They’re both about to take the stage for their first upfront presentations as broadcast network chiefs. But NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt and ABC president Paul Lee share a lot more similarities in their first pilot seasons, especially in their new series choices.
Both opted to go with a predominantly female-skewing drama slate, a change in direction for both networks. Last year, the most heavily touted new drama series at NBC’s upfront presentation was the male-friendly sci-fi thriller The Event. This time, that honor will likely go to the Broadway-themed and heavily female-skewing Smash, with another high-profile new drama, Playboy Club, also testing predominantly female. Last year, Lee’s predecessor Steve McPherson bet on the superhero drama No Ordinary Family and male cop procedural Detroit 1-8-7. Now Lee is going with female hero action series Charlie’s Angeles and female soaps like Good Christian Belles and Revenge. (While passing on several male-oriented drama pilots such as sci-fi cop show 17th Precinct, Western Reconstruction and crime/political saga Metro, NBC picked up one male-friendly new series, the Inception-style Awake, while ABC passed on Poe and Identity to order only one new drama with a male lead, The River, but it is in the horror genre that strongly appeals to women.)
Also, both Greenblatt and Lee picked up drama series set in the 1960s and built around an iconic brand with NBC’s The Playboy Club and ABC’s Pan Am. What are the odds of two such shows hitting the broadcast networks’ schedules at the same time?! But there is more: both Greenblatt and Lee also picked up dramas that exploit fairy tales by the brothers Grimm, NBC’s Grimm and ABC’s Once Upon a Time which features such classic brothers Grimm characters as Snow White and Prince Charming. Both Greenblatt and Lee ordered remakes of famous TV series, Prime Suspect and Charlie’s Angels, respectively, as well as character-driven dramas with a female lead played by a well known movie actress – Prime Suspect with Maria Bello and Scandal with Karry Washington. Moreover, neither of them picked up a straight procedural, with Lee passing on both Identity and Partners, while the closest Greenblatt got to one was the very character-driven Prime Suspect. Greenblatt and Lee also were the only network chiefs to order pilots featuring musical numbers, Smash and ABC’s Grace, though the latter didn’t make the schedule.
Additionally, both Greenblatt and Lee went for a lot of comedies. NBC picked up 6 new comedy series and only 5 dramas vs. 4 half-hour comedies and 8 hourlong series last year. Lee picked up more of everything – 5 comedies and 7 dramas vs. the 3 comedies and 6 dramas McPherson ordered last year. NBC’s tally of 6 new half-hours is the highest I’ve seen in years. It represents a nice sendoff for the network’s outgoing head of comedy Jeff Ingold.
There is not much in Greenblatt and Lee’s background to explain the striking similarities. One is American, the other British. Greenblatt comes from a racy premium cable network, Showtime, while Lee hails from a wholesome, teen-friendly, Disney-branded net, ABC Family. But if you’re still not convinced that the two seem to be following a similar playbook in their new jobs, here is one last factoid: both canceled their networks’ genre series, NBC’s The Event and ABC’s V and No Ordinary Family, and renewed only one freshman drama each, NBC’s Harry’s Law and ABC’s Body of Proof. Both shows are character-driven procedurals with a female lead played by an actress over 55, Kathy Bates and Dana Delany.