NBC topper Bob Greenblatt opened the Peacock’s portion of the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour with the good news that the Peacock’s ratings momentum has continued into the summer, boosted by solid showings from its unscripted staples and the frosh drama “The Night Shift.”
The wide-ranging Q&A sesh with Greenblatt, NBC Entertainment prexy Jennifer Salke and alternative and latenight programming chief Paul Telegdy touched on everything from the tonal differences of broadcast and cable programming — which Greenblatt acknowledging that cable has the leeway to tackle more “interesting” material — to the Peacock’s Thursday night struggles to the Emmy Awards derby.
Greenblatt said he was encouraged by NBC’s performance in the summer with scripted originals such as “Night Shift,” which he noted has benefitted greatly from a solid “America’s Got Talent” lead-in.
“We used to just throw the shows on in the summer that didn’t have much faith in,” he said. “Now we’re looking at really good shows that we could put on at any time of the year.”
Greenblatt didn’t take the bait when given the chance to vent about the competitive landscape in the Emmy Awards, where broadcast shows like NBC’s breakout hit “The Blacklist” face off against cable series with much shorter orders. NBC had high hopes that “Blacklist” star James Spader would nab an Emmy nom, which did not come to pass last Thursday.
“I’m not going to grouse about the Emmy Awards,” he said, jokingly adding: “Let’s bring back the CableAce Awards!”
But more seriously, he acknowledged some frustration in NBC’s lighter showing in major Emmy categories this year. He chalked it up to the more adventurous fare that is allowable on cable compared to broadcast nets.
“I don’t know that there’s any evidence that one more viewer comes to us because they hear we won an Emmy, but of course you want that validation,” Greenblatt said. “There’s so many great shows out there on so many networks now. Cable has the advantage of doing material that is darker and more interesting. They can go into subject matter that feels cooler than some of the stuff we can do. That’s just a fact of life.”
Greenblatt was pressed for his thoughts on what went wrong with “The Michael J. Fox Show,” the big sitcom bet for NBC last season. Greenblatt gave the project a 22-episode order upfront in the hopes that Fox would lead a new wave of broader-based NBC comedies. He acknowledged that the show had a tough assignment as a self-starter on the toughest night of the week, Thursday.
“i thought Michael in and of himself would overcome some challenges for us on Thursday,” Greenblatt said. The show’s struggle to grab an aud from the start “reinforced how difficult a night it has become for us.” But he has no regrets about making such a big commitment. “If I had to do it over again I probably would do it over again,” he said.
This season, there’s a new curveball on Thursday as CBS will program eight NFL games on the night at the start of the season. NBC is putting reality show “The Biggest Loser” on the night in the fall, rather than sending new comedies into the gridiron battle.
“I look at it as a bit of an opportunity,” Greenblatt said of CBS’ NFL games. “CBS won’t have its big hefty comedy lineup from 8 to 10, which is very potent.” He also predicted that it may take viewers some time to find the Thursday games. “I don’t think you’re going to see the kind of ratings that we see on Sunday night,” he said.
Among other tidbits from the session:
- Christopher Walken is set for the Captain Hook role in Universal TV’s live musical stage of “Peter Pan,” set for Dec. 4.
- Summer unscripted series “America’s Got Talent,” “American Ninja Warrior” and “Last Comic Standing” have all been renewed.
- NBC will mount a big push next May for Red Nose Day, a fundraising initiative that has been active in the U.K. for 25 years. NBC plans a live three-hour special driven by comedic and musical performances that will raise money for a range of charitable causes. The concept of celebs donning red noses will also be integrated into other aspects of NBC programming around that time. Funny or Die will produce original content tied to the initiative.
- Comedy writers Mike O’Malley and Mike Sikowitz are working on the domestic comedy to star Bill Cosby, which is in the process of being set up at Sony Pictures TV. Salke described the project as a classic multigenerational family comedy with Cosby as the patriarch of a large clan. O’Malley may also have a role in the series, Salke said.
- NBC remains in discussions with Maya Rudolph about doing more episodes of her variety show that bowed as a special in May. The response to the special demonstrated “that there’s a big appetite for that kind of programming,” Salke said.
- Greenblatt was asked if he had any advice for the new exec(s) who will be taking over Fox Broadcasting in the wake of the management shuffle at the network. Greenblatt said he would caution newbies to be prepared for the hectic pace and volume of projects to be juggled at a broadcast net. “It’s the volume that can get away from you,” he said. “You have to be comfortable with that.”