When you’re the first place network in the 18-49 demographic, there’s nowhere to go but down. But NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt likes the view from on high, and doesn’t plan on relinquishing the top spot anytime soon. And thanks to the huge events lined up February, he likely won’t have to. First up: Super Bowl XLIX, this Sunday.
Then, two weeks later NBC will air SNL 40, a three-hour live special celebrating Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary. Plus he’s making a huge gamble by moving The Blacklist, NBC’s top-rated scripted series, from Monday nights after The Voice to Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET, where it will square off against Scandal beginning next week.
Before diving into NBC’s biggest month of the year, Greenblatt spoke with TV & Not TV about the network’s plans for February — and next season.
You’ve got the Super Bowl on Sunday. How will you be promoting your shows to an audience of 100 million-plus?
It’s one of the great things that we have every three years, and we couldn’t be happier to have it this year as we go into this midseason with all these new shows. To have that huge audience see these promos is a great thing. We try to promote everything that we can, and hopefully there’s retention. There’s a lot of stuff going on that day for people, but I know the commercials actually are embraced by the audience, so hopefully we’ll also get some of that love. We also are making new, fresh Super Bowl commercials for many of our shows. There’s a special Blacklist commercial, there’s a special Voice commercial and I hope they’ll be noticed just like the great Budweiser and Pepsi commercials that are in there.
Super Bowl XLIX coordinating producer Fred Gaudelli told me it will be a “huge disappointment” if the Super Bowl doesn’t end up as the most-watched telecast in history. Do you agree?
Everyone’s fixated on record-breaking and numbers and stuff. Even if we don’t break the record — like we didn’t with Peter Pan and we didn’t with the Golden Globes this year — to aggregate 100-plus million people for an event like that for all those hours, is going to be phenomenal. Whether it’s 100,000 viewers more than last year, or 2 million less!
You made a good case for why you’re moving The Blacklist to Thursdays opposite Scandal, and why you need to be patient to build the night back up. That said, if the show is soft on Thursdays and Mondays are hurting without it, how tough will it be to stuck to your plan?
We’ll have to play it by ear. If it doesn’t work, and I don’t know exactly what that means yet, but if it’s a disaster, we won’t just live with it. We’ll change things around. I expect it’s not going to be everything we hope it’s going to be right off the bat, but I also think you have to plant the seed and over time, grow it and water it and nurture it, and hopefully rebuild it. But if it’s a big miss, then we’ll try to correct it, sooner than later.
All your focus right now is on the Super Bowl, but just two weeks later, you’re doing SNL 40 on Feb. 15. Very little has been revealed so far. How are things going, and will it be similar to the big 25th anniversary special in 1999?
Lorne [Michaels] is still putting it together. It’s going to be a big, three-hour, live event, in Studio 8H, with a lot of people who’ve been on the show or been involved with the show over the decades. Some very exciting live things are going to happen. It’s not going to be a preponderance of clips; there’s going to be a lot of stuff happening in the studio. To try to celebrate 40 years in three hours is not going to be easy, but it’s going to be a big event and we’re going to make a big noise.
It’s going to be featured in the Super Bowl. We have several big priorities happening before Feb. 15: the Blacklist episode after the Super Bowl, the Thursday move, the launch of The Slap [Feb. 12] and Allegiance [Feb. 5]… So there’s a lot to do, but SNL 40 is going to be a big agenda for us. I think it’s going to do well.
The Voice returns on Feb. 23. As you look ahead, do you still envision sticking with two cycles each year?
Look, there’s been some erosion there, as we knew there would be, as we play it again and again. But I’m really proud of the quality of the show, and I think the last cycle we just had was as good as any cycle we’ve had in the last seven cycles. As long as the creative stays really strong and we keep monitoring the erosion, we’ll keep doing it.
That said, it’s not inconceivable that we could decide to cut it back to one a season. But it still does better than almost anything else we have, even at the level that it’s at now. So selfishly, it’s hard to say, oh, for half a season, we’re going to give up that rating. We just have to keep watching it. I don’t know if the ratings are going to go up if we do it one season a year. We’ll see. I think the next cycle will tell us a lot, and then we’ll make a decision for next season.
Earlier this month you said that your next December live musical will either be The Music Man or The Wiz. Given how essential you said Carrie Underwood was to boosting The Sound of Music Live!’s audience in 2013 compared with Peter Pan Live! in December, will the decision come down to casting? Or will you pick the show first, then cast it?
I think it could be either. For something like The Music Man, we really need a central star to play the role of Harold Hill. But for The Wiz, I don’t think it’s as necessary to have one featured star, because there are six iconic characters that we know and love. So I actually think in case of The Wiz, we could build an ensemble of really interesting actors that maybe aren’t superstars.