TCA: NBC's Bob Greenblatt On Broadcast TV's Emmy Woes, Thursday Challenge, Abortion Ad Controversy, 'Community' Comeback

Days after the broadcast networks slipped to a new Emmy low, with only two best series nominations between comedy and drama and no drama series in the top category for a third consecutive year, NBC topper Bob Greenblatt was asked about the struggle to get broadcast dramas that produce 22 episodes a season the same Emmy consideration that cable and online shows receive despite making only 8 to 13 episodes a year.
Cable can be darker, more interesting, feels cooler than some of the things we can do, it’s just a fact of life,” he said. The snubs for broadcast dramas included NBC’s freshman The Blacklist and its star James Spader. “Should we debate the fact that James Spader is one of the best actors working who is not nominated? At the end of the day, I’m not sure what good it does,” Greenblatt said.
Abortion was a main topic at the executive session in light of the controversy over NBC’s rejection of a trailer for the movie Obvious Child because of the use of the word “abortion” in it. Greenblatt recalled how, during his tenure at Fox, he and his team caved in and changed a storyline that would’ve had Neve Campbell’s character having an abortion. “I don’t think we cop out anymore but writers and producers are still nervous about it because it is an issue that divides people,” he said. “But we made progress.” Added NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke, “We would not avoid the issue but would see that it is handled appropriately.”

Asked about the demise of The Michael J. Fox Show, Greenblatt and Salke listed all the different ways they tried to boost the show, including changing time slots and lead-in. “It reinforces how difficult a night (Thursday) has been for us,” Greenblatt said. Surprisingly, he is not fazed by CBS airing  NFL football that night beginning this fall. “I see it as a bit of an opportunity,” he said. “CBS won’t have a big hefty comedy lineup, which is potent, it gives us a little bit of openness to comedy.” Additionally, NBC is betting on a modest but proven performer, The Biggest Loser, as a lead-in to its new Thursday comedies.

As for the now former NBC Thursday comedy Community, which was recently picked up by Yahoo after NBC canceled it in May, Greenblatt called that “a great, extraordinary deal.” “We are co-owners of the show, we’ll be making money on it right away,” he said. (NBC owns about half of Community, which is produced by Sony TV). “It just didn’t make sense for us to have another season of it for that level of viewership.”

  1. This idiot should step back and listen to himself, he really answers his own question. Broadcast television sucks because it’s goal is to hit that low common denominator sweet spot to pull in the low brow, middle American viewer. The controversy about the use of the word ‘abortion’ is a perfect example. How does a network who is so afraid of the word ‘abortion’ create challenging dramas like Mad Men, Breaking Bad or House of Cards? Those shows are great because they go out on a limb and don’t concern themselves with whether some housewife in Kansas is going to have her delicate sensibilities offended by something the Bible says is wrong. I love seeing broadcast nets getting their asses handed to them, and kudos to the Emmys for not kowtowing to these artistic bottom feeders.

    1. Consider the networks’ dilemma: they’ve lost 50% of their audience to cable & now streaming. It’s safe to say that 50% is far less likely to be offended by an abortion plotline vs the viewers they are leaving behind.

      Meanwhile, networks are increasingly under the gun to make up the ratings shortfall to advertisers. Abortion plotlines and the ilk are becoming ever less viable on broadcast as the whole industry spirals down into greater blandness and irrelevance, continuing to drive away any and all viewers except those who want TV to be an audiovisual analog to valium.

      And their “strategy” for the future is to lobby the Supreme Court to squelch technological challenges to their defunct business model. You can squash Aereo, but there’s no squashing Netflix much less Amazon.

    2. Hate to break it to you, but more people in the country are still pro-life than pro-choice. Clearly, you think you’re superior to those you disagree with you.

      And for the record, I am an Ivy League-educated woman who is pro-life, outside of extraordinary circumstances. Plenty of intelligent people disagree with the pro-choice stance.

      1. For an “Ivy League” educated woman, you certainly missed Yngwie’s point. Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, I think we can all agree that abortion is a word.

    3. Commenter Yngwie F Malmsteen: Calling someone an idiot makes it sound like you must be posting from the playground. Abortion has been politicized by the “religious” Bible-thumping right. If you ever held and tried to console a pain-racked baby born to a drug-addicted mother, you might have a more thorough understanding of the issue.

  2. They laid off 450 people last year, why didn’t anyone ask him about that? “Obvious Child” was a low budget flick no one saw, why did someone ask that question?

  3. I admire Bob Greenblatt. Yet his comments suggest that saying he’s seen five episodes of Community is probably overestimating. He, and many execs and critics with him, seem to think that it’s a show with a really small, but vocal audience. And that’s just not the case: wherever you speak to someone in that crucial 19 – 34 demographic chances are high that they watch it. It has a Game of Thrones-sized gap in how many people watch it and what the ratings are. And the fact that neither Greenblatt or NBC has been able to figure out how to monetize on this group of viewers that not following the traditional ‘Nielsen’-way of watching tv, is absolutely ridiculous and speaks to the decline of broadcast networks. The people that advertisers want: the high-educated 19-34 viewer doesn’t stay at home anymore to watch ER, (s)he finds alternative ways of viewing, and smart networks should accommodate this and adapt to it.

  4. Perhaps Bob actually believes his own rationalizations. But one simple factor is the free reign premium cable (and even some basic cable) networks have without broadcast-level censorship.

    This was painfully obvious with CBS attempted to air older heavily-edited episodes of DEXTER from sibling Showtime network. Those CBS versions had to be edited for both language and content, and as a result, even with commercial breaks, it was hard to fill an hour. The CBS versions of Dexter were laughably bad.

    Maybe in the not-so-distant future, the Big 4 will have to change to a more subscription-based model, or run parallel unedited versions of broadcast programs on cable partners. CBS attempted something like this in years past when it aired BIG BROTHER AFTER DARIK on premium cable – not the same BIG BROTHER program, but something that wasn’t confined by FCC standards.

    1. We should not forget that there is a high degree of cross-ownership among studios, networks, and cable operators and channels.

      HBO, Showtime, etc., also put on very few hours of original programming relative to a network, even if one omitted non-prime-time news/entertainment programming. With fewer slots, it’s a magnitude more difficult to get a program onto cable, meaning it had better be exceptional in terms of prestige, delivery of demo-specific content, or subscription expansion.

      We also have to keep in mind that the pool of nomination-likely programs is a small portion of television’s fare. Am I being inaccurate when I think it’s about 5 shows out of a 100? I’m not much of a television watcher, so I may be over counting all those cable non-scripted shows.

      Let’s also consider how concern for Emmy nominations is seasonal. When reviewing scripts, pilots, focus group research, and ratings, I would be shocked were someone to say, more than once every three years, “Dammit, it’s going to win an Emmy. Who cares that it’s expensive and looks weak 35-54.”

      Critics unite behind the proposition that there should be zero bad television, and bless ‘em because that’s a noble, if not quixotic, cause. The reality is that there’s more great television available now than I have time to watch or that Emmy may recognize with a statue or nomination. Broadcast television is meant to be broad and gets advertisers who prefer to not be affiliated with challenging, gritty, or edgy story-telling. If it means an okay business and no awards, well, own it. There are challenges to broadcast, certainly, but the audience they have is an audience who is choosing to not watch cable. Why would being more like cable, even great cable, not lose more audience than it gains?

  5. Sometimes I just can’t with NBC. This is one of those times. Shifting “The Biggest Loser” to lead-in on Thursday’s is a cop-out, dumbass move.

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