NBC Execs Talk Fallon Ratings, 'This Is Us' Future and Those Pesky Fans

Paul Telegdy_Jennifer Salke_Robert Greenblatt - Publicity - H 2017
Virginia Sherwood/NBCUniversal

Bob Greenblatt is eager to change broadcast television's narrative, once and for all.

Seven years into his run as NBC's entertainment chairman, he finds himself increasingly irked by the industry's press coverage, which continually positions broadcast as "the aging dinosaur getting closer to extinction." Particularly, Greenblatt noted from the stage at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour on Thursday morning, since his network is having an enviable run: No. 1 in the 18-49 demo with its most profitable season in years and a summer schedule that's headed for another first-place finish. And, the exec said with a wide smile, it's poised to do even better in 2018, with the help of both the Super Bowl and the Olympics — all but promising NBC will win in total viewers and the demo for the first time since 2002.

"NBC is very much alive and well today," said Greenblatt, acknowledging later to laughs that he understands that a tale of triumph isn't one that the media enjoys writing nearly as much. "You guys don't want to hear a great story, you want to write something that's challenging and complex."

Greenblatt used the TCA platform to make his case with a special focus on a few of the network's breakouts, led by This Is Us, Saturday Night Live and America's Got Talent, before laying out, with the aid of a few PowerPoint slides, just how much the business — the way in which viewers consume content, and in turn the way in which the content distributors are compensated — has changed of late. Using This Is Us as his primary example, he illustrated the drama's long tail of viewership: Through mid-July, the series from Dan Fogelman has been watched by 26 million people, with the pilot having been seen by 32 million and counting. With those numbers still fresh in reporters' minds, Greenblatt urged them to stop relying so heavily on live-plus-same-day ratings. "I'd love for the live-plus-same-day ratings to be the proverbial dinosaur," he said, "as opposed to the broadcast network."

With that, Greenblatt was joined by his scripted (Jennifer Salke) and unscripted (Paul Telegdy) chiefs, and the trio fielded questions about diversity (read about their female directors initiative here), Jerrod Carmichael's fate and Jimmy Fallon's late-night competition. Here are the highlights.

Fallon's Fall is of 'No Concern'

In his preamble, Greenblatt talked up Fallon's continued success as the "undisputed 18-49 champion" — despite resurgence by a topical Trump-bashing Stephen Colbert on CBS. But that didn't head off the inevitable question about whether Greenblatt has concerns about the ratings — in a remarkable turnaround, Colbert has regularly beaten Fallon in total viewers in recent months — and the perception that Fallon's relevancy has taken a hit in the unprecedented era of Trump. "I have no concern about it whatsoever," said the exec. "Jimmy is the greatest at what he does. Clearly we're living in a news cycle that every day tops itself from the day before. I think that will even itself out, I say laughingly." He characterized other late-night hosts including Colbert and Samantha Bee of "jumping on the [Trump] bandwagon," before boasting that Fallon's lead-out, Late Night With Seth Meyers, uses the "crazy news cycle as his own personal weapon."

This Is Us' Return to Tuesday

At its May upfront, the network made a splash of a "rebranded" Thursday night of "must-see-TV," with mega-hit This Is Us moving from Tuesday nights. Then, days later, the network did an about-face, moving the top drama back to Tuesdays, without much explanation. From the stage, Greenblatt explained the rationale for the quickly reversed schedule shift. The original idea was to rebrand Thursday, a night NBC once had a stranglehold on during the heyday of those must-see-TV comedies. But that would mean a lengthy interruption due to Thursday Night Football. "We all got excited about it. [Showrunner] Dan [Fogelman] was on board. And then after the dust settled, we started to rethink [the strategy]," said Greenblatt. "We started to think, is this the best way to run the show for the rabid fans who are hopefully going to come back in droves? We all agreed maybe the interrupting is not the best thing for the show." 

Diversity Comes in All Forms

TCA always produces a handful of bizarre moments, and this tour, a reporter attempting a question about whether the diversity debate currently rocking the entertainment landscape should include ageism ranks among them. When said reporter took such an exorbitant amount of time getting to his actual question, another shouted in frustration from the back of the room, "Ask the question already!" The preamble, in part, included the revelation that the reporter's Facebook feed is festooned with posts from a writer of a pilot script called Silver Foxes — which is apparently an LGBT update of The Golden Girls — frustrated that he cannot get a network interested in reading the script. The NBC executives defended their network's record on age diversity, pointing to older characters on their various Dick Wolf shows as well as the new Tina Fey-produced comedy Great News, which stars a 70-year-old Andrea Martin. "We'd love to read Silver Foxes," said Greenblatt, who suggested he knew nothing of the script, before Salke drove the point home: "And the Golden Girls original artwork is featured in the hallway in the programing department."

Fan Campaigns? No Thanks 

Sorry fanboys (and girls), Greenblatt isn't interested in your save-this-show campaigns. It's not that he doesn't care about the passion of his series' viewers, but he made clear that their passion is no longer helpful — or in any way influential — in reviving a show once the network has canceled it. Instead, he finds himself wondering, "Where were you when we had the show on the air and helping us build this into a huge ratings success?"