TCA: NBC hopes to keep its momentum

NBCUniversal Events
NBC Entertainment Chief Bob Greenblatt at TCA (Credit: LA Times)

After a few lean years, NBC is back in the ratings ballgame, thanks to the success of The Voice, Revolution, Sunday Night Football, and to a lesser extent Go On. With the former two programs out until spring, can NBC keep its momentum going? Can network chief Robert Greenblatt (who I already like more than his predecessors) steer the network back to respectability? These issues -and much more – were addressed at the tour:

Executive session: NBC programming chief Robert Greenblatt touched on a number of subjects during his chat with reporters, including Community, violence, and Donald Trump:

– Greenblatt was happy with NBC’s performance prime-time this fall (#1 in adults 18-49), but remains cautious preceding forward: he’s banking on new series like Deception and Do No Harm to carry the network until The Voice and Revolution return on March 25. Greenblatt also addressed the possibility of Jimmy Fallon taking over the Tonight Show after Jay Leno’s contract expires (premature) and is not worried about archrival Jimmy Kimmel’s move to 10:35 p.m.

Addressing the issue of violence on television – brought up in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, Greenblatt questioned the link of a show about a serial killer (Dexter, which he helped put on the air at Showtime) and real-life violence. Greenblatt also took (a well-deserved) swipe at CBS’ Criminal Minds, saying the series was more violent than Dexter ever was. Greenblatt was also upbeat about Days Of Our Lives‘ future, which in fact, was just renewed through 2014.

Greenblatt is also hopeful about a Community return for a fifth season, despite the fourth season being delayed and the departure of Chevy Chase and series creator Dan Harmon. But the series is returning on February 7 – and once again, the series is on opposite The Big Bang Theory, which recently drew a series high 19 million viewers. To put it there is to ask it to fail – hell, it would be better off on Fridays, where it was scheduled to run, paired with Whitney. Sadly, there will be no fifth season of Community.

On to the panels:

– At the panel of Deception, showrunner Liz Heldens addressed the issue of race… by not really addressing it, given the lead character (played by Meagan Good) is African-American. Heldens said the issue wasn’t brought up in the writer’s room and said the racial makeup of the cast makes it easier to deal with race without talking about the issue. Ratings for Deception – a heavily serialized drama about a detective (Good) going undercover to investigate a murder of a well-known socialite – have been disappointing thus far (down from last fall’s Revolution) and reviews have been so-so.

– Another new NBC series, Do No Harm, deals with a neurosurgeon whose body is overtaken by a different alternate personality every night. Showrunner David Schulner said the multiple-personality concept isn’t nothing new, liking it to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. From Deadline: “I think ultimately you can only write the show that you want to watch, and this was a show that I wanted to see on TV. I wanted it to be fun. I wanted it to be thrilling. I wanted it to be a roller-coaster ride. And I wanted it to have stakes. I also wanted there to be a love story at the center of it. Hopefully those ingredients will make it different than what has come before.” That’s nice in all, but what someone wants to see isn’t necessarily the same what the viewer wants.

1600 Penn, the lone new comedy on NBC’s mid-season schedule, said its planning to have media figures on the show – but not real-life politicians. The series – which has already received rave reviews – is sort of Modern Family-esque. The producers behind the show said its family first – not politics.

– Look for a few changes in the second season of Smash, which kicks off February 5 with a two-hour premiere – but don’t look for an entire overhaul, despite the change in showrunners (from Theresa Rebeck to Joshua Safran). Look for more original music (as in musical numbers) and younger cast members. In addition to key cast members from last year, Jennifer Hudson joins the cast for three episodes in February.

– The latest bunch of fools participating in Donald Trump’s pony-and-trick show (Celebrity Apprentice) took the stage with Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame) defending the show, calling it “the most honest show I’ve ever heard about in reality.” Jillette went on to say: “Celebrity Apprentice has more integrity and is the most straightforward show I’ve ever seen… I have never seen or heard an example of disingenuous editing or anything being done out of context.” Meanwhile, Greenblatt told the press at the tour he’s prepared to take action if Trump (who was not present) “says or does things that cross the line”, referring to Trump’s controversial tweets the night President Obama was re-elected. It remains to be seen if his nasty comments would hurt Celebrity Apprentice’s ratings going forward.

– J.J. Abrams addressed the press about whether or not Revolution would be able to its audience due to a four-month hiatus – Abrams pointed out its the same model cable uses to much success and he and producer Eric Kripke welcomed the break – it gives the production crew time to assess the show and make adjustments and give the viewer nine uninterrupted weeks of outstanding entertainment.

The following day, NBCUniversal held panels at TCA for its cable networks:

– USA Network announced at the tour it was renewing Necessary Roughness for a ten episode third season this summer. The popular football drama series has averaged 5.3 million viewers during its run last summer. USA canceled Common Law, Fairly Legal, and Political Animals.

– SyFy announced it was premiering “groundbreaking” new series Defiance on April 15. Combining a scripted series with an online gaming element (being released in April), the series is set in Defiance, Mo., a city set on top of the ruins of St. Louis (insert joke here), where different species have to get along. Despite the online game tie-in, players will not have an influence on the plot, according to exec producer Kevin Murphy and SyFy president Mark Stern.

– Oxygen picked up three new series, all of the matchmaking/marriage/revenge variety: Find Me My Man, Too Young To Marry, and Fat Girl Revenge. Oddly enough, Oxygen did not address the controversy surrounding the proposed pilot All My Babies, which was scrapped on Tuesday. The pilot features rapper Shawty Lo and the various women he fathered children with.

– Other NBCUniversal cable shows announced at the tour include Golf Channel’s In Play With Jimmy Roberts; CNBC’s Family Business Project and Big Fix for their Tuesday night lineup; and E! signed Olympian Ryan Lochte to do a reality show.