NBC at TV Critics Press Tour: talking big deals while defending The Playboy Club's sexism
LOS ANGELES -- Community star Joel McHale has an amazing, bold plan for ensuring the future success of his employer, the NBC network.
"We're going to wait for all the old people watching CBS and ABC to die," said McHale, a comic who opened the network's two-day session at the TV Critics Association's summer press tour with five minutes of standup mostly poking fun at his own TV home.
"Seriously, would it have been so hard to call it "America Has Talent?" he added, taking aim at the summer hit America's Got Talent. "Why not go all the way and call it America Done Got Talent?"
But McHale's sidesplitting opening was followed by low-key NBC entertainment president Bob Greenblatt, a former executive a pay cable giant Showtime who Hollywood's creative community loves, but doesn't really know in the network TV context. Greenblatt took over at NBC after the network's slate of new shows was already set; now he's trying gamely to take ownership of a programming strategy developed before he came on board.
And facing critics today, Greenblatt showed off NBC's growing dilemma. After the humiliating controversy of Conan O'Brien's ouster, the departure of flamboyant, ineffective entertainment chief Ben Silverman and continuing challenge of low ratings, NBC internally needs cool head like the even-keeled Greenblatt to steady the ship.
But in debuting seven new shows this fall, NBC also needs a dynamic leader who can get critics and audiences excited about a bold new lineup. That may be a bigger challenge.
"Like anyone in a job like this, I will take all the credit for the shows that work and blame people who are no longer at NBC if they don’t," he said, in a rare joke that drew laugh from critics. "It’s no secret that NBC is in fourth place. We’re working very hard and very aggressively to start to turn that around."
The announcements came quickly: the network has cut deals with King of the Hill producer Greg Daniels for a new animated show; former Will & Grace co-star Sean Hayes to develop a new comedy and to develop an unscripted game show that is a celebrity game night. (one big name guest: Tom Hanks).
Maroon 5 singer and The Voice co-star Adam Levine is developing a comedy centered on karaoke that Greenblatt expects him to appear in, along with a Christmas special from Michael Buble and a firefighter-centered drama from Law & Order creator Dick Wolf. And NBC has also signed a development deal with Funny or Die co-creators Adam McKay and Will Ferrell -- their first with a broadcast network.
Contrary to popular rumor, Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay will not cut back her involvement in next season -- her character Olivia Benson is expected to appear in all the episodes, Greenblatt said. He also assured the exit of Benson's partner Eliot Stabler -- NBC didn't cut a deal to renew actor Christopher Meloni's contract -- won't kill off the character or dominate the show.
Exciting as all this activity is, it's also a sign of NBC's desperation; throwing anything at the TV screen to see what might stick with viewers. For instance, Greenblatt also touted the return of The Voice for its second season after the Super Bowl Feb. 5, with another two-hour Voice episode Feb. 6 followed by the premiere of Broadway-set musical drama Smash.
Because if there's anything that will galvanize a football audience to tune in the next day, its a drama about developing a musical on Marilyn Monroe.
Still, NBC is branding itself as the scrappy, brave broadcaster willing to take chances. That might be the attitude epitomized by the stars and producers of its new drama The Playboy Club, who faced down sharp questions about the absurdity of presenting a drama centered on waitresses dressed like skimpily-clad bunnies as empowering to women.
"We often confuse women who are empowered by their sexuality with women who are victimized by it," said star Amber Heard, who plays a bunny in the '60-set drama that accidentally kills a mobster and tried to cover it up ,with help from a hunky Eddie Cibrian. "In 2011, women who are empowered and have choices -- are very different from the ones who are being taken advantage of."
If that sounds like contradictory nonsense, you're getting the gist of their awkward argument. Producers insist in one breath that the show is bold but wouldn't be too risque (the affiliate in Salt Lake City has already refused to air it), featuring women with limited options empowered by supporting themselves through being ogled by men while serving them drinks in satin swimwear at an exclusive, males-only club.
I'm wondering if they actually know the definition of empowering.
Heard, who is bisexual, also spoke about the oddity of seeing press reports about her relationship with photographer Tasya van Ree after they attended the gay rights group GLAAD's 25th anniversary celebration last year.
"It's been frustrating because I am a private person, but we're in a moment that is an important happening in our society," said Heard on why she talks about the issue; she's also decided she will not pose nude in Playboy if the magazine asks. "I find it hard to identify with any labels. I've dated men in the past, now I'm dating a woman. I see it as no big deal."