NBC’s Greenblatt Takes Aim at Cable Peers #TCA14

Beverly Hills, Calif. — NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt took shots at cable and defended his network’s programming Sunday at the TCA summer press tour.

“Cable has the advantage of doing shows that are darker, more interesting on some levels, go into subject matter that just feels cooler than some of the stuff we can do,” Greenblatt said, fielding a question during NBC’s executive session about the downward trend among the broadcast networks in Primetime Emmy nominations as cable networks and digital services continue to garner more nods. “It’s just a fact of life.”

Asked whether he would favor a change in Emmy rules to accommodate more broadcast series, Greenblatt — who was joined on stage by NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke and NBC Entertainment president of alternative and late night, Paul Telegdy — joked, “Let’s bring back the CableACE Awards.”

But the differences between broadcast and cable persisted as a recurring topic throughout the executive session. Greenblatt bemoaned the lack of buzz around serial-killer drama Hannibal, versus a series like HBO’s True Detective, which is similar in tone.

“That’s a really good question, and I don’t know if I can answer it,” Greenblatt said, when asked why NBC can’t launch a show like True Detective. “Hannibal is, and I think most of the people in this room would agree, one of the best shows we have, creatively,” adding that it is also one of the best-reviewed series of his tenure at NBC. “If this were on a cable network, the small audience wouldn’t matter and it would be deemed more successful than it is on our network.”

Broadcasters, Greenblatt said, face a unique challenge when it comes to the content they present. “The minute you try to do something that is dark and subversive and frightening and gets into that territory, you start to peel away the mass audience,” he said.

Greenblatt was also asked about Starz CEO Chris Albrecht’s comments Friday at the press tour about new series needing to be given two or three seasons to establish themselves, and whether NBC could have given more time to The Michael J. Fox Show before pulling the plug last season.

“I think it’s great that cable chiefs are saying it takes a long time for a show to take root, because they declare their shows hits in the first season, whether or not they have an audience,” said Greenblatt, who spent seven years as president of entertainment at Showtime Networks before joining NBC in 2010. He added, “I’d love to have the luxury of not really having to worry about what the ratings are, as is true in cable.”

Other highlights from the session included:

--Greenblatt said that he is looking at the presence of NBC’s Thursday Night Football this year as an opportunity to potentially introduce comedy audiences to new series such as A to Z and Marry Me. “CBS is not going to have their big comedy lineup from 8 to 10, which is really potent,” Greenblatt said. He added that he believes the new comedies will be aided by lead-in The Biggest Loser. “It isn’t just putting four comedies out there and holding our breath and hoping for the best.”

--“We used to just throw the shows on in the summer that we didn’t have much faith in,” Greenblatt said of the increase in summer programming, pointing to this season’s new series Night Shift and Undateable as examples of shows that would have been good enough to premiere at any time of year.

--At the beginning of his session, Greenblatt announced that Christopher Walken would play Captain Hook in the network’s Dec. 4 live production of Peter Pan. Speaking to a small group of reporters after the session, Greenblatt said that he is still looking for his Peter Pan. It’s not like we can film this person at any time,” Greenblatt said. “I need this person from Aug. 5 to Dec. 5. So that knocks out the Kristen Bells of the world, who is someone that I talked to about doing it, and she was interested, but she’s doing House of Lies, and she’s pregnant.” Greenblatt then noted that he spoke to Bell about the role before she was pregnant.

--Telegdy was asked about Celebrity Apprentice, which has yet to be scheduled despite a new season having been announced. “We have produced a season of Celebrity Apprentice,” Telegdy said. “There is no news about when it is going to air.”

--Greenblatt was asked to offer advice to whomever succeeds the departed Kevin Reilly as network chief at competitor Fox. “If you’re doing two shows a year, you can handcraft them, you can be all over them, you can make sure that an episode doesn’t go out the door that isn’t as great as it possibly can be,” he said. “But when you’re doing 15 or 20 shows a year, the volume gets away from you. And you have to be okay with that.”

(Photo: From left--Jennifer Salke, president, NBC Entertainment; Bob Greenblatt, chairman, NBC Entertainment; and Paul Telegdy, president, alternative and late night entertainment, NBC Entertainment)