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Madison Avenue buyers packed into Radio City Music Hall Monday morning to hear NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt peddle his new slate, and, in a big finish, accompany Dolly Parton in a performance of “I Will Always Love You” to a standing ovation.
But it was Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon who delivered arguably the day’s most memorable line: “We’re gonna miss you,” he said to Greenblatt as he took the stage, adding: “You had a good run, buddy.” The pointed quip, which left industry jaws agape, comes as the network rounds out another season heavy on missteps — and the future of its executives remains the subject of much chatter.
“I’ll admit we had some ups and downs this year,” Greenblatt acknowledged from stage, reminding the deep-pocketed buyers in the audience that his network will remain No. 1 for the second consecutive year, thanks to the combination of Sunday Night Football, The Voice, the Super Bowl and scripted breakout The Blacklist.
The presentation was dominated by clips, a necessity given that he and NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke opted to wipe their 2014-15 slate almost entirely clean in favor of new hopefuls, a mix of high-octane thrillers, tried-and-true medical dramas and only a couple of comedies. Several of the net’s ambitious dramas from last season, including State of Affairs and The Slap, stumbled, while the comedy pack was all but DOA — so much so that NBC’s fall schedule will feature only two half-hours.
Here are five takeaways from the network’s presentation.
1. NBC Late-Night Is King
Fallon graced the Radio City stage to thank media buyers for all of their support, adding that The Tonight Show does five new shows a week, “which is almost a whole season for most NBC shows.” For his part, Greenblatt reminded buyers that while CBS will welcome Stephen Colbert to Late Show this fall, NBC has the No. 1 late-night franchise with The Tonight Show and Late Night With Seth Meyers. “We think we’ll continue to have the hot hand,” the exec added.
2. Blindspot is Monday’s New Big Bet
NBC will give thriller Blindspot the post-Voice slot at 10 p.m. Mondays, and Greenblatt took the opportunity to tout the singing competition show’s declining-but-still-healthy ratings; it’s the top-rated reality show on TV, pulling in 14 million viewer a week. He also acknowledged the net’s difficulty in launching new dramas amid an industry glut. Quality dramas, he said, are “harder than ever to come by in a world where there are literally 250 original drama series.” Still, Greenblatt has high hopes for Blindspot, a Blacklist meets Girl With the Dragon Tattoo from producer Greg Berlanti. “Hopefully,” he said, “this show will stick with you.”
3. Blacklist Will Have Better Pairings Next Season
There’s no denying that The Blacklist‘s move to Thursday has been a bittersweet success for NBC. Though Greenblatt still boasted that his No. 1 scripted series improved the night’s average showing from recent years of languishing comedy, and that it continues to see significant growth in time-shifting (a reference to its unmentioned live ratings lows), the complications of the move were not ignored. “What we failed to do on Thursday is build a night of strong television around The Blacklist,” he said, referring to since-slashed midseason dramas The Slap and Allegiance. He assured the crowd that the new lineup of Heroes Reborn and The Player provides much better companions for their drama flagship, calling the night “smart but escapist fare.” Clips of both seemed to play well with the crowd, and the first glimpse of the Heroes revival relied considerably on the actors from and references to the original series — something that could be a blessing or a curse, considering the cult status of its fan base.
4. Comedy Is Still a Work in Progress
If NBC has a comedy brand, it’s in late night. The biggest pitch for laughs (with assured ratings) focused on Saturday Night Live, Meyers and Fallon. Greenblatt went so far as to call his wildly successful Tonight host “the face of the network.” But NBC’s traditional comedy identity is still evolving in the shadow of its Must-See past, and the latest iteration might not come into focus until midseason. NBC only has two sitcoms this fall: Undateable, which will air all-live episodes on Friday, and newcomer People Are Talking. “For a while now, we wanted to add live comedy to our slate of musicals and event specials,” said Greenblatt, by far the most adventurous in live TV among his broadcast peers, clearly hoping the novelty might help build the night. Still, it won’t likely be the only night NBC airs comedies over the 2014-15 season. Four new half-hours — the revival of Craig T. Nelson‘s Coach, family comedy Crowded, Eva Longoria vehicle Hot and Bothered and America Ferrara‘s Superstore — are all plotted for midseason. (There was no clip of Coach, and sources say there still isn’t a script.)
5. It’s Not TV, It’s “Premium Video”
Ad sales chairman Linda Yaccarino studiously avoided calling the network’s content “television,” preferring instead to tag it “premium video.” Seeking to distinguish NBC’s content, she acknowledged that “there are more places than ever before to watch, but the only thing that really matters is quality video.” And since NBC’s was the first upfront presentation of what will be a packed week of presentations, Yaccarino kept her closing remarks brief, with a breezy review of the company’s “cutting-edge data tools” and a review of the net’s various content dayparts including NBC News’ Today show (the only news program that got any mention), Fallon’s Tonight, Sunday Night Football (the top-rated primetime show four seasons running), and the “heart pounding action of the Blacklist.”
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