TCA 2012: NBC's Bob Greenblatt on Ann Curry, Dan Harmon, Howard Stern and Olympic Hopes

Chris Haston/NBC

"I think we’ve done a great job of stacking the deck and taking advantage of the platform that the Olympics give us every couple years," said the NBC Entertainment chairman.

NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt opened NBC’s portion of summer press tour by touting the network’s relative successes including a third-place finish for the 2011-12 season (thanks almost exclusively to No. 1 franchise Sunday Night Football and the Super Bowl).

“NBC has not finished better than fourth since the 2003-04 season,” said Greenblatt, adding that the net has a median viewer age three years younger than ABC and 6 ½ years younger than CBS and that The Voice was neck-and-neck with Fox’ American Idol (which saw double-digit ratings declines) in the 18-49 demographic last season.

Greenblatt also ticked off some happy statistics about Smash – it “tripled the time period” ratings – and Grimm – “the No. 1 scripted show on Friday night … increased the time period by 108 percent.” And he said he’s “optimistic” about the fall, but allowed that NBC is still a network in a “big transition.”

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To that end, Greenblatt, who sat on the Beverly Hilton dais flanked by NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke and alternative chief Paul Telegdy, is banking on the Olympics to give NBC’s new fall slate a fighting chance.

“It’s very important to take advantage of what the Olympics will do for us and not go dark (after the Games),” said Greenblatt, noting that NBC has dozens of Olympic-themed promos running across the NBC Universal networks. NBC also will launch two pilots (Go On and Animal Practice) commercial-free during the Games and bow the bulk of its new schedule in the weeks after the Olympics close in order to take advantage of the anticipated lift in audience. The new J.J. Abrams drama Revolution also will get a six-minute preview during the Games.

“I think we’ve done a great job of stacking the deck and taking advantage of the platform that the Olympics give us every couple years,” he said. And Greenblatt disputed the contention that the Olympics simply delivers a “rented audience” that disappears once the Games wrap up.

“Hopefully we’ll do a better job than we have in the past,” said Greenblatt.

Other highlights from Greenblatt’s appearance:

Too much of a Voice thing?

Greenblatt dismissed concerns that the network risks burning out The Voice by scheduling two cycles a season, pointing out that “almost every reality franchise does two cycles a season and one could argue that American Idol and X Factor (both on Fox) are the same show in many respects.” 

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“We’re obviously cautious about expanding it,” he continued, noting impending format changes (that he would not discuss in detail) designed to keep the show fresh.

“It’s a challenge for anyone producing one of these shows to keep it fresh and keep it vibrant,” added Telegdy. “And we think we’ve come up with ways to do that. One of the exciting things about The Voice is the famous red chairs and the button pushing and we’ve found ways to keep the competition going.”

No disrespect intended, Dan Harmon

Greenblatt seemed to chalk up the ouster of Community showrunner Dan Harmon to a wider effort to broaden its comedy signature in order to pull in the largest possible audience.

“Those Thursday comedies (of which Community is one) tend to be a bit more narrow than we'd like," he admitted. "Community is a show that's always on the bubble, we decided to bring it back again and see what a fourth season would do for us. Sometime you want to freshen up the show and we just decided to do that, with no disrespect to anyone.”

NBC has ordered only 13 episodes of Community for next season, but Greenblatt said he’s open to a larger episode order if the show performs well.

“Fans are going to get the same show they have loved from the beginning,” he said. “Every so often it’s time to make a change with a showrunner; you evaluate the creative and how the show is run, how the writing staff works. Sometimes you want to freshen a show and we just decided it was time to do that with Community.” 

Howard Stern’s Got Talent?

Despite a decline in America’s Got Talent ratings with shock jock Howard Stern at the judges table (and an expensive relocation of the show from Los Angeles to New York to accommodate Stern), Telegdy and Greenblatt announced that they are “thrilled” with the show "creatively" and chalked up the ratings downturn to a challenging landscape overall coupled with the show’s earlier premiere date this summer due to the Olympics.

“Creatively we’re thrilled with Howard on the show,” said Teledgy, adding that he’s bee a “wonderful addition.”

“Given the television landscape, secular declines in broadcasting,” said Telegdy, “we’re thrilled with the performance of the show and we’d be delighted if Howard wants to come back.”

Rock Center's Thursday promotion

Allowing that the NBC newsmagazine Rock Center with Brian Williams still needs more time to find an audience, Greenblatt attributed its seeming promotion to the coveted Thursday night at 10 p.m. timeslot this fall to the usual jigsaw puzzle of putting together a network schedule. “The schedule only has a finite number of hours on it,” he said. “You can’t put everything in its fantasy time period. Thursday is a challenge that we’re going to continue to work on. We wanted to keep Rock Center on the schedule. We thought it needed a 10 o’clock time period. As the season unfolds, we will look at it and see what happens. I think everyone at the news division knows what the challenges are. They’re definitely working really hard to deliver episodes and stories that are compelling.”

….and about that Ann Curry transition

In noting that NBC News is “an incredible asset to the company," Greenblatt conceded that “shows go through transitions and they’re always difficult. I think everyone inside the news division took as much care as they possibly could (during the Today anchor) transition. Things leak and you have to go out and announce something that you weren’t ready to announce. My heart goes out to everyone involved in that transition including Ann. I have no doubt that (Today) will rebound. I think everybody is really bullish on the future of it.”

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