NBC's Bob Greenblatt on 'SNL'-Inspired Emmys, Comcast's Fox Play and Possible 'West Wing' Reboot

The network's entertainment chairman, set to deliver the keynote at the Banff World Media Festival on June 12, talks about what's next for NBC as it looks to defend its No. 1 ranking in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demo.
Art Streiber/NBC

NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, 58, isn't worried about the future of broadcast. The executive, set to deliver a June 12 keynote at the 39th Banff World Media Festival, has turned the No. 4 network into No. 1, thanks to TV's No. 1 drama (This Is Us) and No. 1 unscripted show (America's Got Talent).

"It's alive and well," he says of the oft-maligned platform, adding: "There are a lot of people watching TV on their own time and we're getting better at monetizing that and tracking it."

Heading into the 2018-19 season, his network will look to defend its rank atop the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic without the double boost it got from Super Bowl LII and the Winter Olympics. For a guy who loves "the creative side, first and foremost," it's a captivating challenge.

Since you started at NBC in 2011, what's been your biggest surprise success — and the show you thought would be a hit but wasn't?

This Is Us was the nicest surprise. It hit levels that I don't think any of us expect to get anymore. On the flip side, Smash. Years later, it has such a vociferous following. That show should have been on the air several more years. There may be a second life to it on Broadway, I hope.

What's your least favorite part of the job?

The creative side is always going to be the high point. The flip side is the way the business and technology are changing so rapidly. It's tricky to anticipate all of the changes on the horizon.

One studio chief recently bemoaned the reduction in licensing fees as the biggest challenge in getting a show renewed. What factors do you look at when you're making renewal decisions?

We look at digital ratings, social media, at the feeling that a show has, or at our portfolio and what the show is doing for us. Shows get second chances easier than they used to just because all those measurement systems are morphing. All our businesses are challenged, so if I can renew a show and make a bigger business opportunity for the network, great. If the studio can't accept it or doesn't want to accept it, that's obviously their prerogative, and then the negotiation begins.

SNL's Michael Che and Colin Jost will be hosting the Emmys on NBC. How did you decide on them for the gig? Whose idea was it?

Those guys have really come into their own in the past year on "Weekend Update" and as head writers, and I said to Lorne [Michaels] that it would be fun and a change of pace to have them — rather than one of our late-night guys again. We want to make it feel like SNL has hijacked the Emmys. We're going to have appearances from some of the other castmembers and shoot some video like they do on SNL. Lorne hasn't produced an Emmy show since the '90s, and I was at Fox as a young executive when he did. It was a complete change of pace for the show.

Alec Baldwin has said SNL should get someone else to play Trump next season. Will he be back?

I can't imagine somebody else doing it at this point, but that's something for Lorne to handle.

You've brought back Will & Grace and talked about wanting The West Wing and The Office. What's your dream reboot?

You have to be judicious about reboots. I'd love to bring back West Wing and The Office but there aren't any plans to do that now. I talked to Aaron Sorkin about A Few Good Men [NBC's upcoming live version of the play] and he says if he had a great idea and creatively thought it was the right time [for West Wing], he'd love to do it. But it's really up to these guys.

Comcast is making a play for 21st Century Fox. What would landing assets like the library at 20th TV and FX mean for the larger company and for you specifically?

There are great assets at that company that would be in great alignment with our assets to create an even bigger and stronger media company in this landscape where bigger and stronger is a desired result.

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ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGHLIGHTS

The Alberta fest draws execs and creators. 

COMPANY OF DISTINCTION KEYNOTE

NBCUniversal's chairman of global distribution and international, Kevin MacLellan — who oversees 36 offices with more than 2,600 employees and a portfolio of 120,000 TV episodes — will speak June 11.

WINNING THE WAR FOR CREATIVE TALENT

CAA's Rob Kenneally, Endemol Shine's Lisa Farenholt, Fremantle's Dante Di Loreto and writer-producer Tassie Cameron powwow June 12 about luring and fostering creators in the Peak TV era.

ROCKIE AWARDS

Kristin Chenoweth hosts the gala honoring Emmy-nominated director Jeremy Podeswa, Elizabeth Vargas and others. ABC's The Good Doctor will receive THR's Impact Award. "We strive to offer a sense of hope to everyone with differences," says showrunner David Shore of the drama centered on a medical resident with autism. "Freddie's [Highmore] portrayal of Shaun communicates innocence and brilliance that implores us all to reexamine the way we look at things."

This story first appeared in the June 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.