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NBC thinks not losing is winning

Published August 4, 2013 7:21 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Beverly Hills, Calif. • Part of a network executive's job is selling his network to the press and the public. And darned if NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt didn't do just that to members of the Television Critics Association.

In essence, he told us that by not losing, NBC won. Even though it remains in third place in the 18-49 demographic and fourth-place in household ratings.

"Season to date, we're the only broadcast network flat from the previous season," he said. "I know one could say how good is it to celebrate being flat? But at this point in our business, flat is the new up."

Well, sort of. Although, clearly, this isn't a good thing. And he's including numbers from the summer, which the other networks don't include.

"We do know that network television declines consistently 4 to 7 percent every year," Greenblatt said. "It just is a fact. It's not something that we're happy about or proud of. But I think in that environment, which we know is very complicated these days, I think holding your position is a good thing. The other nets are all down."

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

The fact is that NBC is starved for hits. The only thing that's even within range of being a hit is "The Voice," and that was down tin the spring.

And there's nothing on the fall schedule that shows a whole lot of promise of breaking out.

Greenblatt's answer to that is, "We need to be in the event business." Which seems, at first glance, an odd approach given that network television success is built on series.

Yes, he was talking about live events. The NFL. The Winter Olympics. "The Voice." "America's Got Talent." A game show called "Million Second Quiz." A live version of "The Sound of Music" (that will air tape-delayed in the Mountain Time Zone, no doubt). A variety of other specials.

But he's also talking about turning his series into "events."

"'Revolution" was a big event conceptually, and it did really well for us," Greenblatt said. "It's harder in comedy. Michael J. Fox, however, coming back to a comedy is an event for us, and I think we have some shows that we'll be talking with you more about as the day goes on, like "Blacklist," that is going to feel like an event."

Yeah, good luck with that. I like "The Michael J. Fox Show" and I'm cautiously optimistic about "The Black List," but, again, you've got to have the goods.

NBC announced four miniseries - an update of "Rosemary's Baby"; a biography of Hillary Clinton that will star Diane Lane; a remake of Stephen King's "The Tomyknockers"; and something about the Pilgrims tentatively titled "Plymouth."

Maybe they'll work. Maybe not.

But a network's success is built on series. And I don't think NBC has the goods.