News comes on eve of fall launch with high stakes for entertainment topper and his team
News of his contract extension comes on the eve of the fall season launch that will be crucial to the efforts of Greenblatt and his team to turn NBC’s fortunes around. The network has been able to gather some momentum during the past two seasons but it’s still in the hunt for the breakaway scripted series hit that can drive the network forward and shake off the mired-in-fourth-place stigma.
Greenblatt has been at the helm of the NBC broadcast network and its entertainment division since January 2011, having been recruited by Comcast after a strong seven-year run at Showtime. He quickly did a top to bottom overhaul of NBC’s programming division, bringing in former 20th Century Fox TV exec Jennifer Salke as entertainment prexy and CBS alum Bela Bajaria as head of the revitalized Universal TV production arm. His previous deal was believed to expire near the end of 2014.
NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke has frequently said that he was prepared for the turnaround of NBC to take five years or more. But that hasn’t quieted chatter in the biz that pressure was mounting at NBC Entertainment to deliver some big programming wins. Reality-competition show “The Voice,” which bowed in April 2011, has been the biggest success on the network during the past few years.
But broadcast nets are still judged primarily by the caliber of their scripted successes (just ask Fox about its efforts to restock as “American Idol” looses its luster). NBC on Greenblatt’s watch made some headway last season with fantasy drama “Revolution,” from J.J. Abrams, and Dick Wolf procedural “Chicago Fire,” which yielded a spinoff bowing later this month, “Chicago P.D.”
NBC has still struggled on the comedy side to find the next-generation of broad-based hits. The Peacock is making a huge bet this season on Michael J. Fox’s return to sitcom-dom in a hybrid domestic/workplace vehicle. Sean Hayes, another familiar NBC face, is back in a domestic comedy, “Sean Saves the World.”
With Comcast’s backing, NBC has become far more talent-friendly on Greenblatt’s watch as the Peacock’s new owners have invested big bucks in development and marketing — something that was sorely lacking under previous owner G.E.
The first show that Team Greenblatt got behind in a big way was the tuner-drama “Smash,” shepherded by Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks TV. While the backstage Broadway drama ultimately stumbled and was axed after two seasons, the fact that Greenblatt went out on a limb for the convention-busting show won him goodwill in the creative community — even as some questioned whether his taste was better suited to pay cable rather than broadcast network. There’s a clear emphasis in NBC’s slate this year on more big-tent shows.
The relaunch of Universal TV as a studio supplying to outside nets as well as NBC has been another priority for Greenblatt. Universal TV has scored two comedies on Fox during the past two development cycles: “The Mindy Project,” which just bowed its sophomore season, and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” the Andy Samberg starrer that got off to a decent start on Tuesday.
The build-up of Universal TV has also signaled Comcast’s willingness to invest in content. The studio has inked more than two dozen overall deals with writers, directors and showrunners during the past two years in an effort to field a wide slate of product for NBC and outside nets.
Beyond primetime series, Greenblatt has spearheaded a push to take NBC back into the made-for event business. NBC is developing a slew of longform projects, including a Hillary Clinton biopic that has stirred the ire of conservative commentators and a miniseries based on the life of Johnny Carson.
Greenblatt declined to comment on his contract extension.