NBC Boss "Unhappy" with Thursday Struggles, Renews Parks and Rec

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Amy Poehler, Michael J. Fox | Photo Credits: Colleen Hayes/NBC; Eric Liebowitz/NBC

NBC has learned its lesson. 

Last season, after a strong fall powered by The Voice and Revolution, NBC not only kept the shows off the air until March 2013, but chose not to launch any midseason series in January, cuing up a huge collapse.

"Essentially the momentum from last fall fell away. This year things are different," NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt said Sunday at the network's Television Critics Association winter previews. "Of course, we've got the Olympics for 18 nights, but I also think we've also gotten smarter about how we've scheduled January and February. We didn't take The Blacklist off the air in January. ... Last Monday's episode ... saw a 60 percent jump in the demo."

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The Blacklist, Greenblatt noted, is the No. 1 drama and No. 1 new series in the 18-49 adult demo and No. 2 scripted series overall this season, helping NBC win the fall for the second year in a row for the first time in 10 years and become the only broadcast network up this season (9 percent).

"In general, it's been a very good year for us, better in some respects than I imagined and of course there are some disappointments and the usual number of miscalculations," Greenblatt said. "But I'm feeling like a lot of progress has been made."

Check out what else was discussed at Greenblatt's executive session.

Parks and Recreation (essentially) renewed, Community looking "strong": Pressed by a reporter after saying he was "bullish" on Parks and Rec, Greenblatt declared, "I'll go out on a limb: Parks and Rec is going to have a seventh season." NBC is keen on staying in the Amy Poehler business, as it has just signed a three-year producing deal with the actress, which has already yielded a pilot order (see below). As for Community, Greenblatt said it was a "strong" possibility to return. How else would we get #sixseasonsandamovie, right?

The trouble with Thursdays: Greenblatt was frank about the network's struggles on what was once its landmark and blockbuster night of programming. "Thursday night is a challenge for us," he said. "[I've said] the turnaround will take three to five years. We're just beginning year three." In particular, The Michael J. Fox Show has been a massive disappointment, hitting an anemic 0.6 rating last week. "We're obviously not happy about a 0.6 for any show, especially for Michael J. Fox," Greenblatt said, adding that he'd "love to figure out a way" to keep it around next year. "We like that show, we like [Sean Saves the World] a lot. ... We're really unhappy that we can't find an audience for them in those time periods. We're still going to work hard to see what we can do on Thursday nights. It's a real, real uphill battle."

Might that include abandoning the Must-See TV format of four comedies and one drama altogether? (NBC did air The Apprentice on Thursdays a decade ago.) "I think anything is open for discussion," he said. "The legacy of the comedy blocks has been in existence for so long. ... We're going to take a real close look at that. We may shuffle the whole deck. Thursday is so difficult. CBS got in there so brilliantly with comedies that grabbed the audience."

Press tour: Get the latest news from ABC

Late-night transition: Jimmy Fallon will debut on The Tonight Show Monday, Feb. 17 at midnight before moving to his regular time at 11:30/10:30c on Feb. 24, which will also see the launch of Late Night with Seth Meyers (12:30 a.m./11:30c). "That will be the new late-night lineup hopefully for the rest of my life... at least the rest of my career," Greenblatt quipped.

Getting serious, Greenblatt spoke warmly of Jay Leno, who will depart The Tonight Show (again) on Feb. 6. "He's kept The Tonight Show No. 1 virtually his entire run [since 1992]," he said. "Jay Leno is the hardest working man in television, a team player. He's truly the nicest and [one of the] most decent people in the business. ... We thank you for making television history and for doing it with class on NBC." Greenblatt hopes to enter a "new relationship" with Leno after The Tonight Show, which might include specials, but hasn't broached the subject yet with him since Leno is prepping his Tonight Show exit. "We're being very respectful of him."

Peter Pan Live! After the astounding success of The Sound of Music Live!, NBC will follow it up with a live production of Peter Pan on Dec. 4, produced by Sound of Music Live!'s Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. "Get ready for flying children and some kind of state-of-the-art light technology for Tinker Bell." Casting is under way for the boy who wouldn't grow up. "I want Miley Cyrus," Greenblatt joked. 

Pilots ordered: Katherine Heigl's back! NBC has picked up her CIA drama pilot State of Affairs, in which she plays a CIA advisor to the president. Greenblatt also announced a pilot order for an untitled comedy produced by Poehler and starring Natasha Lyonne as a young woman trying find herself working as aide to group of elderly people. Greenblatt hopes the show will "blow up clichés about old people" like The Golden Girls did, noting that networks have spent "too much time" programming for 20-somethings and 30-somethings the past few years.

Event series and miniseries: NBC has given a 10-episode straight-to-series order to Emerald City, a modern reimagining of The Wizard of Oz through the eyes of a 20-year-old Dorothy that will feature new characters. The network also ordered The Slap, an eight-hour miniseries based on the Australian project of the same name that follows a family that is torn apart after a child is slapped at a family barbecue. Both are slated for midseason next year.

Celebrity Apprentice: Donald Trump has not been fired. The next season is currently being cast and will be shot in the spring as an "option for us next season," Paul Telegedy, NBC's president of alternative and late night programming, said.

Thursday Night Football: Greenblatt declined to comment on reports that NBC is bidding for the lucrative Thursday Night Football package, but added that "we love the NFL. We'd love to have more NFL games. It's something we're talking about."

When will the Emmys air? NBC is broadcasting the Primetime Emmy Awards, which rotates between the four broadcast networks, this year and has aired the Emmys in late August instead of September during its last two cycles to accommodate Sunday Night Football. The problem this year? The MTV Video Music Awards has booked Sunday, Aug. 24, and Aug. 31 is Labor Day weekend. "We have the good problem of having football on Sundays. We have landed on a date and we'll announce it [soon]," Greenblatt said.

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Olympic-sized boost? Greenblatt defended NBC's use of the Olympics to launch and promote — sometimes ad nauseum — their new shows. "One of the reasons we have the Olympics is to promote our lineup," he said. "To get that kind of audience for two weeks and to get the eyeballs to promote our shows, it will have effect." However, NBC will not pull the same stunt as it did during the London Games closing ceremony when it cut in during the broadcast to premiere Animal Practice.

The Voice: Returning Monday, Feb. 24, The Voice will feature slight tweaks to keep things fresh and interesting. "We're making adjustment in the middle of the season," Telegedy said. The Steal worked well as a new twist, and there will be fewer live shows.

Pilot season: Commenting on Fox boss Kevin Reilly declaring pilot season to be dead, Greenblatt said he loves producing pilots, which he says is of great value. "The Blacklist would've never seen the air had we not done a pilot," he said. "It came from a relatively young, inexperienced writer. We weren't exactly sure from that script if we should order to series.  ... We hate the pilot season because we're locked into it ... but I don't think the pilot is a flawed concept."


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