At NBC, Bob Greenblatt is poised to inherit a network still battle-scarred from a decade of near-constant instability.
As Comcast is set to finally announce its NBC Universal executive structure today, Peacock employees are anxious to hear the company’s long-term plans for the beleaguered net.
The Comcast chapter of NBC’s storied history won’t actually begin for several more weeks, until the merger receives regulatory approval. And even after that, it will take time to fully integrate the companies — with more changes and announcements expected down the road. But incoming NBC U CEO Steve Burke is expected to announce the major changes today.
For NBC staffers, who have been working for months under an air of uncertainty, that means at long last confirmation that the former Showtime entertainment topper Greenblatt will head up programming and marketing, with Ted Harbert tackling the business and operations end n New York. Bonnie Hammer keeps her USA and Syfy domain while picking up E! and G4; Lauren Zalaznick holds onto her women’s lifestyle nets (Bravo and Oxygen) while adding Style and Telemundo. Comcast’s Jeff Shell takes on international. All those execs will report directly to Burke.
The decision to keep NBC U’s cable properties stable while blowing up the network comes as no surprise.
NBC suffered through a revolving door of entertainment toppers over the past decade, which has not only hurt morale but has also left the net with a murky focus.
“It’s difficult to imagine a cohesive programming philosophy and identity for the network,” said one Peacock alum. “The fact of the matter is what was once the crown jewel of NBC, the entertainment division, really lost its way.”
With every exec, NBC has been hoisted in a new direction. And under CEO Jeff Zucker, the net frequently pronounced new primetime paradigms (cheaper fare at 8 p.m., talk at 10 p.m., the end of pilots, the “infront”) and scheduling gimmicks (“supersizing”).
“All these philosophies and strategies that were flawed offered no respect for the viewer,” opined one exec.
It didn’t help that for much of the last decade, NBC went without a full-fledged, traditional entertainment president. The closest was Kevin Reilly in the mid-2000s, but even he faced micromanaging from above. Then Ben Silverman took charge, but he comes from the world of packaging and salesmanship — not down-in-the-trenches TV development.
Most recently, oversight was split between Angela Bromstad and Paul Telegdy, with Jeff Gaspin, whose portfolio bulged with every NBC U TV property, in charge. Gaspin had finally stabilized the ship, but before he got a chance to truly start the recovery process, time ran out: The exec was told Monday that there wouldn’t be a spot for him in the new setup.
Regime changes are par for the course in TV land: ABC, for example, experienced a change in power this summer. But no net has been hit with as much upheaval as NBC.
NBC was once the paragon of primetime stability, as Brandon Tartikoff led the entertainment division through the 1980s, while Warren Littlefield headed it for much of the 1990s.
After Littlefield’s exit in 1998, the NBC entertainment job bounced between execs being groomed for bigger things (Scott Sassa, Zucker), execs focused more on dealmaking and the business side (Silverman, Gaspin) and creative execs only partially in control (Garth Ancier, Reilly, Bromstad).”Stability is usually key to the success of any network,” said one rival broadcast exec.
NBC still managed to churn out some hits — “The Office” chief among them — and critical faves. But “NBC” and “mired in fourth place” became synonymous by the mid-2000s, exacerbated by last year’s failed “The Jay Leno Show” experiment.
“I don’t know how you start from scratch,” one exec said. “There’s not a lot Greenblatt can do this year. But you need to have a gameplan. Is NBC going to do a lot of comedy? Drama? You’ve got to ask a lot of questions, find your own people and come up with some kind of strategy. And you have to remember that you can’t turn this around overnight.”
Greenblatt already has experience in rebuilding a network. Showtime was a non-entity in the series game until he arrived; the exec wound up with an embarrassment of series riches.
“I think Bob is one of the best developers in TV,” Ancier said. “I have more faith that Steve, Bob and Ted can save NBC than I’ve ever had. That’s a great combination.”
As for Littlefield, the onetime chief NBC programmer told Daily Variety he also believes Comcast’s decision to hire Greenblatt is a step in the right direction. “You look at the new management and you say, ‘What kind of signal is this?’ It’s a very strong one that says they were looking for the heart and soul of a programmer who brings distinctive series to life.”