Despite coming out of a fall in which NBC generated little, if any, must-see viewing, network topper Bob Greenblatt said he will continue to spend vigorously in order to mine hits.
Following the NBCUniversal-Comcast merger, Greenblatt was given a mandate by NBCU CEO Steve Burke to spend whatever it takes to create popular programming.
“If we had come up with ‘Modern Family,’ it would have been worth it,” said Greenblatt on the disappointing fall. He acknowledged that NBC spent more on programming than in years past but didn’t have much to show for it yet.
“It’s like gambling,” he told scribes at NBC’s portion of the Television Critics Assn. tour in Pasadena on Friday. “You don’t have any idea what is going to work and what isn’t.”
He later continued: “It’s a bit of a crapshoot, but it makes logical sense for us to spend to spend more money than Fox, CBS and ABC. But will we spend less in the future? I hope so.”
On Burke’s willingness to keep spending coin after a fallow fall and no sure things ahead, Greenblatt said, “He’s the calmest most unflappable CEO in this entertainment business. Sure, he’d like to have it happen faster and ahead of schedule, but he’s been very patient.”
Greenblatt also announced that “Community,” which had been pulled from the midseason sked, would return in the spring. He added that when it comes back, however, the laffer may not be in the difficult 8 p.m. timeslot.
“I don’t know if it makes sense for it to start off a night again, but we have a tight schedule for comedies and not a lot of place to put them. We have to see where ‘Community’ makes the most sense,” he said.
The exec earned points with scribes by not sugarcoating NBC’s tough start to the season, opening the Q&A period with a candid admission: “It was a really bad fall and worse than I hoped for but about what I expected.”
His biggest disappointment was the Maria Bello starrer “Prime Suspect,” which Greenblatt felt was a winner creatively but never generated any momentum in the ratings, even after it was moved around the schedule.
“Was she too (much of a) cable character? Was it too abrasive? Maybe it was the hat? I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe a hard-hitting cop show with a dead body in the first scene wasn’t the best idea.”
Looking forward, NBC is betting heavily on rookie drama “Smash,” which Greenblatt developed when he was running Showtime and took with him to NBC, and the return of musical competition series “The Voice.”
“I think ‘Smash’ is going to be very important to us, but I don’t believe it’s a make-or-break show for us,” said Greenblatt of the Debra Messing-Katharine McPhee starrer that will launch Feb. 6, the day after NBC’s telecast of the Super Bowl. “It only takes one show (to turn things around) and ‘Smash’ could be one of those shows.”
“The Voice” was clearly’s NBC’s biggest hit last season, and much is riding on a successful second season, but Greenblatt was cautious about raising expectations for “Smash” and “The Voice” too high.
“It’s not like we’ll go into receivership” if those shows underperform, he joked.
One topic of discussion was the future of Ryan Seacrest, who has been rumored to be taking over hosting duties for ayem news program “Today,” a big profit center for NBC.
Seacrest is already in the corporate family as a host on E! programming and producer of the cabler’s hit reality “Kardashian” skeins as well as other shows. He has been rumored for months to be moving to “Today” as a possible replacement for Matt Lauer, whose current contract expires at the end of 2012.
Greenblatt called talk of a Seacrest transition to “Today” a bit premature.
“Our hope and belief is that Matt will stay though the end of his contract,” Greenblatt said. “We need to figure out how to take Ryan and keep him in the family.”
In other programming tidbits, Greenblatt said “Law and Order: SVU” star Mariska Hargitay would be sticking with the show, after much speculation that this would be her last season on the long-running drama. He also noted that “30 Rock” star Alec Baldwin has signed for another season despite persistent chatter that he would bow out after the laffer’s current season.