Speaking to a gathering of reporters here Wednesday morning, Greenblatt took a bit of a victory lap to celebrate the network's good fall ratings. Even when you factor out its popular "Sunday Night Football," the peacock network is still No. 1 in primetime in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic.
But a few solid performers or a decent season doesn't make a successful network. Once home to the popular "Must-See TV" comedy block on Thursday nights, NBC has been a sitcom wasteland over the past few years, turning Thursdays over to dramas like "The Blacklist."
"Everyone knows [comedy] has been one of our biggest challenges," Greenblatt acknowledged.
The network has gone with a slightly more eclectic approach to scripted comedy as of late, rather than stick with the single-camera style that resulted in nightmarishly low ratings for shows like "Community" and "30 Rock." At the same time, Greenblatt reminded reporters Wednesday that "The Office," one of the more beloved comedies of the 2000s, wasn't exactly a ratings juggernaut.
Key for this strategy is diversity on screen, in addition to format. "The Carmichael Show," a multi-camera sitcom with an African-American cast, had a six-episode run in the summer, normally a sign of a burnoff. But "Carmichael" was a critical hit, and it performed well enough in the ratings to warrant an expedited second season that will premiere in the first half of 2016. "We knew we had to bring it back almost regardless of the ratings," said Greenblatt. "[Creator] Jerrod [Carmichael]'s version of a family show tackling relevant issues is very reminiscent of Norman Lear."
NBC's two new comedies currently airing, "Superstore" and "Telenovela," also have Latina leads in America Ferrara and Eva Longoria, respectively. Again, while not juggernauts, they're solid performers.
"You have to be patient in this crazy world we live in," Greenblatt said.
Up All Night
NBC's late night is a little whiter than its prime time, but it's still the real winner in the category. While CBS made a splash with the debut of Stephen Colbert as David Letterman's replacement on "The Late Show," Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight Show" is bludgeoning the "Late Show" in the 18-49 demographic by 60 percent, and even Seth Meyers' "Late Night," which airs an hour after Colbert, sometimes beats him. Which is why the network just closed a deal with Meyers, who has been in the NBC family for 14 years at this point, to keep him at the "Late Night" desk through February of 2021.
Heads Up for ‘Hairspray’
"How do you get people to watch something when you air it?" Greenblatt asked.
That's the $70 billion question every TV executive is grappling with these days. The addition of an annual live musical to NBC's lineup has brought some life to the dreary December landscape, though ratings for its most recent production, "The Wiz," didn't top 2013's first outing, "The Sound of Music." It was a vast improvement over 2014's "Peter Pan," however. And while the deals haven't closed yet, Greenblatt said 2016's musical production will be "Hairspray."
As for complaints about seemingly endless commercial breaks during "The Wiz," Greenblatt attributed that to fewer big corporate sponsors, which necessitated the addition of a few more commercial spots to make up for the potential shortfall in ad dollars: "I'm in the business of selling advertising. I would love to do a musical with no ad breaks."
But the live musical business isn't just about cold hard cash. "It's also nice to have that old-fashioned feeling of, 'Let's all go home and watch this show together,'" Greenblatt said.
In fact, that feeling is so nice, Greenblatt is even pushing the idea of live episodes of dramas. "Unfortunately, I just can't seem to get any traction," he told International Business Times.
Dick Wolf, the creative force behind NBC's "Chicago" procedural franchise ("Chicago Fire," "Chicago P.D." and "Chicago Med" are all currently airing), simply laughed in NBC execs' faces when they asked him about doing an "E.R."-style live episode, and producers of other series are similarly recalcitrant.
Never say die, though, with Bob Greenblatt: He's still in talks with producer Aaron Sorkin to air a live adaptation of "A Few Good Men."