NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt pledged to put the network on the road to a comeback at its upfront presentation Monday morning at Manhattan’s Hilton Hotel.
Though “Celebrity Apprentice” host Donald Trump arguably upstaged the event by declaring he wouldn’t seek the presidency, the bigger message the Peacock’s new regime sought to send was that the bird wants to fly again.
Greenblatt and NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert repeatedly hearkened back to NBC’s storied past, including invoking the “must-see TV” tagline — but also sought to distance themselves from more recent network history.
“There is no mandate to manage for margins,” said Greenblatt, referring to the declaration made a few years ago by former NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker in emphasizing the focus on cost containment in primetime.
Harbert took it a step further by downplaying the importance of new media in relation to traditional TV programming. He stressed that the new team at the Peacock is focused on the “back-breaking blocking and tackling” that goes into producing TV hits.
“A little less reinvention of the wheel, and a lot more broadcast 101,” Harbert said. “The big screen is still the best place to watch video.”
Greenblatt listed priorities for the coming season including growing NBC’s comedies, strengthening its Thursday lineup, keeping the momentum of “The Voice” and restoring some luster to the 10 p.m. time period.
Said Greenblatt: “Much has been said about the demise of broadcast TV, but we just don’t buy it. We know some of that has slipped away, but the road to recovery starts today.”
The first pilot Greenblatt introduced was “The Playboy Club,” and he sought to play down any advertiser concerns that the show would be too racy. “It’s honestly quite tame compared with what you might see on ‘Jersey Shore,’ ” he joked.
Clips of other new shows that generated a good response from the crowd of media buyers and journos were the Maria Bello starrer “Prime Suspect” and two dramas that will be held for midseason: the Broadway-set “Smash” and the reality-bending “Awake.” Laffer “Whitney,” which landed the post-“Office” slot on Thursday, also drew applause.
Greenblatt is looking to infuse new blood to many shows returning to the schedule, with a new judge coming to “The Sing-Off,” a new trainer set for “The Biggest Loser” and young associates to join Kathy Bates’ firm on “Harry’s Law.”
“Parenthood” will likely be scheduled in a way that will minimize repeats. “I want to grow that show even more,” said Greenblatt.
NBC is also putting a lot of weight on “The Voice,” which Greenblatt said NBC research chief Alan Wurtzel categorized as a “gift from God.”
“I love it how the research people get religious around scheduling time,” he said.
Marianne Gambelli, president of NBC ad sales, spoke of the fresh energy at the network now that Comcast is in place as its parent company.
“Our company is only four months old, and already we’re seeing positive change,” she said.
Comcast was also invoked by NBC latenight host Jimmy Fallon, who whipped out a guitar to sing “Have a Comcastic Day,” complete with the refrain “Just throw your cash at these fantastic shows and everything will be all right.”
Other NBC talent making cameos included Seth Meyers from “Saturday Night Live,” NBC News anchor Brian Williams, and show-closing performances from “Voice” coaches Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera.