"What a difference a year makes," NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt said during his opening remarks at the Television Critics Association winter previews Sunday.
Of course, he was referring to NBC's huge comeback this fall. On the strength of Sunday Night Football, a fall cycle of The Voice and new drama hit Revolution, NBC ended the fall as the No. 1 broadcast network. In fact, Greenblatt said the network was up 24 percent in the adults-18-to-49 demographic and 19 percent in total viewers; NBC was also the only network to improve in both measures this fall.
Returning winter shows: Where we left off
Greenblatt gave credit to the network's strategy to use the momentum of the summer Olympics to launch the new schedule. "The good news is, the strategy worked and worked better than any of us thought it would," he said. But the question remains: Can NBC stay on top? "Despite all the growth of this past fall, we're very much prepared for the reality of a first quarter without football," Greenblatt said. "No one is more aware what January through March brings than us. We have very robust midseason plans.
"At the end of the day, all we can do is try to attract the best people in the business to come to NBC," Greenblatt continued. "Then it's our job to create the most stimulating environment for those peple to become inspired to do their best work. And of course you have to get a little lucky, which I think we did this fall."
If Revolution is such a big hit, why take it off the air until the end of March? When asked about the recent bad track record for serialized shows that take long midseason breaks, Greenblatt retorted, "Is it uniformly terrible or uniformly terrible for terrible shows? If you've got the goods, and I think we have it, the safer play for us is to make sure Revolution is strong and continues to be strong for the next few years, [not] stretch the last 10 episodes through four months of the schedule."
What's up with all the changes to Up All Night? When the comedy returns, it will be shot in a traditional, multi-camera format — and without its creator. "I think we're going to keep the name. We're still in the throes of creatively developing what the multi-cam version is, but I think it's going to be starkly different," Greenblatt said. "It will be the same characters, but there may be a high-concept twist to it that we're still working on." NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke said NBC's executives felt that it was better to make the unusual change than to scrap the project and work with the actors on other projects. "That talented cast of actors aren't growing on trees," Salke said. "They still thought there were stories to be told in that world and were collectively very passionate about telling them. We felt [being] in front of a live audience would be the best solution. It's a bit of an experiment, but we think it's one worth taking.
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Speaking of revamps, how will Smash's second season be different? NBC's Broadway drama made more cuts than A Chorus Line and brought in a new showrunner for Season 2, but Greenblatt said the show will still be familiar. "It wasn't so shocking to me that Karen's boyfriend would leave the show and that Julia's marriage would break up and her husband would disappear," he says. "In some big ways it's a different show, but it also is very much the same show." Plus: With the arrival of guest stars Jennifer Hudson and Jeremy Jordan, Bombshell won't be the only show in town.
Is NBC worried about Jimmy Kimmel competing head-to-head with Jay Leno? Short answer: No. "I don't think it'd be wise to prognosticate on the ratings," Paul Telegdy, president of alternate and late night programming, said. "We anticipate some kind of impact... but Jay has proven himself to be extremely resilient. We're braced for it with hard work and [with] our sleeves rolled up." As for reports than NBC is considering a succession plan for Leno's eventual retirement, Greenblatt said, "We haven't. We extended [Jay's contract] and it would be disingenuous to extend him and talk about a succession plan. We're thrilled to have the one-two punch [of Leno and Jimmy Fallon]. All of those conversations are premature."
Will this be the final season of Community? After the panel, Greenblatt told reporters that there is "absolutely" a chance for Community to be renewed for a fifth season. "I'm always hopeful for a show to continue," he said. "We co-own it and I'd love nothing more to see it continue." Greenblatt also says the new season of the show should still please fans who are worried about the creative direction of the show after creator Dan Harmon's departure. "I think you're going to see relatively the same show that you've seen before and I hope that's a good thing," Greenblatt said. "Maybe there's a little more heart built into it, but we didn't fundamentally change it."
Check out the winter TV premiere schedule
Will Steve Carrell return to The Office before it signs off? "I'm hopeful, but I don't think he will," Greenblatt told reporters. "He left in the way that he wanted that character to leave, and I think he and [executive producer Greg Daniels] have talked about it. I don't think he'll be back. There's maybe a little Hail Mary pass on a cameo, but I think the decision is that it'll go out without him compromising his exit."
When are we going to see Bryan Fuller's take on Hannibal Lecter? Greenblatt said Hannibal could make it on the schedule before the end of the season if other midseason offerings fizzled. But he also said it could be held for summer, where it might be competitive against high-quality cable dramas. Added Salke: "It's very unique. It's like a procedural you've never seen before."
Speaking of Hannibal, is NBC concerned about its violent content in the wake of the Newtown school shooting? "We were all stricken as everyone was with that horrible tragedy," Greenblatt said. "It weighs on all of us. ... It's always in our mind; this just brought it to the forefront." But Greenblatt, who shepherded Dexter at Showtime, believes the trick is how the violence is displayed. "Criminal Minds is worse than Dexter ever was," Greenblatt said. "There's a lot of violence around [Hannibal], but you don't see a lot of acts of violence."
How does NBC feel about Donald Trump's political commentary during the election season? "We live in a country where you can say anything you want as long as you're not harming other people," Greenblatt said. But Greenblatt doesn't think that Trump's comments have affected Celebrity Apprentice. "He's got a political belief system. I really don't think what he's doing in his personal life is going to corrupt what is happening on the show," Greenblatt said. "If he becomes somehow hurtful or says or does things that cross a line, we'd figure out what to do about that."
Does Animal Practice's quick cancellation signify that NBC's "broad comedy" strategy was a failure? Greenblatt said the network will continue to try to find "concepts that are going to be more inclusive for a larger audience to come to." As for Animal Practice, Greenblatt said it "looked to us to be a very accessible show. It tested really well. ... You don't look at these things and go, 'Oh, my God, that's the worst show I've ever seen on television. Put it on!' You actually go in believing you have something. The bad news is you're often wrong."