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Bob Greenblatt wrapped up press tour with a mix of snark and candor.
“You’ll be glad to know I threw out my 15 minute PowerPoint about how challenged our business is,” the NBC Entertainment chairman said from stage at the Television Critics Association summer press tour Thursday, adding: “I think you guys know all of the headlines. I thought I’d give you my 15-second version: Too many shows, not enough monetization, fractured audience, Netflix didn’t report ratings, what did Nielsen do this time, and how do we find the next big comedy.”
The suite of familiar headlines drew laughs in the Beverly Hilton ballroom and set the stage for an entertaining half-hour in which Greenblatt and his entertainment president Jennifer Salke fielded several questions about former Celebrity Apprentice host Donald Trump (and no, he’s “absolutely not” returning to the NBC franchise) along with the network’s rough comedy spell, the Aquarius binge experiment and decision to reboot the 1990s comedy Coach. Of the latter, which one reporter suggested sounded a bit like a practical joke when the revival news was first announced, Greenblatt deadpanned: “One man’s practical joke is another man’s hit show.”
Here are the other highlights from Greenblatt and Salke’s morning with the press.
The Aquarius Experiment
The Aquarius experiment was precisely that: an experiment. “We’re the most traditional kind of network, and we’re always looking for ways to become less traditional,” Greenblatt said, adding that it’s critical for someone in his position to always be adapting and evolving as his audience does. He said he was pleased to see that the nonlinear strategy drew a younger audience (median age: 35) to the series online, which made up 6 percent of the series’ viewership. Also promising: Internal research conducted around the experiment suggested that “people automatically thought better of the network” when it offered the binge option to its audience. Post-panel he told reporters that he likely wouldn’t release all episodes of the David Duchovny series’ second season at once, but he’s open to following the same model on other projects. As for the surprise renewal given the series’ meager linear ratings, Greenblatt said he would never “apologize for renewing a show that I think is creatively superb.”
Greenblatt didn’t shy away from his network’s growing comedy problem, which has gotten outsized attention since NBC was once home to Must See TV comedies like Friends and Seinfeld. At the same time, he stressed how important it was to be smart about the bets the network makes, reiterating that moving Universal TV’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, for instance, was a shrewd one since it had a significantly better chance of survival at Netflix. Which is not to say he wouldn’t have loved the kind of awards attention the series received over at NBC, joking: “We’re whores for Emmy nominations just like everyone else.” Playing to the room, he used his TCA platform to announce new comedy pilots from Tina Fey, Robert Carlock and Parks & Recreation’s Mike Schur and to plug a live season of Undateable.
Trump: “The World Likes a Star”
Greenblatt was well prepared for the deluge of questions about Trump, and even seemed to mount a charm offensive just weeks after his network decided to ditch Trump’s Miss USA Pageant in the wake of Trump’s derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants. “He’s a lovely guy,” said the NBC chief, who noted that the GOP presidential aspirant was “very much of a collaborator” during production of Celebrity Apprentice, adding: “We weren’t in any adversarial position.” Except for the Miss USA imbroglio, of course, which is currently in the hands of lawyers. But Greenblatt asserted that the “controversies” swirling around Trump were his own “personal controversies” and did not affect his working relationship with NBC: “It was a congenial, really great relationship.” It almost sounded like Greenblatt was leaving that door open for a Trump return — if he fails to advance to the White House, of course. And in the meantime, perhaps some appearances on NBC late-night shows. As for his thoughts on why Trump is striking a chord, Greenblatt pointed to his “unfiltered,” tell-it-like-it-is strategy that many find “refreshing.” Plus, he said: “The world likes a star, and [Trump is] a star.”
Live, Live, Live
“I’m a live junkie,” said Greenblatt, who stressed the power of the genre the way so many other executives have during the 2½-week press tour. But he’s continuing to put his money where his mouth is, banking on more live productions (he said post-panel that he’s quietly acquired rights to more musicals and is still at work on a production of A Few Good Men), a mostly live, variety-style show from Neil Patrick Harris and a live comedy with Undateable. Next, he said he’d like to try a live drama, though he acknowledged he needs to find producers who are willing to tackle the high-wire act that that would entail.
About the Reboot Frenzy
The NBC chiefs insisted they aren’t jumping on the reboot bandwagon just to jump on the reboot bandwagon. That said, they have several coming. In defense of Heroes Reborn, the pair said creator Tim Kring came to them with both a desire and vision — not the other way around. Same was true of the planned Coach reboot, which was an idea hatched by star Craig T. Nelson and creator Barry Kemp. With Heroes, Greenblatt reiterated the ongoing response to that show, which made a revival particularly appealing. He added that the plan for now simply was to do a truncated 13, an order size he and Kring believe would have better served the drama from the outset. As for Coach, he and Salke see it as an opportunity to do another variation on a family show with a big star, a proven showrunner and, yes, a presold title. Greenblatt quipped, “And if that works, Alf: The Series is next.”
Faith Remains a Focus
Worry not, there will be more faith-based programming on the horizon at the network. Though Salke and Greenblatt both acknowledged A.D. The Bible Continues didn’t generate the ratings they were hoping for, NBC’s relationship with producers Mark Burnett and wife Roma Downey would continue with other faith-based projects already in the works. “Roma and Mark have an unparalleled connection with that community,” said Salke, with Greenblatt adding that NBC’s upcoming Dolly Parton movie A Coat of Many Colors also is grounded in spirituality. “Our attention is on that,” he said. “I think the audience is starved for it.”
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