by Gary Levin, USA TODAY
"Last year I came here right off the top and said we had a bad fall," NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said at a TV critics' conference Sunday. "I'm not saying that this year."
In an unusual development - NBC has been the No. 4-ranked network for the better part of the past decade - it's now operating from a position of strength. NBC's audience has grown 19% this season, the only major network to show an increase, and ranks second behind CBS and first among the young-adult audience it sells to advertisers.
Most of fall's gains stemmed from the decision to add a fall run of The Voice, the singing competition that handily beat Fox's rival The X Factor. That, in turn, helped launch two companion series - the J.J. Abrams drama Revolution on Mondays and the Matthew Perry sitcom Go On on Tuesdays: They're the No. 1 new drama and comedy among the young-adult audience.
Now, it faces a daunting stretch with the football season over and The Voice and Revolution off the air until March 25.
Greenblatt says he has known since October that ratings are likely to drop sharply as a result, but he's hopeful that a new hit will emerge to at least partly offset the decline. The delay "is a safer play for us to make sure Revolution stays strong (by) not trying to stretch 10 episodes through a four-month schedule." Both that show and The Voice will extend until late June, providing a bridge to summer programming.
Instead, coming up are White House family comedy 1600 Penn, arriving Thursday (9:30 ET/PT) after last month's preview episode; Deception, due Monday (10 ET/PT), a soapy murder mystery; Do No Harm, a Jekyll-and-Hyde drama about a neurosurgeon (Steven Pasquale); and the return next month of Smash, now on Tuesdays where it will no longer have The Voice as a lead-in. Two more series - Save Me, a comedy with Anne Heche, and Hannibal, inspired by the Silence of the Lambs character - will await the failure of another series to find their opening, and might wait until summer or even next season.
And for next fall, NBC already has given the go-ahead to a full season of a new comedy starring Michael J. Fox that includes autobiographical elements. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, plays a newscaster grappling with a disease who stepped down from his job, says NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke, and "as is true with Michael's life, there is a new medication he is taking that allows him to function with the disease. He approaches his life and work with a lot of irreverence, he laughs at himself" even as "people deified him and put him on a pedestal" because of it.
Look for that show to become a new anchor on Thursdays, part of its bid to broaden the night's comedy audience after NBC says so long to 30 Rock and The Office.
On the unscripted side, the network this season will add dating series Ready for Love, executive-produced by Eva Longoria. And it will bring back The Biggest Loser and Celebrity Apprentice, whose star, Donald Trump, has ruffled feathers with a string of anti-Obama statements and a verbal attack on NBC News anchor Brian Williams.
Does NBC hope to muzzle him at the risk of harming the show?
"We live in a country where you can say anything you want as long as you're not harming people," Greenblatt says. "We talk to him all the time, but we really don't think what he's doing in his personal life is going to corrupt what he's doing on the show. If he's hurtful and does things that cross the line, then we'd talk about it." The statements "come with the Donald Trump territory. We talked him out of running for president; wasn't that good enough?"
Looking ahead, NBC announced plans Sunday for Camp, a light drama set at a summer getaway, to premiere in July from the team behind Deception. It joins America's Got Talent, American Ninja Warrior and a new adventure series with Bear Grylls on the summer lineup.
Greenblatt also addressed today's technological changes. He notes that networks increasingly look at cumulative audiences on TV and online to gauge the success of shows, regardless of whether all of those avenues are profitable.
"We're given the audience all these tools; it's our fault," he says. "We can't stick our head in the sand and say ... it's terrible because the business model has robbed us of our potency." The challenge is, "How do we get people to come to the network at the time we've scheduled our show?" and though that's true of Sunday Night Football and The Voice, "I hope we can do that with more of our scripted shows."
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