NBC is making tweaks to its returning comedies in hopes of bringing them an audience broader than just adoring critics and cult followings.
That was the priority the Peacock’s entertainment chairman, Robert Greenblatt, laid out Tuesday at the TV Critics Assn. press tour during the network’s executive session. While he expressed his appreciaton for the creative strength of series from “Community” to “Parks and Recreation,” he made clear it wasn’t enough anymore.
“Given what’s happend at the network over the last four or five years, the general decline across the whole week, the loss of circulation, you just can’t get the biggest audience for those shows,” said Greenblatt. “They tend to be a little more narrow, a little more sophisticated than you want for a real broad audience.”
While Greenblatt, who was joined on stage at TCA by NBC entertainment president Jennifer Salke and unscripted/alternative president Paul Telegdy, didn’t specify what kind of changes were being made to the shows, he made clear that Thursday was a focal point for his efforts. The night, once dubbed the “Must-See TV lineup,” hasn’t performed in the ratings nearly as well as it has in previous decades where it was the home to some of the medium’s biggest comedies, including “Friends” and “The Cosby Show.”
“Those Thursday comedies, which the critics love and we love, tend to be a bit more narrow than we ultimately like as we go forward,” said Greenblatt.
Salke noted that the broadening efforts aren’t entirely a top-down directive; she said producers of several series took it upon themselves to refine their creative approach to get more viewers sampling. While she didn’t elaborate which series were undertaking the fine-tuning, she acknowledged that the network was at an “awkward stage” as it attempted to meld commercial and creative imperatives.
“It’s kind of an evolving comedy brand,” said Salke.
Greenblatt addressed the contretemps at “Community,” which saw the removal of creator/showrunner Dan Harmon earlier this year. Peacock topper is hopeful new showrunners Moses Port and David Guarascio will satisfy the “Community” faithful while opening the series up to new fans.
“Every so often, it’s time to make a change with a showrunner,” said Greenblatt. “You evaluate the creative, how the show is run and how the writing staff works. Sometimes you want to freshen a show.”
One of the Peacock’s comedy priorities is actually on another network: Fox’s “The Mindy Project,” which was developed by sister studio Universal Television under executive veep Bela Bajaria. Greenblatt acknowledged the oddity of sending off one of your own creations to become the competition but defended the move as sound strategy for the studio.
“It’s always bittersweet when you have a show of your own that’s against you. yet that’s part of the business model,” he said. “‘House’ was such a great business for the NBC home studio, that’s part of what we’re trying to build.”
The TCA focus on comedies was to be expected given the genre has been a trouble spot for NBC, which saw more success in 2011-12 on the drama and unscripted front between new hours like “Smash” and “Grimm,” not to mention “The Voice.” Telegdy pledged to keep the Peacock’s reality juggernaut humming as it makes its move to the fall sked for the first time.
“We’re obviously cautious about expanding it but we’ve done some things to the format that will ensure it’s an even better show in the fall and sustain through the spring,” he said.
Telegdy also defended NBC’s second-biggest unscripted franchise, “America’s Got Talent,” which experienced some ratings erosion yet remains summer’s top series among the broadcasters despite an early start this year necessitated by the Olympics that gave it more competition than ever. He credited new judge Howard Stern for helping keep the series strong but stopped short of saying he’ll be back for another season. “We’d be delighted if Howard wants to come back,” said Telegdy.
While Greenblatt touted the strength of “Smash,” he conceded the drama experienced some creative missteps he hoped new showrunner Josh Safran would rectify in its second season. “Where we didn’t do a good job as we hope to do this year is the arc-ing of the storylines, the consistency of going in one direction with a a character and continuing with it,” said Greenblatt, who noted the show should get an infusion from a guest arc from Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson next season. “We were inconsistent, going back and forth with some things.”
NBC also used its TCA session to reiterates hopes that the Olympics would help continue its summer momentum into the fall through aggressive promotion during the Games, including the unprecedented move of skedding previews of full episodes of comedies “Go On” (Aug. 8) and “Animal practice” (Aug. 12) once coverage from London concludes. A six-minute preview of new drama “Revolution” will also run Aug. 4.
In addition, NBC will give sneak previews of series from its own studio on digital platforms including NBC.com, Hulu and iTunes two weeks before their premiere dates.
The network will also rely on Project Symphony, a Comcast-wide effort to synergize promotion for select programs across its many networks and digital platforms but Greenblatt declined to identify which specific projects would get the treatment. Symphony was credited with helping drive the success of “Voice.”
Alluding to NBC’s historic difficulty getting Olympic auds to sample new series, Greenblatt said, “I don’t think it’s a rented audience. Hopefully we’ll do a better job of doing than in the past.”
He also noted “Today” could see a lift in London due to Olympic coverage kicking in daily at 10 a.m. ET after the morning show commences.
While NBC’s TCA presentation didn’t have much new information, Greenblatt did announce that there would be two election-themed “Saturday Night Live” primetime specials airing Sept. 20 and 27.