“I’d like to get right to it: we had a really bad fall — worse than I’d hope for, but about what I expected,” NBC chief Bob Greenblatt said, extinguishing any hope there might be some fiery exchange about NBC’s lousy performance so far this season at Winter TV Press Tour 2012.
He needn’t have bothered; The Reporters Who Cover Television attending the Tour in Pasadena represent about 60 percent of the Rabid Fans of “Community” Club — and another 20 percent of the club are back at the reporters’ company HQs.
So, once Greenblatt said he wanted to make it very clear “Community” has not been canceled, as some have speculated after it was taken off the schedule, they curled up peacefully at his feet like a litter of little puppy dogs for the rest of his Q&A session.
Still, it didn’t hurt that he tossed them some verbal kibble: “I really appreciate how respectful you have been toward me personally and my staff,” he said.
The puppies wagged their tails.
Most of the rest of his time on stage, at the Langham hotel in Pasadena, was spent Seriously Managing Expectations for the rest of the television season.
“People say the only place we have to go is up… but there’s a lot of work to do before we get there,” Greenblatt explained.
On the other hand, he said wistfully, were he still running programming at pay cable network Showtime, they’d be calling him the season’s “genius” for launching upcoming musical drama series “Smash,” Christina Applegate comedy “Up All Night,” the Whitney Cummings sitcom “Whitney,” and even the now-canceled cop drama “Prime Suspect.”
The reporters nodded nodded in agreement — except when he mentioned “Whitney” — they hate that one, no matter whether it’s on cable or broadcast.
At Showtime, Greenblatt said, “Prime Suspect” would have been picked up and renewed after the third episode, declared a hit, and it would be in production for three or four seasons
Realizing he sounded maybe a shade too regretful, Greenblatt joshed, “The subhead of my talk is ‘The Beauty of Cable.’”
Then, he joked, “I’m done with cable — it’s a dying business, and ruining the culture of America!”
After that, it was back to managing expectations:
NBC had few strong lead-ins off of which to launch new series. ‘Our most recent scripted hit is six years old,” he said, in re “The Office.”
He was even tepid about upcoming “Smash” — aka “Glee” for Adults — aka The Season’s Most Talked About New Series.
“I think ‘Smash’ is going to be very important to us. I don’t believe it’s a make or break kind of show for us. We’re excited about what it could do,” he said.
But, he hastened to add, it no longer takes one hit series to turn around a network, now “you need four or five shows to turn things around. I hope ‘Smash’ is one of those shows.”
But, “If it’s not, it’s not like we’re going to go into receivership,” he said. Reporters giggled.
One reporter screwed up the courage to ask if he thought he’d spent too much money developing this season’s crop of new shows, given NBC’s ratings performance in the fall.
“If we came up with ‘Modern Family’ we could have spent twice as much and been happy,” he responded.
Broadcast TV programming, he explained, is “like gambling. You don’t have any idea, in spite of how smart we all think we are…you don’t know what is going to work and what isn’t. Being in the position we’re in -- complete rebuilding mode -- it makes a lot of sense we should spend more money than Fox or CBS.”
The only time reporters growled a little during Greenblatt’s Q&A was when someone asked if he could promise “Community” would be back for another season next fall. Greenblatt said it was a “really hard question to answer” and that he’d have to look at what NBC’s pilot season yielded, and NBC’s scheduling needs, and make that decision closer to May, when the broadcast networks unveil their primetime schedules for next season to advertisers.
Greenblatt also devoted a certain amount of time to clearing up other, non-“Community” inaccuracies about NBC that have been reported in the press.
Ryan Seacrest is not about to replace Matt Lauer on “Today” show. But he’s a “big asset” for NBC parent Comcast, which also owns E! Entertainment, Greenblatt said.
And when a Big Asset’s contract is up, people in important positions at a company get together to talk to the Big Asset about what they’d like to be doing under their next contract. “We’d love to keep Ryan Seacrest in the family,” he explained, throwing out the idea Seacrest might instead become The New Barbara -- doing celebrity interview specials that would run in primetime, and on NBC instead of ABC.
But, Greenblatt reiterated, “It is our hope and belief Matt will stay beyond his contract.” Lauer’s contract reportedly expires at the end of this year.
To recap: NBC wants to keep Lauer on “Today” and to keep Seacrest in the family.
And, Mariska Hargitay is not leaving “Law & Order.” They gave her a break because she adopted a child. But she will be back and this spring they are giving her her very first love interest!
At which point Greenblatt instructed the reporters to watch a threw pre-taped bit in which Mariska chatted with -- oh look, it’s Harry Connick Jr. – the go-to love interest ratings generator on NBC’s Old “Will & Grace”!
Connick said he’s going to play an assistant district attorney and he’s really excited to get to play “educated” again. The two of them attempted to demonstrate chemistry with some overly orchestrated banter — not so convincing — then they told the reporters they had to go rehearse their “Sexy Time Scene.”
“God bless — Happy New Year!” Mariska trilled.