NBC has clawed its way back to first place in 18-49, but entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt knows the network has two big problems to fix if it wants to remain on top: addressing its comedy woes, and restoring luster to Thursday night, the onetime home of Must-See TV. As I wrote at Adweek,
While the refocus on comedy will take months or years to bear fruit, NBC is taking more immediate steps to save Thursdays, which “used to be the big night of television for NBC,” Greenblatt said. “It’s an important night for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is it is a great, desirable night for advertising.”
But the network has languished on the night with low-rated, quickly canceled comedies like The Michael J. Fox Show and this season’s Bad Judge and A to Z. “Putting comedies we love there and having them fail started to feel like the definition of insanity,” said entertainment president Jennifer Salke.
Instead, Greenblatt is making a bold but perilous gamble, moving his biggest scripted series, The Blacklist, to Thursdays at 9 p.m., where it will face-off against Scandal on ABC beginning Feb. 5. “It’s a risky but necessary move for us to make,” said Greeblatt, who pointed to other big Thursday-night shifts that seemed potentially disastrous at the time but paid off, including Fox’s The Simpsons, CBS’ CSI and most recently Grey’s Anatomy, which laid the groundwork for ABC’s TGIT.
Greenblatt also talked about his big development deal with Dolly Parton, getting out of his big development deal with Bill Cosby and which two shows are in contention for NBC’s next live musical broadcast this December.
NBC is building momentum among broadcast networks, but parent NBCUniversal’s cable networks are in transition, with USA regrouping after giving up on last year’s comedy push and Bravo and E! venturing into scripted series for the first time. All three networks made the case for their respective new directions at winter press tour, as I wrote at Adweek:
“It’s about creating that next generation of hits for us,” USA president Chris McCumber told Adweek. He said the network is shifting away from comedy to focus on its strong drama development slate, including Dig (debuting March 5), Complications (summer), and its cyber-crime drama Mr. Robot, which McCumber is most enthusiastic about.
“We saw the dramas that were coming down the line, and we said, we feel so strongly about them, that we want to make sure we pick our shots,” McCumber said. “You can’t launch everything. And so you need to be able to say, we’re going to prioritize these.”
Read the story for much more on Bravo and E!’s respective forays into scripted territory, with Odd Mom Out and The Royals.
It’s now become expected that each Super Bowl will break the previous year’s record to become the most-watched event in television history. So whenever a Super Bowl doesn’t do that (as was the case when CBS had the show in 2013) it’s often seen as a letdown. That means the pressure is on NBC as it prepares for this year’s Super Bowl on Feb. 1. As I wrote at Adweek,
“There would be huge disappointment if we weren’t the most watched show in the history of television after Super Bowl Sunday,” Fred Gaudelli, the coordinating producer for Super Bowl XLIX and Sunday Night Football, admitted to Adweek. “I don’t know that I’d say I feel the pressure of it, but that’s definitely my expectation, that after the game, that it will be the most watched show in the history of television. So it would be a huge disappointment if it wasn’t.”
Gaudelli is hoping for an audience of between 115 million and 120 million, so keep that in mind on Feb. 2 when the ratings come out.
Al Michaels, who will be calling his ninth Super Bowl game, talked at winter press tour about how the NFL has overcome the rocky start to its season, and recalled how much the sport has changed since Super Bowl I — which he was at — was played in front of 35,000 empty seats. Back then, “nobody had any idea that this would evolve into what it’s become,” said Michaels. Now, “it’s an undeclared national holiday. What else is somebody going to do on that particular day?”
For far too long, broadcast networks have programmed shows that don’t accurately reflect the cultural backgrounds of the audiences watching them. ABC has been changing that with a far more diverse slate than its broadcast counterparts. As I wrote at Adweek, the network’s entertainment president Paul Lee talked about the strides ABC has made as he met with reporters at winter press tour.
“I think it’s our job to reflect America,” said ABC entertainment president Paul Lee at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour this week. “I really believed from the beginning that the demographic changes in America were just as important to our revolution as the technological changes.”
At the same time, Lee noted, “We didn’t pick up these shows because they were diverse, we picked them up because they were great.”
Lee addressed a variety of other topics, including anthology-style series, the death of “least objectionable television,” and why binge-watching isn’t a bad thing. He also said that he has finally gotten the message about launching music competitions after last summer’s Rising Star fared even worse than Duets two years earlier. “I don’t think we’ll try that for a little bit,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll come back to that in the future.”
Community has managed to cheat death more times than Jason Voorhees. Last June, the cult sitcom — which had been canceled by NBC in May — pulled off its most improbable comeback yet, finding a new home on Yahoo Screen just hours before the cast’s contracts were set to expire.
Creator Dan Harmon and his reunited (and slightly smaller) cast spoke at winter press tour about the sixth season of the show — which debuts March 17 — and how audiences will watching in. As I wrote at Adweek,
The Yahoo Screen version of Community will be free but ad-supported. “The entire sixth season takes place inside a Honda,” joked Harmon. “Whether or not that means there will be classic commercial pods placed within the playtime, I’m a little out of my jurisdiction saying that, but I do know that I’m writing it as if there will [be ads] because as a writer, three-act stories are what work for me.
Much more remains up in the air, including how long each episodes will be, and whether Harmon will be given any ratings metrics. Also, Harmon said the shows longtime “six seasons a movie” mantra might need a rewrite: “I’m definitely not writing it as if it’s the end. That’s not happening,” he said. You’ll also want to read what Harmon and Gillian Jacobs said might happen the next time Community enters what fans refer to as “the darkest timeline.”
It’s not easy breaking exclusive news when you’re alongside 200 TV journalists at press tour, but it can be done. While researching my Adweek story on the launch of Pop, I noticed that a retrospective on The Cosby Show, announced last October as part of Pop’s initial slate, had quietly been dropped from the lineup. Brad Schwartz, Pop’s president of entertainment and media, explained his decision to place the episode on “permanent pause”:
“With everything going on, why do you need to run it?” said Schwartz, whose rebranded channel, Pop, celebrates “enthusiastic fandom,” which is pretty much the opposite of how most audiences now feel about Cosby. “I’m not going to pass judgment or make a decision on who’s right and wrong, but it was a very easy decision for us to say, ‘Let’s not air it.'”
The marks at least the fourth Cosby-related program to be taken off the air in the wake of Bill Cosby’s scandal. I also asked Schwartz, who had previously pulled 7th Heaven off TV Guide Network in response to the Stephen Collins child molestation allegations, if there are any circumstances under which the show will air. You’ll have to read what he told me.
While I’ve been busy covering (and writing about) all the panels at winter press tour, I’ve also been conducting several one-on-one interviews with various execs and talent. Many of those will be banked for the weeks and months ahead, but a few of them are running this week. First out of the gate is this Adweek feature on Pop, the new channel that TV Guide Network (also known as TVGN) is relaunching as beginning tomorrow. Brad Schwartz, Pop’s president of entertainment and media, walked me through the relaunch:
He and his team determined that “a complete revolution of the channel, where you completely alienate the people and start again with something fresh and new, is a very difficult road,” as OWN learned when it struggled after rebranding from Discovery Health. Instead, they opted for “an evolution. Let’s stay in this pop culture lane,” and take advantage of parent company CBS’s vast entertainment resources like Entertainment Tonight and Big Brother.
“Fandom, social media and these digital tools, they’ve created these borderless communities of people with shared passions,” explains Schwartz. “It’s why Comic-Con has never been bigger. It’s why there’s a show called Talking Dead that does nothing but talk about another show. Fandom is this thing that’s dominating culture these days. … I think it’s something that is a very appealing brand sensibility for advertisers.”
There’s a lot on Pop that will appeal to TV lovers, particularly Schitt’s Creek, a new original comedy series starring Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. Schwartz also talked about the name change and where he wants to take Pop going forward.
As reporters covering TCA winter press tour, we don’t clap or cheer for the panelists (which often confuses those who are used to being showered with applause when they walk on stage for a large audience), but I was sure tempted to break that rule when Kyle MacLachlan came out dressed as Agent Dale Cooper to announce that he had signed on to Showtime’s upcoming revival of Twin Peaks.
Now that the deal is clinched, Nevins says his job boils down to “more or less, writing checks and leaving them alone. It’s David’s show, it’s Mark’s show, I will be the grateful recipient of it,” he said. “I will say that they have been very specific in promising closure, and that’s exciting. … From what I’ve seen, this is going to live up to expectations and then some.”
Production will begin later this year, and while locations haven’t been finalized, “I hope to go back to Washington,” where the series was shot, said Nevins.
Read the rest of the story for much more on how Nevins sealed the deal with Lynch, and why Twin Peaks represents an anomaly for Showtime.
CBS still leads all broadcasters in total viewers, but during winter press tour, all anyone wanted to talk about was its big upcoming year in late-night. That included network president Nina Tassler, who announced that Late Show with Stephen Colbert will debut Sept. 8. While the title and premiere date are set, everything else about the show is up in the air, as I wrote at Adweek:
Colbert will have music and guests on the show, but “whether or not he’s going to start with an opening monologue, he’s working on that right now,” said Tassler. “But clearly he knows that he is introducing the real Stephen Colbert to his audience. And he’s really putting a lot of attention on making sure the show is still topical, is still relevant.”
Tassler said she is open to throwing out much of the traditional talk show format if that’s what Colbert wants, explaining that part of CBS getting into business with him was about “really letting him do what he wants to do. We’re sitting back and waiting for him to come to us and say what he has in mind.” Still, she said, “I think there will be parts [that are] traditional, in some context, and then there are things where he’s going to want to try something else.”
Tassler also talked about her surprising plans to bridge the gap this summer between Letterman’s May exit and Colbert’s debut in September.
Several hours before The CW won its first-ever Golden Globe, becoming the only broadcast network to do so this year, the network had an even bigger drop-the-mic moment: at winter press tour, it renewed eight series, including its entire fall lineup. As I wrote at Adweek,
No broadcaster in recent memory has ever renewed its entire fall lineup before. Pedowitz told reporters that this is part of the network’s transition to year-round scripted programming, with the renewed series returning over next fall, midseason and summer. “This enables us to finally get to the place of providing scripted summer programming,” he said, “and so the summer of ’16 should be a much bigger summer for us than ever before.”
Those hits have helped draw men back to the network. In the 2010-2011 season, the CW’s audience was only 30 percent male, and that percentage has grown to 40 percent this season. Also, “we grew a little older than we used to be,” said Pedowitz. “Our affiliates are happier [with] that.”
Pedowitz also talked about nurturing his low-rated but critically-acclaimed (and now Golden Globe-winning) Jane the Virgin, and why he’s exercising caution when it comes to crossovers and adding other superhero series to his stable.