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TV Column
Posted at 04:38 PM ET, 08/01/2011

Summer TV Press Tour 2011: NBC’s future plans include animated shows, Sean Hayes


NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt (Katy Winn - AP)
NBC is getting into the primetime animation business and has deployed “The Office” exec producer Greg Daniels to make it happen, NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt told TV critics, reporters, bloggers, and tweeters at Summer TV Press Tour 2011.

Also, “Will & Grace’s” Sean Hayes will be back on NBC in a comedy that’s in the early stages of development.

And, the network is developing a half-hour sitcom with Adam Levine, the Maroon 5 frontman who is one of the coaches on NBC’s singing competition “The Voice.”

Yes, NBC may now be owned by Comcast instead of General Electric, and may have a new Entertainment chairman in Greenblatt, but some things never change – like the NBC tradition of running out the clock at Press Tour executive Q&A sessions with a slew of mini-major announcements:

NBC’s Universal Media Studios, which Greenblatt oversees, has struck a deal with Funny or Die website creators Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” “The Other Guys”) to develop – well, something.

Tick, tick, tick…

And Dick Wolf, who’s seen his NBC/Universal empire diminished greatly with the cancellation of “Law & Order: Los Angeles,” “Law and Order; Criminal Intent,” and “Law & Order: The Mothership,” is bouncing back with a new, non-lawyer drama in development.

Oh, and NBC is looking for a Big Star to front a primetime variety show.

Tick, tick, tick…

And then there’s an upcoming NBC Christmas special starring Michael Buble, from Lorne Michaels and former NBC Entertainment chief Benjy Silverman. Silverman’s legacy at NBC includes the exhumations of “Knight Rider” and “American Gladiators.”

And, NBC is also working on something called “Celebrity Game Night” which, frankly, exceeds our ability to care, except that Greenblatt promised Tom Hanks would pop by on that one.

“We want to emphasize animation,” said Greenblatt in his first appearance at Press Tour since being named to his NBC gig.

Greenblatt, who most recently headed programming at pay cable network Showtime, also was a programming suit at Fox back in that network’s early days when “The Simpsons” helped put it on the map. And deploying Daniels isn’t such a leap – he co-created Fox’s long-running animated series “King of the Hill” and also worked on “The Simpsons.”

Meanwhile, “Sean [Hayes] is a friend and it’s time for him to star in a comedy again,” Greenblatt told TV critics who seemed to mostly agree. Hayes, who has gone in for producing the past few years, is an exec producer of NBC’s Greenblatt-ordered new fairy-tale crime drama — yes, seriously — “Grimm” (He’s also an exec producer on TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland”).

Dick Wolf’s new series is a “big firefighter concept” that’s being written by “3:10 to Yuma” scribes Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, Greenblatt continued.

Adam Levine’s sitcom, on the other hand, is inexplicable. Greenblatt said something about Levine, whose “The Voice” was one of the few new bright spots on NBC’s schedule last season, wanting to broaden his empire. We are reminded of the deal to produce other thing for the network that Ryan Seacrest struck with Fox as a condition of continuing to host “American Idol.”

And, about that primetime variety show, Greenblatt said, “I think a lot of these reality shows ARE variety shows,” noting Stevie Nicks appeared on “The Voice.”

Key to resuscitating the genre, Greenblatt said, is finding the big personality to front the show. “Who’s the modern day Sonny and Cher, or Dean Martin?” he asked, rhetorically.

“ There’s a couple of people we’re thinking about. It’s just a matter of how to get them to do television, ‘cause we think we need Big Stars to front those shows.”

And, last but not least in Greenblatt’s filibustering/announcement-making: that “The Voice” broadcast following NBC’s telecast of the Super Bowl on Feb 5, 2012 will, indeed, be the show’s second-season debut, Greenblatt revealed, to the surprise of absolutely no one in the jam-packed Beverly Hills Hilton ballroom

The following night, “The Voice” will air another episode, leading into to the unveiling of NBC’s new one-hour musical drama “Smash.”

Speaking of “Smash, ” Greenblatt said his goal, for however long he survives in the high-turnover world of broadcast network programming chief-dom, is to inject the kind of “event” quality into scripted programming that you find in reality TV hits, which dominate the ratings these days.

“Smash” – which Greenblatt reportedly had been toying with while still at Showtime -- is arguably the most anticipated new series of the upcoming broadcast TV season. It’s a one-hour musical series with an actual storyline (unlike that other one we all know and love), about the staging of a Broadway musical on the life of Marilyn Monroe, starring “American Idol” non-winner Katharine McPhee; it has Steven Spielberg money behind it.

“’Smash’ is maybe the most adventurous show we do and may ultimately be the most narrow show we do,” Greenblatt said, hedging his bets. “It’s hard to know where we’re going to come out on the continuum here.”

“The beautiful thing about reality shows,” he said, is that they, “in many ways, are more event-like. They’re live, often. Something is happening. People are voting. We have to figure out some clever ways to make scripted shows as much of The Must See as we can.”

That said, Greenblatt assured TV critics, and reporters, and bloggers, and tweeters that he does not intend to turn NBC into Showtime, “but I would love to bring some of the creative vitality we had, to NBC. “We just have to do it in a way that is broadcast and commercial…One of the things that worked for me is you find people you really love their voice and do everything you can to stay out of their way.”

For the critics, and reporters, and bloggers, and tweeters, who’d suffered through years of NBC suits talking to them about “programming to margins” (a.k.a. Jay Leno’s primetime show, etc.) Greenblatt’s words fell like a gentle rain on a parched land. They asked him to give them quotes about how much better things are at NBC now that it’s no longer being run by General Electric.

Greenblatt noted he did not work for NBC during the days of the dim bulbs at GE. But, he said, he “heard” about it, and got the sense they treated NBC network like “it was a declining business and let’s manage the decline and hope to get the best out of it.”

In contrast, he said, the Comcast suits at the highest level have expressed “real enthusiasm for broadcast, and a desire to take this venerable NBC institution and raise it back up.”

On the other hand, Greenblatt did not forget to remind his audience that he inherited most of the new shows that populate NBC’s fall schedule, and promised he would “take credit for the ones that work and blame people no longer here for the ones that don’t.”

By  |  04:38 PM ET, 08/01/2011

 
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