NBC is no longer in business with Bill Cosby, but the embattled comedy star was still the talk of the hour during NBC's executive session at the Television Critics Association winter previews on Friday.
Nearly two months after the network scrapped a family comedy set to star Cosby, NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt opened up about that decision in light of the recent allegations made against the comedian. "Fifteen women came out and accused him. While over the years, we'd heard some of those accusations and we knew there were a couple settlements and what not, it didn't seem to be the sort of thing that was critical mass," Greenblatt said. "When we realized that there seemed to be so much more of it, it wasn't something that we could just go, 'Oh, we're not sure.'"
Greenblatt continued: "He hasn't been proven guilty of anything, so I don't want to be the one that says, 'Guilty until proven innocent.' But when that many people come out and have similar complaints and it becomes such a tainted situation, there was no way we could move forward."
Greenblatt tried to underplay NBC's previous commitment to Cosby. "We never even got a first draft... so it wasn't something that was imminently going forward or even into production," Greenblatt said. "I guess I can only say that I'm glad we're out from under that."
As for any future relationships, Greenblatt stated it's "safe to say" that the network will no longer be working with Cosby.
Instead, NBC had plenty of other star-studded projects to announce Friday. The network has ordered 13 episodes of the single-camera comedy Telenovela, starring Eva Longoria as the star of Latin America's most beloved telenovela whose on-screen story lines are nothing compared to the drama behind the scenes. The series marks Longoria's first starring role since Desperate Housewives went off the air in 2012.
NBC is also officially in business with musical legends Stevie Wonder and Dolly Parton. The former is an executive producer on the upcoming eight-part miniseries Freedom Run, which tells the story of three couples fighting for their freedom on the Underground Railroad. Greenblatt, who also produced the Broadway musical adaptation of 9 to 5, expressed hopes that the miniseries will eventually head to the Great White Way with music composed by Wonder.
Parton has signed on to develop a series of "uplifting" TV movies based on her songs, stories and her inspiring life. "There aren't enough of those family-oriented projects and this could fill that gap for us," Greenblatt said.
Here's what else we learned from the executive session:
The Blacklist's big move: After several years of scheduling comedies on Thursday night, next month marks The Blacklist's move to Thursdays at 9/8c. The drama will air between the miniseries The Slap (8/7c) and Odyssey (10/9c) "Thursday has been a problem for us for the last few years," Greenblatt said. "We're trying to create a new night of high-quality drama which will hopefully bring an audience." Although Greenblatt doesn't expect the show to draw a larger than audience on Monday, he hopes that the show's highly anticipated post-Super Bowl episode on Feb. 1 will "help turn the tide" on Thursdays. "I just think that we can completely reconfigure the night and hopefully build something for the future that lasts," he said. "I think it's a risky but necessary move to make."
The future of comedy: With Parks and Recreation going off the air next month and dramas taking over Thursdays, what's next for the network's once historic comedy brand? Despite Parks' strong ratings on Tuesday, Greenblatt said he still believes "the time is right to end it," citing the cast's busy schedules. But what will take its place as NBC's signature comedy is far more uncertain. "We are really challenged by the comedy brand that we're trying to build on this network. It's been a couple of years of trial and error on a number of fronts," Greenblatt said. Particularly, the network is betting on more multi-camera shows like Undateable and the new Ellen DeGeneres-produced show One Big Happy. "It's just hard to build that audience back. We're doing it hopefully one show at a time." President of NBC Entertainment Jennifer Salke added that the network is even looking into doing a live comedy or a limited comedy series that will attract top talent. "We're really trying to attack it from all levels again," she said. "We just need to get some luck and some good scheduling."
Hannibal's return: The critically acclaimed but low-rated drama will return for Season 3 this summer. "It's a show we love," Greenblatt said.
The battle of the musicals: NBC optioned the rights to The Music Man months back, but that might not necessarily be the network's next live musical following The Sound of Music and Peter Pan. "We are actually looking very seriously at some casting options," Greenblatt said. "We actually just optioned the rights for The Wiz, and that could be what we do instead."
The fate of Constantine: NBC opted not to order more episodes beyond the initial 13. "We wish the show had done better live. It has a big viewership after in all kinds of ways. It has a younger audience," Salke said. "It kind of hasn't come out of Grimm the way we hoped." Added Greenblatt, "The future is still up in the air on that show."
Another Chicago Fire spin-off: The network is "thrilled" with both Fire and Chicago P.D.and said "the odds are great" that they will return next season. When asked about a possible Chicago Med spin-off, which has been rumored since a major crossover episode last spring taking place largely in the fictional hospital, Greenblatt said "it's a little premature" to say. "Chicago Med is something that we're just seeding into the system. Seeing if there's a show there that could eventually spin off into itself," he said. "It's a bit of an experiment to see how those characters come out, but [Dick Wolf]'s had such a good run with these crossover episodes," Salke said. "I think it's natural that he wants to create a medical component to that."
State of Affairs' recent decline: Greenblatt said he was "disappointed in the ratings the political drama has been doing the last couple of weeks, following it's "strong" performance at the end of last year following The Voice. "It's a show that I think is a really fine show and [I'm] scratching my head a little bit about why we can't get more people to be there for it." Salke questioned whether the show's serialized nature was drawing away viewers.
Jason Katims' future at the network Parenthood goes off the air on Jan. 29. Despite it's critical acclaim and loyal fan base, Greenblatt said he's not sure about the idea of creating another family drama. "It's never gotten the audience that I think it deserved. It's hard to do something like this," he said. "If something comes along that we love, I don't think we're just going to say no." Katims' other NBC show, About a Boy, is also being pulled from the schedule to make room for several new comedies. "About a Boy is not over yet and we're actually developing several things with Jason," Greenblatt said. Added Salke: "We just have to find the right thing with him but we're committed to him."
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