NBC at the TCAs: Community will be back, not that we can be certain of anything anymore

NBC at the TCAs: Community will be back, not that we can be certain of anything anymore

As much rancor has been directed at NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt in the past months, Bob Greenblatt wants you to know that nobody’s more down about it than Bob Greenblatt: “We had a really bad fall—worse than I’d hoped, but about what I expected,” Greenblatt said today at the network’s Television Critics Association talk, which was essentially one prolonged heaving sigh and a litany of various ailments and friends who died, sort of like visiting your grandmother.

According to our embedded reporter Todd VanDerWerff—who will once again be filing increasingly scattered and indifferent notes while network executives blather platitudes at him—Greenblatt was bluntly honest about all of NBC’s failings, yet “still pretty damn bullshitty” about everything he thinks might turn it around. After all, who knows whether the forthcoming Smash or 15 straight weeks of The Voice will be the rising tide that lifts all its other non-musical boats, or whether Ryan Seacrest might end up on Today, as according to (“premature”) rumor? This nagging cough means NBC might just curl up and die tomorrow, so maybe you should just go ahead and put little Post-It notes on the stuff you want after it’s gone.

Speaking of which, let's get to the news you care most about: MARISKA HARGITAY IS NOT LEAVING LAW AND ORDER: SVU, AND WILL IN FACT HAVE A LOVE STORY WITH HARRY CONNICK JR, a revelation that Todd relates caused “audible gasps” in the TCA audience. Indeed, take a moment. And when you’re ready, there is also some less thrilling news about Community—specifically that the show will return “in the spring,” which is still not a date, but that’s all you’re getting. Greenblatt apparently feels bad for not clarifying that the show wasn’t canceled, but not so bad that he’s bothered to establish a more concrete timeline for its return. Nor is he guilty enough to hint at any sort of decision about a fourth season, an announcement you can expect some time around the May upfronts, provided Greenblatt still has the will to get out of bed by then.

“Those are really hard questions to answer right now,” Greenblatt said of those many Community-related queries, no doubt after being harangued by Todd in full Tom Cruise-in-A Few Good Men mode. Greenblatt did allow that he’s trying to give lower-rated shows more time, but later added, “It has such a strong core audience, yet it's been hard to expand that audience.” One possible strategy for expanding its audience: Barely promoting it, then yanking it off the schedule for several months without telling anyone when it might be back. But since he’s tried that already, Greenblatt is also considering giving it a different time slot, saying, “I don't know if it makes sense to ask it to start off the night again.” Again, you’ll just have to wait until Vague Spring Day, 2012 to find out where Community might end up.

In the meantime, Greenblatt also offered a cursory wake for Prime Suspect, lamenting that if it had just aired on his old home at Showtime, it likely would have been “declared a hit, and probably in production for four or five years”—though he also echoed the Internet’s less charitable appraisal by admitting, “Maybe I should just blame the hat and move on.” He had slightly less blithe words for The Playboy Club, musing, “I don’t think people were that fascinated by that milieu, and maybe it’s a little too obscure for them too.” Indeed, if only America were ready to revisit the ’60s, or more interested in niche, underground publications such as Playboy, perhaps that show could have flourished. (Strangely, he didn't seem to consider that The Playboy Club might also have done better on cable, where boobs live.)

As to the things that Bob Greenblatt discussed that were not accompanied by the sad strains of muted trombone, he once again expressed excitement over the chance to “grow” Up All Night, while also acknowledging that Whitney exists and people seem to watch it. Actually, I don’t know exactly what he said: Todd’s notes only mention that he is “happy” with Whitney while also “damning it with faint praise.” “It’s certainly not the biggest failure we have produced in a long line of big failures, and if people seem to find it amusing, then thank Christ we actually managed to get away with something. You want vagina jokes, America? What do you call the skin around a vagina? A woman! Whitney, Wednesdays this spring,” Greenblatt said in my dramatic interpretation of Todd’s notes, which is probably not at all accurate.

Anyway, clearly the network’s dismal showing in the fall has left Greenblatt a little shaken and unsure of the future, but as the saying goes, when you’ve hit bottom, there’s nowhere to go but down to the Comcast offices to withdraw a shitload of money to spend developing expensive pilots, which seems to be Greenblatt’s overall gameplan right now. “If we could have come up with Modern Family, we could have spent twice the money, and it would have been worth it,” Greenblatt said covetously, by way of explaining how NBC tends to dole out tons of money on new shows up front on the off-chance that they might actually work, and then here we are again. Not that Greenblatt can predict what will work—who can? Hey, we might all be dead tomorrow. But thanks for visiting.