NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt spoke Sunday about the decision to bring “Brooklyn,” produced by NBC’s sibling Universal TV unit, into the Peacock network fold, the revamp of Wednesdays into a three-stack of Dick Wolf’s “Chicago” dramas, and the state of NBC’s comedy brand.
Greenblatt held a conference call with reporters after NBC released its 2018-2019 primetime schedule, a lineup that brings only two new dramas and one new comedy to the fall roster. That decision reflects the stability of NBC’s underlying drama-heavy schedule and the importance of holding big bets for winter and spring launches, Greenblatt said.
“As the business has changed the winter and the spring and the summer seasons are as important for us as anything,” Greenblatt said. “We have a really strong, stable fall with many returning shows that are just great anchors, great lead-ins for us.”
NBC has also taken steps to shore up what had been weak spots on the schedule in January and February when “The Voice” was between seasons by expanding two of its strongest reality franchises, “America’s Got Talent” and “World of Dance,” with winter editions.
On “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Greenblatt said he’d regretted selling the project to Fox back in 2013 once Andy Samberg was cast in the lead role of the ensembler set in a New York Police Department precinct. And Tracey Pakosta, now NBC’s co-president of scripted programming with Lisa Katz, developed “Brooklyn” during her time at Universal TV.
“We’re thrilled to have it. We think it fits into our brand of comedy in many ways better than it ever fit into the Fox brand of comedy,” Greenblatt said. He noted that Samberg “grew up on ‘SNL’ ” and “Brooklyn” co-creators Dan Goor and Michael Schur both have long associations with NBC. “Brooklyn” adds to Schur’s comedy stable that includes NBC’s “The Good Place” and new comedy set for midseason, “Abby’s,” an ensembler set in a San Diego bar.
The outpouring from “Brooklyn” fans (including none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda) after Fox’s decision to drop it after five seasons was significant, Greenblatt said, but he emphasized that NBC was ready to “jump” on the show regardless. He noted that “Brooklyn” has earned some of the strongest reviews of its run in season five, which was another reason to continue Universal’s investment. The show has also performed well by comedy standards in syndication and international sales.
“We love it when the fans yell and scream. We love it even more when they watch the show,” Greenblatt said.
NBC’s decision to turn Wednesday into all “Chicago” night was an idea considered for some time but this fall the stars aligned.
“We have moved things around and looked at different configurations (of the ‘Chicago’ shows). We’d flirted with doing it in the past. We just looked at the landscape and saw it as a chance to try them together. We’re happy that our research department also liked this idea.”
Greenblatt addd that having the trio of “Chicago” shows all on Wednesday makes it easier and hopefully more effective for the shows to “overlap and crossover,” he said. “We thought it was a fun way to energize Wednesday.” He also noted that the shuffle sends the venerable “Law & Order: SVU” back to a 10 p.m. berth, this time on Thursday following NBC’s only comedy block.
“We love the idea of ‘Law & Order’ back at 10 o’clock,” Greenblatt said.
Greenblatt was pressed on the question of NBC’s approach to comedy and whether the smash opening of “Roseanne” indicates a shift in the cultural appetite for laffers. Overall, the major networks have ordered more traditional multi-camera sitcoms this year than in at least the past six years. NBC’s “Abby’s” is a multi-cam.
Greenblatt offered a “hat’s off” to “Roseanne” for all its success but said that NBC felt comfortable “in our lane” of generally urbane fare.
“We are doing what we do,” he said. “Multi-cam versus single-cam has been an ongoing discussion over the years. You want the ‘best-cams,’ ” he joked. “We love ‘Will & Grace’ as a multi-cam. … Each network has their own identity. We’re thrilled with what we’re doing.”
Greenblatt cited high hopes for upcoming comedy produced by Amy Poehler, “I Feel Bad,” which landed the post “Will & Grace” 9:30 p.m. slot on Thursday.
Other highlights from the 30-minute Q&A session:
NBC has maintained a solid lead over the competition in the adults 18-49 demographic race this season but it is not complacent. “We’re not just kicking back,” Greenblatt said. “We’re being aggressive about this whole year.”
NBC Entertainment underwent a management transition in February when longtime president Jennifer Salke joined Amazon Studios. Greenblatt called the shift “seamless” given that her successors, former comedy and drama chiefs Pakosta and Katz, had worked so closely with Salke on assembling this year’s development slate. “It was as good a transition as I’ve ever experienced,” Greenblatt said.
On the question of whether networks need more star power to draw viewers, Greenblatt came down squarely on the side of TV’s ability to vault talent into the cultural stratosphere. “Television can make stars out of people that yesterday you never heard of,” he said, citing the reach of broadcast networks in particular. He pointed to “This Is Us” as an example of a smash that emerged without any big marquee names. He sees the fledgling drama “Good Girls” as an example of a show endowed with experienced actresses (Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman, Retta) who will finally become household names through the right vehicle. “Television is a great medium that can make stars,” he said.
Two bubble shows — sophomore drama “Timeless” and frosh comedy “Champions” — will have the opportunity to finish their runs before final renewal decisions are made. Greenblatt maintained that he has not made a final decision on either. “We try to give producers the courtesy of letting their shows run and seeing how they do before we make a decision that’s premature,” he said.
The winner of the post-“This Is Us” sweepstakes went to the medical drama “New Amsterdam,” which follows a hard-driving doctor at New York’s famed Bellevue public hospital. The pilot “knocked us over,” Greenblatt said. Star Ryan Eggold is known to NBC viewers from his run on “The Blacklist,” which also seemed a good fit. The show “has a very unique doctor in a world where there’s a few medical shows out there,” he said.
Greenblatt kept mum when pressed for a reality check on the persistent rumors of a reboot of “The Office” coming together at the Peacock. But his remarks made it clear that NBC is interested. “I don’t want to be coy,” he said. “I’m probably the one putting stuff out there that I shouldn’t be. It’s probably best that I don’t talk about it.”
One of the high-profile pilots of the season that didn’t land an order (so far) was the Gabrielle Union starrer “L.A.’s Finest,” a spinoff of sorts of the “Bad Boys” movie franchise. Greenblatt said NBC had an “embarrassment of riches in drama” options this year. “It was just a show that didn’t fit in the grand scheme of things.”
NBC’s decision to hold “The Blacklist” for a midseason premiere in January on Friday raises the question of whether the long-running drama is heading into its last season. Greenblatt said the decision to hold back from the fall was to allow episodes to run over consecutive weeks without repeats or long breaks for the December holidays. “I like the idea whenever we can in running these big dramas without repeating and without lots of ons and off,” Greenblatt said. “Since we have all these pieces to play with we thought we would bring (‘Blacklist’) on in January and run it consistently without stopping,” he said. “We didn’t need it in the fall immediately (so) it’s a benefit to how we schedule it.”