Peacock's Top Programmer Opens Up About Offering "Something Different" in the Streaming Wars

Bill McGoldrick talks with The Hollywood Reporter about the pandemic's impact on Peacock's launch, how the platform will compete for high-profile programming and his hopes to create content that goes beyond the hero cop narrative featured in the thousands of hours of Dick Wolf shows on the service.
Lisa Berg/NBC

Bill McGoldrick has spent the past year crafting a roster of original programming for NBCUniversal's upstart streaming service Peacock.

He greenlit a new Battlestar Galactica to pair with Ron Moore's beloved former Syfy series; ordered a new comedy from Mike Schur to live alongside his cult comedy Parks and Recreation; and ordered up a modern update on Saved by the Bell. But McGoldrick's plan to unveil his array of originals at launch, accompanied by coverage of the 2020 Olympics, went out the window when the novel coronavirus pandemic brought the industry to a production standstill.

Now, McGoldrick — an NBCU veteran who also oversees originals for USA Network and Syfy — says he's hopeful the ad-supported service can have a second wave launch next summer, when the Olympics are currently scheduled and the streamer becomes the new home of The Office. On the heels of Peacock's national launch, the executive talks with The Hollywood Reporter about how the service offers something different than its rivals, what he's learned from the platform's early launch for Comcast subscribers and his plan to diversify the narrative lens through which his stories are told. 

Peacock is last streamer to debut. What have you learned from the launches of HBO Max, Quibi and Disney+ and how has that informed the decisions that you've made?

I wouldn't say it made us make decisions differently. We felt very confident kind from day one that our product is unique — being that it's free to a great portion of the country and it's a premium AVOD [service]. We are doing something different.

You've had three months of a soft launch with Comcast subs. What from your library content has performed particularly well during that window?

The comfort food shows have done well, as you'd expect. We did get a lot of attention from the Peacock at Home thing, in terms of buzz. [Paramount Network's] Yellowstone performs very well for us. The timing on that was nice because we had the library just before their new season started. Our library comedies and movies are also performing well.

Yellowstone is a show that is owned by ViacomCBS, with whom you just signed a sizable licensing deal to go along with a library of unscripted titles from A+E. Those live alongside shows Peacock does own, like 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation. Do you worry about brand confusion given how much content you have from outside suppliers that you've acquired?

No, I don't, because we're just forming the brand of Peacock. Once the consumer starts to engage they'll have a positive view of Peacock based on the variety we have. In many ways, that will become our brand. It will be our job to keep fulfilling that promise. I don't think the consumers are very savvy about who owns which titles.

But brand does matter, especially when some of the content Peacock has licensed will live on both your platform and CBS All Access. Is Peacock considered the AVOD home for these, while CBS All Access is the SVOD home?

We're the AVOD and they are the SVOD but it's really just about the content decisions we make. I am a believer that brands get built over time; that you should build your brand in reaction to customers. With USA Network or FX or some of those cable channels, the brand usually followed the content. That's what will probably happen here. Our brand will come to us through the data and through the customer engagement and then we'll react to it and keep making our decisions that way.

Peacock is launching nationally amid a global pandemic — and without the Olympics. How did you pivot?

We've pivoted a bit in the off-Broadway launch we've been doing in the Comcast homes. We did a big Peacock at Home show that Seth MacFarlane fronted for us and we've adapted to get social distance content on the service. Now that we have that bag of tricks in our repertoire, we might be able to do more of that. And similar to what every media company has had to do, we have had to push some shows that we were shooting.

Which originals had to stop production that were earmarked for the national launch?

Saved by the Bell was delayed; I'm not sure when that will be up but we'd like to resume shooting on that show. And then are too many others to name. We weren't looking at it as we need "X" number of originals at launch. We were going to look at them and then see how they played on the service and then talk about how to space them out depending on where they delivered.

Parts of the country, and certainly many parts of the world, will open back up for production before L.A. will. Have you considered moving any of your productions to get a jump start on cameras rolling again?

We haven't gotten to the place where we're hopscotching around states. It's all been very coordinated.

You've got several writers rooms that are crafting scripts for a future in which characters can't so much as hug. What kind of conversations have you had with them about how to refashion scenes to shoot them in a pre-vaccine world?

It's all still being figured out. There is no one set rule that we're doing with producers other than preparing them for fewer locations. Maybe stage shows where we can control the whole environment have a bit of an advantage right now. But I suspect we're going to learn a lot once we do start shooting and we are going to be calling audibles and adjusting as we produce all of our shows.

Has the current climate changed the kind of scripted shows that you're looking to buy, whether it's things that can have more CGI? Right now, you don't have any original animation, which has largely been able to stay in production amid the pandemic.

I do think the world could use escape. But we also want to reflect the current climate with other things that are happening in the world. I don't think there has been one route we have taken because of the coronavirus pandemic. There never should be just one route based on today's news headlines.

Peacock's national launch was tied to the Olympics. How does losing the Games impact your ability to promote your pricey originals?

When you look at our whole company — between NBC, NBC News, hopefully NBC Sports, when sports comes back — we still have the muscle of NBCUniversal behind us. And, in a way, we don't have to worry about promoting the Olympics and Peacock. Most of the focus is now on Peacock.

There've been in-show pop-ups during programming on NBC that has been teasing the July 15 Peacock launch for weeks.

Anybody engaging with any NBCUniversal platform is going to know about Peacock. I feel very fortunate about that.

Disney+ launched with a must-have for consumers, The Mandalorian. HBO Max was supposed to have its Friends reunion, which was delayed, but it had the entire library to fall back on. Peacock won't have The Office until next year. What do you consider to be Peacock's must-see at launch? Or is that something you're not concerned with? 

The latter. When you look at some of the differentiators we have — between sports and news and other genres — we're trying to provide as many different genres as we can to the consumer. We are not placing our bet on one show at launch. We'll get that second burst when The Office comes in 2021. That will help some of the originals I launch in 2021. We're looking at it as a marathon and not like a movie opening.

Other platforms have been incredibly aggressive with ramping up scripted originals pre- and post-launch. Peacock hasn't been as aggressive when it comes to buying and developing scripted originals. How do you envision those fitting into the service? 

Our investment in originals is appropriate to where we are in our lifecycle. I'm very proud of the breadth, even though it might not be the volume of other places. With Brave New World and Battlestar Galactica, I've got some big-swing premium dramas. But I also have fun IP like Punky Brewster and Saved by the Bell. There's a wide variety of originals and that's appropriate right now. As our consumer base grows, so will our shots in the original programming section.

You're launching with nine originals. What's the release strategy after the doors open nationally?

It really is on a case by case, show by show basis. After this national launch, we're going to have great data and see what consumers are hungry for more of, in terms of originals. We are certainly not looking to imitate any of our competitors, we are trying to find our own path.

Disney+ and HBO Max are both expanding feature franchises to TV with a number of Marvel and Star Wars and now Batman offshoots. Fast and the Furious is one of Universal's biggest tentpole franchises. Have you had conversations with the feature side about expanding that to Peacock with a live-action series?

We have conversations with Donna Langley's group all the time. And you could imagine my wish list goes deeper than any one title. We are looking at what the company is doing with some of these titles and what can be pulled off. But I suspect we will continue those conversations over time and you'll see more things coming from our library. I can't disclose which titles. Right now, we're happy to have Battlestar Galactica. That proves that we'll take big IP and put it specifically on Peacock.

How frequently do you speak with Greg Daniels about a new take on The Office for the streamer?

[Laughing] From time to time! 

How big of a player will Peacock be when it comes to competing for shows with the likes of Apple, Netflix, Amazon, etc.?

We have the ability to go chase those things every now and then, but probably not all the time. Like any company, the bulk of our content is probably going to be provided from our internal studios but no one said to stop hearing pitches from other studios. And we're hearing from Warner Bros., Sony and Lionsgate all the time. When you're in the original programming game, you have to hear everything.

One of Peacock's prized assets is the Dick Wolf library. At a time when Hollywood is under fire for pushing the hero cop narrative, are you considering putting any sort of disclaimer before these episodes or doing anything similar?

We are looking at a lot of the library content and taking things down that we think are inappropriate. [Editor's note: No disclaimer will air before Wolf-produced programming.]

Does it concern you that one of your crown jewels is tarnished right now?

[Editor's note: A publicist interjected and declined comment on McGoldrick's behalf.]

Sources say the Law & Order spinoff, Hate Crimes, is in the works there. How much are you working with Dick Wolf to develop programming that doesn't play into the hero cop narrative?

We are talking to Dick about a lot of things, both in the scripted and unscripted space. I'm concerned about all the originals and making sure they aren't tone deaf to these issues and Dick is included in that. I think it's a programming filter that hopefully we already had before but we're going to continue, and whether that be a Dick Wolf show or a comedy or a reality show, it's definitely a priority.

Such as?

We are looking at diverse programing. Amber Ruffin did an at-home variety show for us that was great. I would love to think of her as a voice of Peacock going forward. We are in development on a bunch of things that haven't been greenlit yet. We want part of the editorial voice of Peacock to reflect this. And that may also come from the news division or from some live programming we do. Hopefully we will have representation in all different formats or genres.

In addition to Peacock, you oversee originals for USA and Syfy at a time when basic cable networks have been moving away from scripted. What will those two networks look like in five years?

The trend certainly has been less scripted on both networks and more alternative programing. That trend will probably continue. One thing I feel confident about is we'll work closely with all the platforms and I think USA and Syfy will provide programming that will hopefully end up on Peacock one day. They're still two pretty strong brands.

NBC canceled A.P. Bio but Peacock revived it based on its digital performance. What kind of conversations are you having with NBC, Syfy and USA about Peacock renewing shows that you creatively believe in but struggled to find a linear audience? Dare Me, which had great reviews, was canceled at USA after one season and is a prime example.

We are structured in such a way as a company now that those conversations are much easier. All the platforms live under Mark Lazarus. We can have those conversations and we have moved development from, in certain cases from USA to Peacock [like Brave New World] or Syfy to Peacock and we're better positioned now to have those conversations. I hope that'll be to the benefit of all the platforms you just mentioned.

In hindsight, any regrets about how things turned out with Dare Me?

The back end of that show was sold to Netflix so we didn't have as much freedom to move things around. But going forward, I would absolutely take those things into consideration when we green light.

It's a catch-22: you need Netflix to come in as a partner to co-finance these big-swing shows but by doing so, you're giving away a key piece of what makes a show profitable. And if it doesn't rate on linear you don't have a second window and you have limited flexibility. Will you continue to turn to Netflix as a co-financer now that the company has Peacock?

We certainly could but it's going to depend on the show. There's also unique ways we can partner the platforms with Peacock from the get-go that can help all of us. I'm thrilled that we now have that ability.