NBC headed into midseason last year with plenty of momentum — only to see its fortunes collapse as The Voice took a winter nap and new hit Revolution went on hiatus.
Lesson learned. Not taking this fall's solid ratings for granted, NBC will bring its new smash, The Blacklist, back in January before taking a break for the Olympics. And the Winter Games will provide a ratings boost as well as a broad platform on which to market the network's upcoming series.
NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt recently spoke at length with TV Guide Magazine about The Blacklist's big DVR gains, the network's comedy woes, the Peacock's upcoming late-night shift and how bullish he is on big events in the wake of The Sound of Music Live.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: This was another good fall for NBC, but so was last year. Does it feel a bit more sustainable this time?
Greenblatt: So far, so good. The Voice is obviously fully ensconced and doing well, which has led to a nice new success with The Blacklist, which is not totally dependent on The Voice lead in — as other shows that have been in that time slot have been. We had The Biggest Loser come back stronger and better than I thought it would, and Law & Order: SVU came back strong. It just seems like lots of things are starting to work in our favor. But there's still a lot of work to do.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: With The Blacklist doing so well, particularly with Live + 3 and Live + 7 ratings lift, is this the template going forward for the kind of dramas you're looking for?
Greenblatt: It's a procedural at heart, which is a really good broad concept for a lot of people, and yet it has this mythology baked into it that makes it must-see. It's something I've been trying to achieve since I got here. I've wanted to match the broad appeal of a network show that needs to span all kinds of demos and geographic regions with a bit of a cable sensibility. [James Spader's character, Red Reddington] is big and in-your-face, like the ones I used to have on Showtime shows — but hopefully more accessible.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: With so many viewers already watching Blacklist on DVR, does it still need that lead-in?
Greenblatt: You can't take The Voice lead-in and park the same show there for multiple seasons. You get the benefit of that lead-in for a year and then you move out. Blacklist in the future will move to a new time period and hopefully help build a new night or a new block for us.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: Were you surprised by the huge ratings for Sound of Music Live?
Greenblatt: I would have been thrilled with half that audience. And we really didn't know what to expect. It seemed to touch a chord in an audience that I had no idea was going to come out to that degree for it.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: Highlight the strategy behind Sound of Music Live. What made it work?
Greenblatt: I will say we did everything, and I'm underlining the word everything. You have to these days. We took advantage of the holiday. We decided to do a very well-known title and a beloved show. And we cast a woman [Carrie Underwood] whom I think helped extend the reach of this show into millions of homes. She was, admittedly, not an experienced actress doing this kind of thing.
And we wanted to schedule it right. We had to schedule it on a night that was leading to a weekend. [To promote it] we had that whole week of Christmas specials. Comcast went crazy for us with all their promotion. Today, the late night shows, we just marshaled all the forces.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: That seems like a lot for a one-time special.
Greenblatt: But I'll tell you, it was not inexpensive to produce. It was not a throwaway. There was a lot of motivation to get it out to the widest amount of people. But it's worth noting, we hardly bought any off-air marketing. We spent virtually nothing.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: How much did it cost? Reports put it at $9 million.
Greenblatt: It was at least $9 million. It was a big production.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: Is this an annual event? It was reported that you plan to do a live musical every year.
Greenblatt: We're going to do one more definitely. Who knows if we'll ever have this phenomenon happen again. The first time for one of these things is often the biggest bump you get. So I don't know. We'll take them one at a time. I think we can do the next one even more efficiently. It's easy for people to stand back and look at it and say, "I liked it" or "I didn't like it." But the complexity of putting this show on will never, ever be quite understood by anyone.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: You've announced Rosemary's Baby, starring Zoe Saldana. What's your plan for longform and limited series?
Greenblatt: These longform projects are ways to make event programming. It's a form of television that went by the wayside so it's ripe to bring it back. We'll do at least one a year, possibly two.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: What's the priority to promote during the Games?
Greenblatt: Our late-night transition will get a lot of promotion during the Games, plus the five new shows that we're launching right after: Crisis, Believe, About a Boy, Growing Up Fisher and American Dream Builders.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: Comedy remains a tough nut to crack. What will the NBC comedy brand be going forward?
Greenblatt: We're open to everything in comedy and developing all genres — multi-cam and single-cam. We ordered the Tina Fey-Robert Carlock-Ellie Kemper project because we have that rare combination of top showrunners, star and attention-getting concept that is necessary to make a comedy work today. That said, we've never been more open to all kinds of genres, ideas and auspices.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: Michael J Fox and Sean Hayes are two big stars. Why aren't they getting as much attention from audiences as you'd think?
Greenblatt: I love both of them and think they are two of the most gifted comedic actors on television right now. That said, Thursday is very competitive and we're still trying to rebuild after many years of decline and fighting juggernauts with both the CBS comedies and the ABC dramas.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: Maya Rudolph seems like the perfect talent to revive the variety genre. How's development on that project going?
Greenblatt: It's still in the early stages, but Lorne [Michaels] and we are excited about doing something in primetime that is a new combination of sketch and variety. Ironically, it's what used to be a staple of comedy. It might even feel a bit retro — in a good way — like the old The Dean Martin Show, maybe mixed with a little Laugh-In.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: How's the late night transition going?
Greenblatt: Right on schedule. Everything is going smoothly and both Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers are in the process of developing their new shows while still delivering for us on their current shows. We're optimistic that this late-night block will feel very solid once these two shows are on the air together.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: Where are you in terms of finding a new role for Jay Leno?
Greenblatt: We've made it clear that we want Jay to continue with NBC and have talked about several ways to do that. At the same time, we're being respectful of his desire to finish The Tonight Show and then look at the future. Nothing would make us happier than to keep him on the air in some capacity at NBC for many years to come.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: You have a lot on your plate for midseason. Is there room for it all?
Greenblatt: Unfortunately, you always have room for new shows. While everything may not play out before the end of the traditional broadcast season, we really do look at scheduling on a year-round basis, as we know our audience does, and some of these unscheduled shows might be great premiering in the spring and running into the summer.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: Do you think the critics are inordinately harsh on NBC? Why so?
Greenblatt: We've seen a big turnaround from the critics and the press in the last couple of months. The standard was very high from which this network fell over the past decade and the critics are right to demand great things from us. That said, I'd put much of our programming up against any other network — not to mention the volume that a broadcast network deals with compared to anyone in cable — and I feel confident that we're going in the right direction both in terms of ratings and quality.
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