NBC's Bob Greenblatt on More NFL, Comedy 'Disappointments,' Future of 'Parks and Rec'

Bob Greenblatt Jennifer Salke Paul Telegdy at TCA H - 2012

NBC’s Bob Greenblatt is feeling “bullish.”

The network’s entertainment chairman took the stage at the Television Critics Association’s semiannual press tour Sunday morning with the kind of confidence that comes from having had a strong fall -- and the promise of a solid spring. Greenblatt's once-ailing network rounded out the first half of the season at No. 1 for the second consecutive year, thanks to juggernaut The Voice and the ratings power of Sunday Night Football. And unlike last year, he has the winter Olympics coming in February to provide a ratings boost to his springtime offerings.

“It’s been a very good year for us,” he noted from the stage, ticking off a string of impressive statistics, including NBC's 10 percent uptick in total viewers and the distinction of being the only broadcast network to post gains in the all-important 18-49 demo, before adding: “Of course, there are some disappointments and the usual number of miscalculations.”

Among the latter: NBC's many comedy misfires, which has him questioning the future of the network’s age-old Thursday night comedy block. In particular, Greenblatt noted that big swings The Michael J. Fox Show, which recently garnered a dismal 0.6 rating in the key 18-49 demo, and Sean Hayes’ Sean Saves the World, were among his biggest disappointments this fall. “We think they’re good shows,” he said of both vehicles, praising the talent of the series’ stars before acknowledging the commercial challenges: “We’re really unhappy that we can’t find an audience for them in those time periods.” (Though renewals are unlikely, Greenblatt said he wouldn't be making any decisions until May.)

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Still, Greenblatt insisted he will remain committed to making comedy work on his network, suggesting to the delight of many in the room that he was “bullish” on the future of two of NBC's long-running critical darlings: Community and Parks and Recreation. He ventured a step further on Parks, for which star Amy Poehler just earned a Golden Globe, telling reporters that he would “go out on a limb” and predict “Parks and Recreation is going to have a seventh season.” (He has inked a three-year overall deal with Poehler, too, and ordered a pilot that she’ll produce.)

Greenblatt, who was joined by entertainment president Jennifer Salke and alternative and late night chief Paul Telegdy, used the remainder of his time before the TCA to discuss the merits of pilot season, the future of Thursday night football and the real difference between miniseries and limited series. 

What's the Difference, Anyway?

Limited series? Miniseries? Event series? Greenblatt acknowledged he doesn't really know what a limited series is, but that didn't stop him from taking a shot at CBS' Under the Dome, which has been described as a miniseries, an event series and a limited series despite the fact that it will be returning this summer for a second season. "I don't know when the dome is ever going to be breached, but I'm waiting for it," he said  to guffaws from the room. Salke noted that the genre "gives you the flexibility to do whatever you want to do with it creatively." On Sunday alone, NBC ordered 10 episodes of Emerald City, based on the L. Frank Baum Wizard of Oz canon, which could continue for several seasons, and The Slap, which examines the fallout after a family member slaps a child at a barbecue and will definitely end after eight episodes. Noting that the categorization gets "very dicey" during awards season, Greenblatt added that the high-concept nature of such series gives them a built-in promotional lift in such a crowded, noisy TV landscape. "I'm excited that we're all back in this form again," he continued, "because there are certain stories that are shorter or closed-ended that otherwise wouldn't have been made a couple years ago." 

No Laughing Matter

Greenblatt admitted that NBC's comedy block has been "a real challenge" for the network and that it's possible he could abandon the once vaunted Must See TV Thursday night comedy lineup. "Anything is open for discussion. We may shuffle the whole deck in terms of genres [on Thursday night]," he said from the stage, noting how tough the competition is between CBS' comedies led by The Big Bang Theory and ABC's dramas, including Grey's Anatomy and Scandal"It's a very competitive night, so we're going to look at all possibilities," he said. Salke was quick to add that a genre "change up" on Thursday night "wouldn't necessarily mean less comedy" on the network. She cited overall deals with Poehler as well as her Parks showrunner Mike Schur, a straight to series order for Tina Fey and Robert Carlock's Ellie Kemper comedy and a six-episode order for Office alum Craig Robinson's comedy Mr. Robinson.

Thursday Night Football?

Greenblatt declined to confirm whether NBC has submitted an offer for the Thursday-night, eight-game NFL package, but it is believed that all four broadcast networks, including ABC (the only broadcaster without the ratings dominant NFL), have bid on the games that have been airing on the NFL Network. "It's something we're talking about. We have a great relationship with the NFL," Greenblatt told reporters. "We'd love to have more NFL games and Thursday night games might be really interesting to us." The one-year deal begins this September with an option for additional seasons. There's no question football would help pull NBC out of its Thursday ratings doldrums, and Greenblatt made it clear they aren't wedded to the Thursday night comedy block. (The games would continue to air on The NFL Network and be simulcast on a broadcast network. The cable network's 13 Thursday night games averaged 8 million viewers last year.) It's worth noting that NBC's Sunday night games, for which it pays close to $1 billion, have been the top-rated primetime program on TV for two years running and last season pulled in more than 21 million viewers. 

Pilot Mania

Greenblatt took a swing at Kevin Reilly's grand proclamation about pilots and pilot season Sunday morning, noting that the Fox chief declared he was done with it all on Monday, only to announce that he was picking up a pilot prototype a few days later. While he finds the pilot season timeline maddening, particularly from the casting standpoint, he said he "actually love pilots." To hear him tell it, The Blacklist would never have made it to air had it not been for the pilot process. In that case, the James Spader vehicle was created by a relatively young, inexperienced writer, and Greenblatt acknowledged that he wouldn't have been ready to make a series bet off of the pilot script. There are other cases, including new order Emerald City and the Fey/Kemper comedy, where straight-to-series makes sense, and he said he'll continue to explore those, too. 

Future of Leno 

Though it's highly unlikely Jay Leno will remain at NBC following his final Tonight Show Feb. 6, Greenblatt used the TCA soapbox to not only praise the late night leader and his team but also make yet another public plea to keep him at NBC in some capacity. Though Leno has opted not to engage in any conversations about his future until he wraps Tonight, Greenblatt suggested that he'd "love" to have him do specials with the network or host other kinds of shows at NBC. "He’s truly one of the nicest and most decent people," Greenblatt said, thanking the whole Tonight Show team for "making TV history and for doing it with class."