NBC’s top executives took to the press tour stage in Pasadena with a newly discovered personality trait: Cockiness.
Year after year, NBC was hammered by critics at these semi-annual TV critic panels as the network dipped lower and lower in the ratings. With NBC jumping to first place this fall, entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt and reality chief Paul Telegdy, along with programming president Jennifer Salke, faced the hotel ballroom of reporters on Sunday with some Peacock confidence. Greenblatt noted that Fox entertainment chief Kevin Reilly recently said “a lot of us have our head up our asses.”
“That may be true of other places,” Greenblatt said. “I can guarantee you, we don’t have our heads up our asses.”
Greenblatt launched into a blizzard of statistics about the networks’ ratings performance, headlined by its 24 percent improvement among the key adults 18-49 demographic so far this season when all the other major network rivals have dropped (NBC was boosted by adding The Voice to its fall lineup, among other programming moves). “Last year I came out here and admitted we had a bad fall,” Greenblatt said. “I’m not saying that this year … CBS is down 13 percent, ABC is down 4 percent and Fox is down 23 percent. We all know CBS still beats us among total viewers, but we’re now a clear No. 2 we were a distant fourth a year ago.”
Though Greenblatt attributed Reilly’s “asses” quote to a November discussion about fall broadcast performance, it’s worth noting the Fox executive was actually making a point about how networks have responded to rapidly evolving content distribution technologies.
The team also took a shot at ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, which dive-bombed in the ratings this fall during its first-ever “all stars” edition. “I was baffled why they went the all-star route on Dancing, most of the producers were, as well,” Telegdy said. “That’s a show where you’re seeing someone who allegedly can’t dance at the start of the show and whose performance improves over many weeks. That story seems to be removed from the all‑star iteration.”
When defending the violent content in the network’s upcoming serial killer drama Hannibal, Greenblatt — who previously launched the cable hit Dexter while heading at Showtime — pointed out, “[CBS’] Criminal Minds is worse than Dexter ever was.”
And Greenblatt, noting NBC’s median age has declined to 48, even knocked the oft-overlooked CW network, whose audience got a bit older this fall. “Did anyone think that the network once known for its teenage profile [would have] a median age of 41?” Greenblatt said.
The elation at NBC could be short lived. The executives have acknowledged they expect to slip out of first place one their powerhouse NFL franchise Sunday Night Football finishes its current run and Fox launches its still-powerful American Idol this month. But the fall performance has definitely given the network bragging rights, breaking a nine-year losing streak and putting the broadcaster in a better position to launch new shows.
Other topics addressed by the executive team:
— On whether Celebrity Apprentice kingpin Donald Trump’s right-wing political antics are hurting the network: “I don’t think what he’s doing in his personal life is going to corrupt what is happening on the show,” Greenblatt said. “That said, if he becomes somehow hurtful or says or does things that cross a line, we would figure out what to do about that.” The executive then joked: “We talked to him about running for president, wasn’t that good enough?”
— On the upcoming Michael J. Fox family comedy, which will launch in the fall: Fox will play a newsman grappling with Parkinsons. “The story of the pilot is actually him coming back into a seat at the [newscast] … and the family rallying around him,” Salke said. “He approaches his life and his work with a lot of irreverence and he laughs at himself and his kids joke about him.” NBC is also considering Dracula for a fall launch, with Hannibal likely to premiere in late spring.
— On whether Jimmy Kimmel Live moving to 11:30 will harm Jay Leno’s Tonight Show ratings: Greenblatt noted, “The reason we’re not that concerned is Jay’s legacy of being the incumbent No. 1.” Moreover, NBC brass feels that ABC jettisoning Nightline from the slot will free up some viewers who might be more likely to switch to Leno than watch Kimmel.
— On TV violence in the wake of the Newtown school shootings: “Obviously, we were all stricken as everyone was with that horrible tragedy … the best tonic for ‑‑ not to be glib — but for this kind of thing is go watch an episode of Parenthood as a really great example of a show about a family who love each other and grapple with all of the issues in life,” Greenblatt said. “Ultimately, I think you feel good at the end of the day.”
— On whether NBC risks over-running The Voice by airing it twice a year: Telegdy said “we consider the experiment of going twice this year a success.” And Greenblatt added, “If we feel for some reason we’re hurting the franchise we could very well adjust that,” and pointed to the network scaling back on Biggest Loser. Moreover, the team feels having a couple new coaches this spring will help keep the show feeling fresh.