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NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt has renewed his contract with the network, sources confirm to The Hollywood Reporter.
The executive, who joined the network in January 2011, has had the difficult task of rebuilding the network — a familiar burden having come from Showtime, where he helped the premium cable network become a destination for original scripted programming. Given NBC’s modest performance and Greenblatt’s seeming unease with the position, the long-term renewal comes as a surprise to many industry observers. The new pact tacks three years on to Greenblatt’s current deal, which went through 2014. NBC declined comment.
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“There is something to be said for stability,” says one NBC veteran. “There’s no school where you learn to become the head of a network — and it’s a hard job, a skill set that takes a lot to learn. [NBCUniversal CEO Steve] Burke probably felt, ‘He spent his first three years learning, [so] let’s take advantage of the job skills.’ ” (Greenblatt’s third anniversary on the job comes in January.)
“They like him,” says a talent rep. “And I’m sure they’re saying, ‘Who’s better than him right now?’ And I’m not sure there is anyone better.”
Though NBC has been something of broadcast TV’s whipping boy under Greenblatt’s tenure, the third-place network has actually seen its ratings scenario improve, comparatively, while all of the Big Four suffer losses. The network finished the 2012-13 television season down just 4 percent from the year before for an average 2.4 rating among adults 18-49, while Fox and ABC suffered much steeper losses. It remained in fourth place among total viewers, averaging 6.96 million viewers.
Sunday Night Football and The Voice, TV’s No. 1 and No. 2 series, drove much of NBC’s performance, giving the network its best fall in nine years. And with the 52-week broadcast calendar coming to an end this week, NBC is sitting in the runner-up position for the year. CBS maintains a lead with adults 18-49, averaging a 2.4 rating thanks in no small part to the Super Bowl, while NBC’s 2.1 ties Fox (2.1) and tops ABC (2.0). If those rankings hold, which they should, it will be NBC’s first year in the No. 2 spot since the 2002-03 season.
Despite the improved scenario, Burke recently voiced his displeasure with the ratings keeping NBC’s financials behind the rest of the Big Four, estimating their discounted advertising has them between $500 million and $1.5 billion behind their competitors. “We sell our ads at a discount — about a 20 percent discount, which we’re working on closing,” he said at a Sept. 11 conference. “Our ratings are lower than we would like them to be, and so, broadcast remains a very big opportunity.”
In scripted programming, Greenblatt saw the successful launch of Revolution last year — which was buoyed by a lead-in from The Voice. Genre drama Grimm has also been a point of pride for the network, anchoring Friday nights and performing considerably well with time-shifted viewers.
Greenblatt, a former Broadway producer, bet big and came up empty with musical Smash. Following an uneven freshman season of the Broadway drama with a per-episode price tag of $4 million, series creator Theresa Rebeck — who oversaw the project at its inception with Greenblatt at Showtime — exited and was replaced by Gossip Girl‘s Josh Safran. Season two flopped from the start and was eventually bumped to Saturdays, where it ended its 17-episode run in May. Despite the infusion of Broadway stars and cameos from the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Rosie O’Donnell and Liza Minnelli, among others, the series was canceled in May after it averaged a 0.8 among adults and less than 3 million total viewers — a far cry from its Voice-boosted freshman season.
And, like other broadcast and cable networks, NBC has re-entered the miniseries space in an attempt to draw (DVR-proof) viewers and cache. His recently announced Hillary Rodham Clinton miniseries with Diane Lane as the former first lady was almost immediately rejected by the Republican National Committee, who threatened to boycott presidential debates on the network and could have clouded the project’s future. This week, Greenblatt announced that the network would adapt an upcoming book focused on the life and career of former late-night king Johnny Carson. And NBC also secured the follow-up to History’s massively successful The Bible, executive produced by The Voice‘s Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey.
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The executive has also been making live viewing a high priority in a bid to help turn around the network’s fortunes. In addition to an upcoming live broadcast of The Sound of Music with Carrie Underwood, he greenlighted Million Second Quiz, a 24/7 trivia show that stretched over 10 days. With a heavy promotion across all of Comcast’s properties, the pricey Ryan Seacrest-hosted vehicle had a disappointing run and concluded with little fanfare Thursday. The network had hoped to use the live “event” series — as Greenblatt called it — to promote its upcoming fall lineup, which features only one returning comedy (Parks and Recreation).
For the 2013-14 broadcast season, which for NBC officially gets underway Monday with the return of The Voice, the network will again look to the singing competition to launch a new drama, James Spader starrer The Blacklist. The rookie drama, which has received good buzz and strong reviews since being picked up to series in May, will take over the slot that helped make Revolution a hit. The network now hopes viewers will follow the sci-fi series to Wednesdays, where it will open a night of procedurals.
What’s more, Greenblatt also is looking to the bread-and-butter procedural to help improve the network’s fortunes by spinning off modest first-year hit Chicago Fire with midseason drama Chicago PD.
On the comedy side, NBC aggressively pursued Michael J. Fox, handing out a rare straight-to-series order for The Michael J. Fox Show as the Peacock looks to reinvent Thursdays following the series conclusions of 30 Rock and The Office and make up for a disastrous 2012-13 season in which all seven of the network’s freshman comedies were canceled.
Additional reporting by Michael O’Connell.
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