NBC will air two Thursday “Saturday Night Live” prime-time presidential election specials, on Sept. 20 and 27, NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt announced as he opened his Q&A session.
It was news, but not exactly surprising.
Maybe more unexpected, Greenblatt told the NBC-Thursday-comedy-adoring critics that those Thursday comedies don’t cut it any more, and that NBC is getting back into the broadcast business.
“These shows are just great shows,” Greenblatt began. “They’re award-winning and incredibly sophisticated and clever and we couldn’t be prouder of them.”
But, he continued, “Given what’s happened at the network over the past four or five years in terms of general decline across the whole week. . .and loss of circulation, . . .we just can’t get the biggest audience for those shows. They tend to be a little bit more narrow and a little bit more sophisticated than I think you might want for a real broad audience.”
And by “broad audience,” he means “broadcast audience.”
“I hope these new shows that we’ve got for the fall and the spring are also clever and also smart and that you critics like them, but can also broaden the size of the audience,” Greenblatt said. “So I don’t want to say anything negative about what Tina Fey does, or ‘Parks and Rec,’ or ‘The Office.’ Those are great shows.”
But they need to get a broader audience, he concluded.
One critic responded that one of NBC’s new comedies “has animals all over the place” (“Animal Practice”) and that another “has babies all over the place” (“Guys With Kids”) and that one ended the first episode with people chasing cars with swords (“Go On”) — and wondered whether this was the price of a broader audience.
Another critic said that last season’s audience-broadening NBC comedies — like “Whitney” and “Are you There, Chelsea?” — were at best a “mixed success.”
Greenblatt was ready for that one, replying that he now has a whole new comedy-development department and ”a whole new sort of point-of-view comedy” strategy.
“I hope that when we come back here in six months, we can say that the fall comedies did even better than last year’s comedies.”
Another critic/fan of NBC’s Thursday comedies said that he’d “heard from a lot of people” that they think “Go On” — the new Mathew Perry comedy about a sportscaster in mandatory group therapy after the death of his wife — is structurally a whole lot like “Community” (the show that NBC barely brought back for next season, with a short order and a lousy Friday time slot, because its appeal is too narrow). So, what’s up with that?
The exchange was sad — like watching the cutest couple in high school break up.
On a brighter note, Greenblatt noted that NBC finished third this season for the first time since the 2003-04 TV season (though he did not properly thank the Super Bowl for its contribution). In an effort to repeat that again next season, sans Super Bowl, the network will aggressively sample many of its new shows on different platforms, and during the Summer Olympic Games.
The network will air the full pilot episode of “Go On” after its Aug. 8 Games coverage, and the pilot of new comedy “Animal Practice” on Aug. 12, after the closing Ceremonies. NBC also plans to air a six-minute sneak preview of its new drama “The Revolution” Aug. 4, in the 11 p.m. hour, after NBC’s coverage of a swimming competition that it assumes Michael Phelps will compete in and probably win.
“We’re in a position, given where we are with our ratings, where getting attention and added promotion — we just have to do everything that we can possibly do,” Greenblatt said.
He dismissed one critic’s suggestion that the Olympics is a “rented audience” that disappears back to ESPN and regional sports networks once the Games are over.
“I certainly don’t think the Olympics audience, which can be 30- to 40- to 50-million people on a given night, is necessarily a ‘rented audience,’ ” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll do a better job than has been done in the past of [making new-series promos] that are actually made for the Olympics that may engage that audience more. I don’t think NBC has ever run full pilots inside the Olympics before, which hopefully will drive a lot of audience [to those shows].”
Because those full pilot premieres will run without ads and out of prime time, they will not be rated by Nielsen.
“The good news about the Olympics coverage is that it goes till midnight,” Greenblatt said. “If we have 30 million viewers, or 25 million viewers pouring into one of those previews, we’d be thrilled.”