NBC Chairman Bob Greenblatt: 'We Don't Have Our Heads Up Our Asses'

39 REP Bob Greenblatt H
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Greenblatt will spend nearly $40 million on A-list talent.

NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt trotted out on stage Sunday with a grin few in the media community had seen since he took the reins at the struggling network two years earlier.

“What a difference a year makes,” he said to a roomful of media gathered for the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour, acknowledging that his tune had been very different a year ago. He used the platform to rattle off a series of favorable talking points surrounding NBC’s leap from No. 4 to No. 1 among the coveted adults 18-49 demographic, without losing sight of the network’s coming challenges with its three biggest successes – Sunday Night Football, The Voice and Revolution -- off the schedule beginning this month.

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“I’m going to bore you with statistics because I’m not sure when I’m going to have the chance to do this again,” he quipped, before noting that NBC is up 24 percent and 19 percent in the 18-49 demo and total viewers, respectively, for the first half of the season. What's more, NBC can lay claim to the No. 1 series (Sunday Night Football), No. 1 unscripted show (Voice), No. 1 new drama (Revolution) and the No. 1 new comedy (Go On). As for the recent -- and well publicized -- comment Fox chief Kevin Reilly made about broadcast network executives having their “heads up our asses,” Greenblatt suggested that wasn't the case at his network: “I can guarantee you, we don’t have our heads up our asses,” he said to big laughs.

After revealing a summer series pickup and plugs for a spring lineup that will include such series as Deception, 1600 Penn and the return of Smash, Greenblatt was joined on stage by entertainment president Jennifer Salke and alternative and late-night programming president Paul Telegedy. The trio addressed a handful of topics, from Revolution’s lengthy hiatus to the latest Donald Trump controversy to the rocky run of Rock Center.

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"Broad"-cast Comedy

Greenblatt was forced to address his previously stated plans to broaden NBC’s comedy brand, noting that his goal is simple to bring more viewers in. Though his Thursday night lineup features “arguably some of the greatest shows on television” –from Community to30 Rock toParks and Recreation—those series fail to deliver from a ratings perspective. “We’re just trying to find concepts that are more inclusive for a larger audience to come to,” he said, suggesting that fall flop Animal Practice was designed to be more accessible. “We don’t look at these things, and go, ‘Oh my God, that’s the worst show I’ve ever seen on television. Let’s put it on,’” he joked. “You actually go in believing that you have something because of what your gut and your experience and the research and your colleagues and your friends tell you. The bad news is that you’re often wrong.”

Leno in Late Night

If NBC's chairman has any concerns about Jimmy Kimmel's move to 11:30 p.m. -- putting the ABC host head-to-head with NBC's Jay Leno for the first time -- he isn't letting on. "The reason we’re not that concerned is because of Jay’s legacy," he said of Leno's No. 1 late-night series, adding that the bigger concern for ABC should be the loss of Nightline in that time slot. Telegdy acknowledged that he wasn't brimming with quite as much confidence, noting that he "anticipates some impact." As for any succession plans for Leno, Greenblatt said there have been no conversations, calling such chats "premature." 

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Revolution No More

While one has to assume Greenblatt would like to see his No. 1 drama back on NBC's schedule in January -- rather than in March, when it is currently scheduled to return -- he touted the ability to have the series run without repeats as smart and strategic. "I think that's the better long-term plan," he said of holding the series back, arguing that he was confident that viewers would return as they do to cable series that deal with lengthier hiatuses because it will be marketed properly and has the goods.

Up All Night, Take 2

The question was inevitable: What the heck is happening at Up All Night? The Lorne Michaels comedy series starring Will Arnett, Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph has featured a revolving door of producers, unimpressive ratings and an upcoming format switch from single-camera to multicamera. (Just Saturday, news broke that creator Emily Spivey is the latest to exit the show.) "That was a show that wasn't performing way we needed it to," acknowledged Salke. "We're not fools. We know that that talented cast of actors isn't growing on trees. They still felt that there were stories to tell in that world, and they were passionate about continuing to tell them ... they felt tied down by format and creative direction." As Salke sees it, this was an experiment worth trying.

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"We live in this country where you can say anything you want so long as you're not hurting people," Greenblatt said when asked about Trump's latest round of controversial remarks during the political election. Though he doesn't believe Trump's political rants will corrupt the show -- which returns for an all-star edition in March -- if they do become hurtful or "cross the line" they will be forced to address it. "We talked him out of running for president. Wasn’t that enough?" he quipped. Teledgy seemed largely concerned, too, or at least tired of repsonding to still more Trump queries. "He keeps a lot of publicists very very busy," he laughed. "But so far, we’re fine with what’s transpired."

Rock Center Hits Rock Bottom?

Rock Center didn't garner the kind of generous praise that Greenblatt showered on such series as Revolution, The Voice and Parenthood on Sunday. "I guess we'll see," he responded when asked about his expectations for the ratings-challenged Brian Williams newsmagazine's move to lesser watched Friday night. "The show arguably has had a lot of time period changes, and that doesn’t ever help," he noted. "We still really believe in Brian Williams and that team ... I’m hoping for the best with Rock Center on Friday."

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Hannibal Hopes

If you believe Greenblatt and Salke, Hannibal’s absence on NBC’s schedule shouldn’t worry Bryan Fuller fans. “It’s very well crafted,” Greenblatt said of the exceedingly dark drama, adding that it could be scheduled in the summer, if they can’t find room for it before that. “You look at all of the great cable shows that work [in the summer], and it could fit nicely.”

Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com; Twitter: @LaceyVRose