Bob Greenblatt Reflects on NBC Exit and "Having a Challenge in Front of Me"

Bob Greenblatt reflects on his NBC - Graphic- H 2019
NBC; NBC/Photofest

Before accepting NATPE's Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award, Greenblatt spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about his impact at the network, his memories of Tartikoff and the upcoming live TV musical 'Hair.'

Just four months after signing off as entertainment chairman of NBC, Bob Greenblatt on Wednesday will collect an honor named after one of his most famous predecessors at the network — Brandon Tartikoff. Greenblatt will accept the Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award at the 16th annual NATPE (National Association of Television Program Executives) Conference in Miami Beach, set to run Tuesday through Thursday, with other honorees including Byron Allen, Mara Brock Akil, Rita Moreno, Betty White and Henry Winkler.

Even though Greenblatt, 58, has moved on, his work at NBC isn't done. He's still got a live staging of the musical Hair in May and seems to be focusing on producer work for now. He spoke with THR (edited for length and clarity) about tying things up, his experiences with the late Tartikoff and the future of NBC's live musicals.

Your exit from NBC took a lot of people in the industry by surprise.

I understand now that the timing may have seemed a little strange for some people, but I typically tend to take on new challenges every seven or eight years. I felt a lot of that groundwork had been done and that my staff could just pick up the ball.

So what's next?

I like to change it up. I think I'm one of the few people who's gone back and forth from being an executive to being a producer. I like both sides of the table. I just like having a challenge in front of me.

What do you want your lasting impact at the network to be?

I'm a producer at heart who likes to be an executive. I love taking someone's vision and putting it onscreen and making it successful — so I'd like people to say that there was a real creative upside to the things I've worked on over the years. I hope I'm in a similar boat to Brandon in that respect.

I hadn't realized you had a professional interaction with Tartikoff until you mentioned it in your farewell memo.

After he had left NBC [in 1991] and had that stint at Paramount, he set up a shingle. We had a couple of wonderful dinners together. And we actually developed, at Fox, a game show premise that he came up with. We never went to series on it, but I was thrilled to know him briefly.

What was the game show about?

We were going to give away an enormous prize … but I don't remember what for.

What's the latest on the live musicals at NBC?

I'm working with Neil Meron on Hair. We're casting it right now. Beyond that, I don't know. We tend to take them one year at a time. They're enormous undertakings. And there aren't a lot of shows you can get the rights to. We have an idea for a live musical for Christmas, but I can't talk about that yet.

Have you discussed how you will address the nudity in the original Hair for broadcast television?

We haven't crossed that bridge yet, but I can probably guarantee that there's not going to be much nudity. (Laughs.) If you've ever seen the show, there's not that much nudity. It's less than a minute, in the dark, which was controversial 50 years ago — but it's almost unnecessary. You're not going to see nudity … well, maybe a little.

What's your best career advice to someone starting out in the television business?

Really, if you're new to the business, what a great moment to enter. There is so much going on in terms of volume. The need is insatiable. We've stretched the talent pool so very thin. I would say it's never been more exciting for sellers to come to the marketplace with really good ideas. When I was a young executive 30 years ago, I was at the fourth network [Fox] — and there was barely a fourth network. I think we made 125 shows, throughout all of TV back then. It's the Wild West now.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.