NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt came to the Television Critics Assn. session on Saturday with a slew of programming announcements, none more anticipated than the decision to make "Peter Pan" its next live musical production.
"Peter Pan" will air Dec. 4, with "Sound of Music Live" exec producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron back at the helm.
"Get ready for flying children and state-of-the-art effects," Greenblatt told the scribes during his exec Q&A in Pasadena. And he hinted that they are already closing in on a male actor to play the title role. He noted that the role in the musical version has often been played by a woman -- but not always ("Hint, hint," he told reporters.)
The interest among journos in the live musical announcement was indicative of the importance of the runaway success of the Dec. 5 "Sound of Music Live" telecast to the network.
Internally, it's seen as the strongest evidence that the turnaround at NBC is well on its way. Even more than a hot series, which NBC has fielded this year in "The Blacklist," the fact that the Peacock could get people to show up for a one-time special event indicates that viewers are paying renewed attention to NBC. The 19 million-plus viewer turnout for "Sound of Music Live" vastly exceeded internal projections, and that has been a huge confidence boost for network execs.
To wit, Greenblatt seemed more relaxed and less defensive than in past TCA appearances. He joked easily with NBC Entertainment prexy Jennifer Salke and Paul Telegdy, president of latneight and alternative programming, who joined him on stage.
"I've always said the turnaround would take three to five years," Greenblatt said. "We're just beginning year three and we have some real momentum this year."
Thursday night is NBC's single-biggest trouble spot this year. Greenblatt acknowledged that the heavily revamped comedy block is struggling, particularly "The Michael J. Fox Show" and "Sean Saves the World." But with some prodding from reporters, Greenblatt went "out on a limb" and confirmed "Parks and Recreation" will be renewed for a seventh season, which marks a turnaround for the show that was expected to be in its final season.
"We're really unhappy that we can't find an audience for ('Michael J. Fox' and 'Sean') in those time periods," he said. He left open the door to scheduling shifts.
Greenblatt mostly dodged questions about the prospect of NBC landing a Thursday package of NFL games that the league is shopping to networks at present. "We'd love to have more NFL games," he said. "Thursday night games might be really interesting to us."
The NBC topper was asked about his feelings on pilots and the pilot season process, which has running theme of TCA this year ever since Fox's Kevin Reilly made a strong statement about bypassing tradition this year.
"I actually love pilots," Greenblatt said, noting that NBC's frosh drama success this season, "The Blacklist," would not have been as strong a property without the refinement that comes with producing a pilot. But he agreed with Reilly's assertion that more development should be spread out beyond the January-April pilot season.
"If we can make (pilots) off cycle and get a star no one else has -- that's half the battle," he said.
The other hot topic this week has been the wrangling over "stacking" rights governing the availability of episodes on VOD and SVOD platforms. Greenblatt echoed the sentiments of his peers in hoping for some kind of industry-standard templates will emerge in the coming months.
"I don't think it will ever be uniform (for all networks)," he said. The calculations about how many episodes to make available on other platforms and when "are all very complicated issues that we are discussing every day. In six months it'll be probably different than it is today."
With NBC's Jay Leno-to-Jimmy Fallon "Tonight Show" transition less than a month away, Greenblatt took advantage of the TCA soapbox to profess the network's appreciation for its long-serving host. NBC has faced much criticism that it is prematurely dethroning Leno, who signs off Feb. 6, the night before NBC's Winter Olympics coverage begins. Fallon moves into the show on Feb. 17, when "Tonight" will air for a week following Olympics telecasts. Seth Meyers moves into Fallon's old job on "Late Night" on Feb. 24.
"To Jay Leno and (exec producer) Debbie Vickers, thank you for making TV history and for doing it with class on NBC," Greenblatt said. After the Q&A session, Greenblatt said he hoped Leno would stay in biz with NBC but that there have been no specific discussions.
Among the other programming news from the session:
** NBC has given a 10-episode order to "Wizard of Oz"-themed fantasy drama "Emerald City," exec produced by Matt Arnold and Josh Friedman for Universal TV.
** The eight-hour miniseries "The Slap," based on an Australian series, has been greenlit. Jon Robin Baitz is writing for Universal TV.
** Two more pilot orders: Drama "State of Affairs," starring Katherine Heigl as the CIA attache who gives the president the daily security briefing. Joe Carnahan, who helmed "The Blacklist" pilot, is writing and directing. Comedy "Old Soul" will be produced by "Parks and Rec" star Amy Poehler and star Natasha Lyonne as a woman who tries to find herself while working as an aide to the elderly. Both pilots hail from Univeral TV.
** Poehler has also inked a three-year overall producing pact with Universal TV.
** The final guests on Leno's "Tonight Show" will be Billy Crystal (his first guest when he began in 1992) and Garth Brooks.
** NBC is proceeding with plans for a variety-show special hosted by "Saturday Night Live" alum Maya Rudolph. It will air by the end of this season and serve as a backdoor pilot.
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