As part of the TCA Press Tour presentation for NBCUniversal, Chairman of NBC Entertainment Robert Greenblatt and President of Entertainment Jennifer Salke, who’s in charge of scripted programming, took some time to talk about their slate of comedies and dramas, both with their present line-up and for the Fall season. During this interview, they addressed the upcoming season of Community, why only 13 episodes and why on Friday night, the affects of the new showrunner, and whether it could get another season or more episodes to this next season. They also talked about their hopes for Go On (with Matthew Perry) and The New Normal (from Ryan Murphy), why they passed The Mindy Project on to Fox, and what fans of the series can expect from Season 2 of Smash. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
ROBERT GREENBLATT: Well, I think we’re going to transition with our comedy programming, trying to broaden the audience and broaden what the network does. Those Thursday comedies, which the critics love and we love, tend to be a bit more narrow than we’d ultimately like, as we go forward. And Community is a show that has been always on the bubble, but we decided to bring it back again and see what a fourth season will do for us. The reason that we did 13 episodes of that, and a couple of our other shows, is because we really wanted to get more comedies on the schedule, and we picked up a number of new comedies for the Fall and mid-season. We just laid out the number of episodes we would need of things, in order to get new shows on, and thought, “Let’s do shorter seasons of these shows,” which isn’t to say that we couldn’t decide, at some point, to extend those seasons longer.
With the change in showrunner, what can loyal fans expect from the show, going forward?
GREENBLATT: I think the fans of Community are going to get the same show that they have loved, from the beginning. Every so often, it’s time to make a change with a showrunner. You evaluate the creative and how the show is run and how the writing staff works, and sometimes you want to freshen the show. We just decided that it was time to do that on Community, and no disrespect to anyone.
Would you categorically rule out another season for Community, or is this definitely the end?
GREENBLATT: I would categorically not rule out that it’s not the last season of Community. Does that make sense? I would love nothing more than for Community to have a following on Friday, and to be able to continue it.
The pilot for Go On is structurally very similar to the Community pilot, and Community is a show that we all agree is narrow in its appeal. What is it that you saw with Go On that seems broader than that?
JENNIFER SALKE: We are looking for soulful comedy that can make you laugh and make you cry. We think the world of a group of people with problems, getting together to support each other, is a more open idea on the face of it and a little less specific than Community. But, it’s also a show that just has tons of heart. It deals with human obstacles in your life that you need to get over, it’s a coming together of people, and it’s the unlikely relationships between a group of people who are just trying to live their lives. Having been through several table reads where Matt Perry just brings it, every week, that cast is incredible. And every episode, instead of narrowing in on him and sports, and being overly specific, it’s really about these larger themes that are incredibly relatable. I think they draw you in, in a way that you’re entertained and you laugh and you might even get a little goosebump or shed a little tear, at some point. That’s the kind of comedy that I love, and I know a lot of other people do, too.
SALKE: I’ve worked with Ryan Murphy for a long time, coming from 20th and working on Glee. He is a guy who pushes the envelope, but this show is really his love letter to families. I’ve read the first three episodes. They’re incredibly accessible. They’re warm-hearted. You do get some irreverent comedy from the Nana character, who we think is brilliantly portrayed. She is exploring an extreme side of the audience that may have different attitudes about that family. But, the bottom line is that the three episodes I’ve read are all exploring storylines that come from any of those six characters, and they all come back to this very warm, relatable, heartfelt place. And it’s about responsible parenting, changing your lifestyle once you start having children, pursuing your dreams and what it will take to get there, from everyone’s point of view in the piece. It’s by no means centered on just the gay couple, in the middle of it. The title isn’t meant to push the idea that that’s a more normal family than everyone else. It’s just meant to bring a family show to the public that we feel captures the zeitgeist of what’s going on in the country right now, and being inclusive. The normal family isn’t a gay family. It’s just a different family. And I think we all see that around us, every day.
SALKE: We developed The Mindy Project. We loved it, at the network. We felt like we had a strong stable of comedies that we were supportive of and loved, and Mindy’s was up on our big whiteboard that we were manning, all week long. But, at the end of day, Bela [Bajaria], the head of the studio, and Bob and I, all looked at each other and said, “This would be a great show for Fox, and a great companion for them. She seems like a character that would just come right out of their schedule.” I worked at 20th, and I feel like I know what Fox likes. We had very high hopes for it. We have a business plan to build a studio that can sell everywhere and have hit shows at other networks, and this is the first of those that we hope will really pay off.
GREENBLATT: It’s always bittersweet when you have a show that you own, that’s against you. It’s against one of our favorite comedies for NBC. And yes, that’s part of the business model. House was on the Fox network for a number of years and was such a great business for the NBC-owned studio. That’s part of what we’re also trying to build. Hopefully, Mindy will help do that for us.
SALKE: It actually makes all the studios stronger, to be able to have that kind of versatility, as far as where they sell product and where it best fits.
GREENBLATT: I’m going to say, for the record, that I’m inordinately proud of Smash, on so many levels. The complexity of producing that show, every week, is just incredible. As a television producer and as a Broadway producer, which I once was, I am in awe of what we can do on that show, every week. That said, it’s a big soap with a number of characters with arcing storylines. In every soap, at the end of the season, relationships end and people leave the show. You look at characters and evaluate whether they’re great characters or not, and whether they have a future in the show. And we did all of that. We had some ups and downs, creatively, as the season went on, which is true of any show. If you compound that by the production that we go through, in terms of original songwriting and recordings, and all that is happening simultaneously, where we didn’t do as good a job, as I hope we do this year, is the arcing of the storylines and the consistency of going in one direction with a character, and continuing in a really interesting way with that arc. I think, with the new showrunner, we will do better at that. We were inconsistent, going back and forth, with some things. But pound for pound, that cast, with those six central characters, and now the new people that we’re bringing to the show, including Jeremy Jordan, who’s currently a star on Broadway, in Newsies, and Jennifer Hudson, who we have in three of the first four episodes, is what we’re really, really excited. We just started shooting Episode 1. There are some great new storylines, and I’m really excited about it.
SALKE: The new showrunner came in and pitched out this vision for the season, and it was so specific. We were on the edge of our seats, and it just felt like there’s a real plan in place and things are coming together, in a way that feels more consistent.