Mariska Hargitay, Joel McHale
First, the good news: Mariska Hargitay will be back for another season of Law & Order: SVU, and Community will "definitely" return to the lineup this spring.
Hargitay delivered the news Friday — via a pre-taped clip with just-announced SVU guest star Harry Connick Jr. — to reporters gathered for NBC's winter TV previews. "I'll be back," Hargitay told Connick. "I can't leave this show. I'm having too much fun."
Law & Order: SVU Scoop: Harry Connick Jr. to play Benson's new love interest
NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt also reassured fans of Community that the comedy has not been canceled, even while it does not have a return date. "I failed to explicitly say it will be back," he said. On the other hand, when asked about prospects for a fourth season, Greenblatt said he'd have to wait and see how the network's six other comedies fare first.
As for the not-so-good news, Greenblatt in so many words said the network's adaptation of Prime Suspect was toast. "It is a disappointment," he said. "Creatively, I really loved that show." Production on the show was shut down last November.
Video: Community fans occupy NBC with flash mob
The executive further acknowledged that NBC "had a really bad fall." Of the new fall shows, The Playboy Club, Free Agents, Prime Suspect are all gone (Whitney, Grimm and Up All Night remain). "[It was] worse than I hoped for, but about what I expected."
But NBC's midseason slate — in addition to its new corporate owners at Comcast — have him optimistic about a slow-and-steady turnaround. Coming up: the Super Bowl, the summer Olympics, the return of The Voice, the addition of Howard Stern to America's Got Talent, and a handful of promising new shows. Here's what else he had to say about the state of NBC:
Ryan Seacrest to Today? Not so fast. Greenblatt said the network's No. 1 priority is to keep Matt Lauer. "It's our hope and belief that Matt will stay on the show beyond the end of his contract," which expires in Dec. 2012, he said, adding that speculation that Seacrest is in talks to replace him is "premature." But Comcast is definitely interested in keeping Seacrest (and his production company, which is responsible for E!'s Kardashians franchise) happy and in the family. "If he wanted to do interview specials for the network like Barbara Walters, that would interest us." Greenblatt said.
He's not nervous about Howard Stern turning America's Got Talent into a Standards and Practices nightmare. "I'm not worried about that for a second," Greenblatt said. "Aside from his radio persona, he's a very thoughtful, very intelligent person. He's a huge fan of the show and he wants to be a really good judge... I don't think his plan is to usurp the show and make it the Howard Stern circus."
Same goes for Ricky Gervais, who will be back to host the Golden Globes. "I'm very excited to see what he does this year," Greenblatt said.
The pressure is on for Smash (but not too much pressure). The upcoming musical drama, starring Debra Messing and Katharine McPhee, is very important to the network, but Greenblatt says it's not a "make-or-break show." "We're really proud of it and excited about what it could do... but you need four to five shows to turn things around" for NBC. That said, expect to see plenty of marketing driving to the show's launch on Monday, Feb. 6, after the second episode of The Voice. "You'll see a full-court press, including promotions in the Super Bowl," he said.
There's no such thing as too many music competition shows. So what if both American Idol and The Voice will share the spring? "I think there is a big appetite for these shows... Even The X Factor landed," Greenblatt said. And The Voice, the network's surprise hit last year, has a few unique things going for it: "We're really trying to focus on the excellence of the music, of the vocalists," he said. Not part of that: bad auditions, the hysteria of it. The show will run for 15 straight weeks, beginning Sunday, Feb. 5 after the Super Bowl.
Yes, there's still love for Whitney! Greenblatt praised the rookie comedy's creative growth, and called the first episode it will air this spring quite good. "I'm pleased with Whitney... I'm hoping it will be a long-term player for us," he said. Meanwhile, the other freshman comedy, Up All Night, will get a try-out in a post-Office time slot.
Elsewhere in NBC news: Ellen DeGeneres, Morgan Freeman, Tina Fey, Ray Romano, Seth Meyers and Tracy Morgan will attend Betty White's televised 90th birthday, which airs Monday, Jan. 16.
Serving as guest mentors for The Voice are Lionel Richie, Kelly Clarkson, Babyface, Jewel, Miranda Lambert, Alanis Morissette, Ne-Yo and Robin Thicke.
And the celebrities tracing their familial roots on the third season of Who Do You Think You Are? are Martin Sheen, Marisa Tomei, Blair Underwood, Reba McEntire, Rob Lowe, Helen Hunt, Rita Wilson, Edie Falco, Rashida Jones, Jerome Bettis, Jason Sudeikis and Paula Deen. The show returns Friday, Feb. 3.