that Shari Redstone, then a recent law school grad and daughter of CBS chairman Sumner Redstone, was gunning for her job. After more than three decades of legal work, dealing with everything from multiple Mike Tyson fight ear bites to clearing hit series like Homeland, she still feels anyone would be lucky to have her position. Wrapping up her speech, Marcus said, “Thank you, Shari, for not taking my job.”
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