There was no elephant in the room during NBC’s executive session at TCA’s winter press tour today because chairman Bob Greenblatt shot it down right away. “We had a really bad fall, worse than I’d hoped for but about as I expected,” was Greenblatt’s first line onstage. “People say the only way to go is up which I believe is true, but there is a long way to get there.” The new NBC chairman made no bones about the network’s poor ratings performance this season, including from NBC’s new shows, which he blamed on a lack of strong lead-ins, an aging returning lineup and major cast changes on flagship series Law & Order: SVU and The Office. But “the good news is that we have new owners willing to invest not only with financial resources but with patience,” Greenblatt said, referring to Comcast and NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke.
Greenblatt, who came from pay cable network Showtime, attributed the demise of some of NBC’s new shows to the challenges of the the broadcast model, noting that canceled Prime Suspect would’ve been renewed at Showtime after three episodes and would’ve probably run on the cable network for 4-5 seasons. Greenblatt started several sentences with “The beauty of cable”, playing up pay cable’s advantage with a smaller volume of shows that allows all of them to get a significant marketing push and cut through the clutter as well as the different cable economics that allow quality shows to run for years despite low ratings. Greenblatt said that in his first season at NBC he delivered “four times as many good shows as I ever delivered at Showtime” in one year, listing such series as Prime Suspect, Whitney, Up All Night, Grimm and the upcoming Awake and Smash. But he was quick to note that he is not sure if “these shows are enough to turn NBC around. I hope they’re the beginning of new foundation to move us in the right direction.”
Prime Suspect‘s failure to click with viewers “was probably the biggest disappointment,” Greenblatt said. “Was it too cable, was (Maria Bello’s character) too abrasive? Maybe I should say it was the hat and move on.” In the final analysis, it seems like “the audience wanted to be entertained with comedy and fairytales” this fall, “and there wasn’t appetite in the country for a hard-hitting cop show.” Greenblatt was more blunt about NBC’s other canceled new fall drama, The Playboy Club. “Playboy was just a rejected concept,” he said. “We thought going into the period would interest people, but I don’t think people were that fascinated by that milieu and place.” As for the high-profile midseason entry Smash, Greenblatt tried to downplay expectations. “I don’t think it’s a make-or-break show, but it’s a really good potentially long-term asset for us.”
Greenblatt also dispelled any notion that Community has been effectively canceled when the network pulled the cult favorite from its midseason schedule. As to when Communily will return, that is still unclear, but presumably it will be summoned if one of NBC’s six comedies on tap for midseason underperforms. “We have a really tight schedule with comedies, so it’s really going to be a matter of looking at what happens with the six comedies we’ve got at midseason,” Greenblatt said. NBC is not looking beyond Community‘s current Season 3 for now. “We’re just going to look at the success of what pilots yield, what the scheduling needs are and make that decision closer to the upfront,” Greenblatt said about the timing of the Community renewal decision.
Greenblatt also expressed confidence that the addition of shock jock Howard Stern to America’s Got Talent as judge won’t stir controversy. “I’m not worried about that for a second,” he said. “Aside from his radio persona he is a very thoughtful, intelligent person. He is a huge fan of the show and wants to be a very good judge. … I don’t think he wants to be a shock jock judge. … AGT won’t become the Howard Stern Circus.”
Later, Greenblatt addressed the situation with the NBCU-produced Fox drama House, which is awaiting word on its future. There are no talks with star Hugh Laurie or creator David Shore, whose deals are up at the end of this season, Greenblatt said, but the studio is considering ways to bring the cost of the aging series down. However, if Fox opts to cancel the long-running medical drama, don’t expect it to migrate to NBC next season. Greenblatt indicated that picking up a show “at that cost structure in this situation” wouldn’t be a shrewd business move.
Greenblatt ended the panel with another of his thoughts about the differences between cable and broadcast. “The beauty of cable is you could program for 18-year-old twins and get a hit show on cable,” he said. “We have to figure out how to cease up on that and not end up in a narrow place.”