TCA: Improvements on the horizon at NBC

NBCNBC opened the network leg of The Television Critics Association press tour recently, taking place at the Beverly Hills Hilton in Los Angeles.

Executive session: NBC Entertainment President (and Rockford native) Robert Greenblatt talked to the press, coming off a yo-yo season (first in adults 18-49 in November to fifth in February), and looked ahead to the future – and more special event programming is in the cards. Included in the upcoming season is the Olympics, a live staging of The Sound Of Music, a live game show called The Million Dollar Quiz, and the recent picks for four miniseries – including an autobiography of Hilary Clinton. Greenblatt dismissed some of the ratings issues the network had this season, declaring “flat is the new up” (flat, in “TV industry talk”, means no change or movement in the ratings.) Greenblatt lamented on why the broadcast networks now don’t get more respect than their cable counterparts (hint: produce better programming.) Greenblatt also wasn’t happy with the way last season’s freshmen comedies performed, noting The New Normal’s failure: “It may have been slightly ahead of its time.”, noting the show’s focus on a gay marriage and a baby. Or simply put, the show wasn’t funny.

Among the panels NBC had for its new shows, were The Michael J. Fox Show, featuring the former Family Ties and Spin City star as a news anchor with Parkinson’s disease, an ailment Fox has in real life. In a rather creative twist, Fox works at WNBC, the NBC-owned station in New York – yes that WNBC, the one with Chuck Scarborough. So why set the sitcom at a real station instead of a fictional one? “A fictional TV network wouldn’t give us 22 episodes”, noted a producer. Too bad Sue Simmons isn’t at WNBC anymore… how would Fox react to this?

Another panel at the NBC presentation was Sean Saves The Family, featuring former Will & Grace star Sean Hayes as a gay bachelor whose fourteen year-old bachelor crashes his bachelor pad to live with him. Also returning to TV to play Sean’s mother after a long hiatus in Linda Lavin, of Alice fame.

Sean is filled with Chicago talent. Aside from Hayes (who hails from suburban Glen Ellyn), Sean also has casted Oak Park’s Thomas Lennon as Sean’s boss and Chicago native Ecko Keller as his co-worker. The program is set in Evanston, a suburb just north of Chicago and home to Northwestern University.

Don’t look for NBC to interrupt the closing ceremony of the next Olympics from Sochi for any “monkey business”… NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus promised there would be no more interruptions for premieres of new NBC shows. The network stopped airing the closing ceremonies of the Vancouver games in 2010 for the premiere of The Marriage Ref and the London games in 2012 for the premiere of Animal Practice. Viewers went on social media to slam NBC and neither series was a hit with viewers or critics.

In other Olympics news, Larazus said the network would address the political and social issues Russia is facing, including recent passage of an anti-gay laws. The network confirmed Al Michaels is anchoring NBC’s daytime and weekend coverage of the upcoming Sochi games and Apolo Ohno is being added as a speedskating analyst.

– Blair Underwood was at the panel of Ironside, a revival of the 1968-75 series which starred Raymond Burr (and is seen on MeTV weekday mornings at 10 a.m. CT.) There are a lot of differences between both versions – for one, the new version is set in New York City, not in San Francisco, where the original had been set. Second, Ironside’s character in the new version (well beside the color of his skin) is his rougher attitude, a “bad-ass” if you will, according to Underwood. Another difference is the um… **ahem** the black Ironside’s ability to have sex.

Hopefully, Underwood can deliver a more human and compelling performance than the robotic Burr did in the role (and to bring back the Quincy Jones theme song.)

– The most lively panel at NBC’s TCA presentation was for The Voice. Three of the four judges – CeeLo Green, Christina Aguilera, and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine were present, as was host Carson Daly. It was not exactly a lovefest, as many critics questioned the series’ ability to produce a mega-star, as American Idol had done. But Daly defended the show, saying searching for a megastar wasn’t the point.

Levine took exception to some of the question asked, including “I hate this country” comment, referring to voters of the show after two of his singers were eliminated, which of course, misconstrued by conservative-leaning news outlets.  Levine also took a shot a critics at the panel, calling them “a collective group of twits.” The rant wasn’t exactly on a Adam Carolla or Michael Patrick King level, but scathing nonetheless. When the panel concluded, security quickly whisked The Voice panel off the stage. Not exactly productive, and this session was a complete waste of time.