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What he got right: Total honesty, no bullshit spinning. (A real rarity.) In fact, you can’t open a TCA session better than he did:
“We had a really bad fall. Worse than I’d hoped for but about what I expected.”
Also: “People say all we have to do is go up, but there’s a lot of work to do before we get there.”
In addition, humor helps. Greenblatt said we’d be calling him a genius at Showtime for launching a couple of hits.
What he got wrong: Not much. He didn’t please Community fans, however. “We have a really tight schedule with comedies and there’s not a lot of place to put them.” Then: “Fourth season? I don’t know. Those are really hard questions to answer at this point.” Not good, people.
He also endorsed Whitney, which didn’t go over great in a room full of critics. “I know the backlash of the laugh track,” he said. But also: “I’m pleased with Whitney.” Sigh.
But then again, what was he going to do – trash a show that’s actually working for him? Promise to renew a critically acclaimed show that’s not pulling in big numbers?
The take-away: Nothing works better with critics than being honest and upfront about failures and what went wrong. Spin just annoys us. What Greenblatt essentially said was what he’s been saying since he got hired – turning around NBC will not be easy or fast. Listen, in the post-Jeff Zucker era at the Peacock there was so much damage to repair that it’s amazing anyone was willing to take the job. And Greenblatt is no rookie. He’s funny and self-deprecating. He’s hopeful about midseason and optimistic about next fall, when his stamp on the network will be much more evident. But he wisely didn’t predict that even then NBC would be battling for the No. 1 spot. In short, he managed expectations, as well he should.
Quotes of note:
“We have a long road ahead of us. So bear with us.”
“At Showtime, Prime Suspect would have been picked up and renewed after the third episode and kept in production for three or four seasons.”
On spending a lot of money: “Look the glib comment is if we came up with Modern Family we could have spent twice as much and been happy.” Plus: “Being in the position we’re in – complete rebuilding mode – it just makes sense that we’d spend more (than other networks).”
On finding a hit: “You really don’t know what’s going to work and what isn’t…It’s a bit of a crap shoot.” Plus: “There’s a million reason why even the best shows don’t capture the attention of the country.”
“It’s just a different animal.” – Greenblatt on network vs. cable.
On the show he’s most connected to: “I think that Smash is going to be very important to us. I don’t believe it’s a make or break kind of show for us. We’re excited about what it could do.” He added that the old adage of “It only takes one show to turn things around” is no longer very accurate. “I think that was maybe true 10 years ago. In this day and age, you need four or five shows to turn things around. I hope Smash is one of those shows. If it’s not, we’re not going to go into receivership.”
Biggest fall letdown? “Prime Suspect is a disappointment. Creatively I really loved that show. That was probably the biggest disappointment.”
What he learned from the fall: “I learned it was going to take awhile. I already knew this.”
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