Press Tour: NBC's Bob Greenblatt puts hope in 'events'
"I look back on the year that we just went through," NBC's Bob Greenblatt told the assembled TCA press, "and I think for us, it was a year of real progress. I've been calling it 'The Year of Improvement.'"
Greenblatt used the metaphor of the time he brought home a report card that had was all A's and one B+, with his father suggesting that he still had room for improvement. But the state of NBC in the 2012-13 TV season was a bit more like a lot of Cs and Ds, but also a couple of As in football and "The Voice" and a B- in "Revolution" and "Chicago Fire."
Still, the network was briefly in first place in the fall thanks to football, "Voice" and "Revolution," and managed to finish third for the season instead of its usual fourth. And from year to year (if not from season to season, according to how Nielsen measures things), Greenblatt said NBC was relatively flat in the ratings — and given how all the networks are slowly but surely losing audience share to cable, video games, Netflix, etc., "At this point in our business, flat is the new up."
But none of last season's new sitcoms worked ("Community" and "Parks and Recreation," two series that Greenblatt and entertainment president Jennifer Salke seemed eager to be rid of a year ago, were the only comedies to be renewed), "Revolution" fizzled badly when it returned in the spring, and the Peacock once again has to largely start from scratch with its fall schedule.
Where Greenblatt has at times come to press tour acting humble, occasionally (well, at the January tour after that brief window of first place-ness) acting confident, here he mostly seemed uncertain. NBC's a mess, but the broadcast TV business (other than at CBS) is a mess, and none of Greenblatt's counterparts at FOX and ABC seem to have any better idea of what to do to fix things. Though Greenblatt didn't offer a shrug as he began each answer, he might as well have. As he moved through various questions in the press conference and the scrum after, he seemed to give 20 answers to each question, always with an undercurrent of, "We're not entirely sure why things are happening this way, but we're going to keep trying."
Why, for instance, is NBC airing its most high-profile new series, "The Michael J. Fox Show," on Thursdays at 9:30, rather than using it to anchor a night? Greenblatt suggested several reasons, and that they toyed with many different versions of the Thursday schedule, but that they ultimately didn't want to put too much pressure on Fox's show.
"We didn't want to put him so much in the line of fire," he said, before acknowledging, "it could conceivably change."
When asked in the post-panel scrum what his expectations are for "Revolution" now that it's no longer airing after "The Voice," he said he's learned to stop having expectations for how any show will do.
Mainly, though, Greenblatt wants to put his faith in getting into "the event business," even though, as he immediately acknowledged, "We look at events in many different ways."
Indeed, his definition of an "event" includes the Winter Olympics(*), several miniseries the network has ordered (including one starring Diane Lane as Hilary Clinton, and new adaptations of "The Tommyknockers" and "Rosemary's Baby") and a fall game show stunt called "Million Second Quiz," but also regular series ongoing series like "Revolution" and "The Michael J. Fox Show."
(*) Having the Olympics this season is the reason they have rushed the Jay Leno/Jimmy Fallon "Tonight Show" transition, even though Leno is still performing well, because they wanted to launch Fallon out of that big platform.
Ultimately, the main takeaway from the executive session is that NBC is in slightly better shape than a year ago, but will have to depend on a whole lot of new shows, will have to again weather the post-"Sunday Night Football" storm, and are still in a business where the old rules only seem to apply to CBS.
In other words, we won't really know anything about the state of NBC until the next press tour in January, and possibly after that.