During a tour through her career at Keshet Media Group’s INTV conference, President of NBC Entertainment Jennifer Salke said that when she first joined NBC, many people told her it would be “impossible to turn (the network) around.” It was in “terrible shape” at the time, and the first few years “were really difficult waking up to horrific ratings.” But discussion at the Jerusalem event this week was far brighter, with a big focus on NBC’s 20th Century Fox TV-produced breakout drama This Is Us. Salke and I chatted about its success as well as the future of such series as Timeless, The Blacklist, Powerless and others. Looking ahead, she told me, “There’s a lot of puzzle pieces to move around. It’s going to be a lot tighter this year.”
Of This Is Us, Salke said January’s two-season pick-up was “a no-brainer.” The Dan Fogelman drama “has come at a time where people feel stressed and in conflict with their neighbors” and has allowed for a certain amount of catharsis. Joked Salke, “It capitalizes on people’s need for free therapy.” It’s also helping to inform the pilots, she said, indicating there’s a taste for “shows that have more emotional content and more authenticity to them.”
Yesterday, NBC touted a list of 12 series that have more than doubled their demo rating in L+35, combining linear and non-linear sources. Among those, This Is Us is up +180%. Other shows that have seen major increases include The Blacklist, Timeless and the Chicago series P.D., Med and Fire.
I asked her about the future of sci-fi drama Timeless and she said, “We love Timeless. It’s a great performer. I thought it could benefit from an earlier timeslot but we have Blindspot earlier so there’s just going to be some decisions based on the pilots — and there’s not that many pilots.” Creators of both Timeless and thriller Blindspot as well as The Blacklist will be in NBC offices next week to talk about next year.
NBC owns a quarter of Blacklist and Salke calls it “very profitable for Sony and an important show for us. Even though the linear rating is nothing to write home about, we define it differently and look at how it performs over a few days. It’s huge overseas.”
Comedy, on the other hand, has been “challenging.” Promoting an hour of television as a “big exciting event” is easier whereas with 20 minutes “of an acquired-taste comedy, it’s really hard to thread the needle,” Salke said from the Jerusalem stage. Later, she told me that Superstore and The Good Place are “really solid pieces of business” which also benefit from social media platforms as “new sources of cheerleading squads for comedies that didn’t exist before.” NBC currently has seven comedy pilots on its roster.
Salke allowed that DC Comics workplace comedy Powerless “did not open to the most exciting numbers which was OK because we thought it would be viewed by a digital audience really strongly. We’re still looking at it. I just wish it was performing better, but we haven’t made decisions. We’re going to continue to air it and we’re behind it.”