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One More From TCA: NBC's Going Back to the Well
August 13, 2015  | By Theresa Corigliano

Beverly Hills, CA -- Bob Greenblatt, NBC's chairman, took the stage on the last day of the TCA tour today to applause he described as "tepid." Of course, TV critics don't applaud or cheer at these panels, and even if they did, after 18 days, and 100-plus sessions, they wouldn't have the strength.

Greenblatt attended to housekeeping first, announcing, among other items, a new six-year contract for Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon; the addition of Rihanna to The Voice this fall as a key adviser; a hefty two-hour premiere of Heroes Reborn on September 24; and the return of Celebrity Apprentice with a new host because the old one is, well, otherwise engaged.  Once he shared programming news, Greenblatt joked: "Who has the first Donald Trump question?"

Indeed, that was the subject of the first question, and Greenblatt was probably more than happy to go that route. In NBC's world, even fielding questions about Trump, recently "fired" by the network for controversial and derogatory immigration statements, is a great way to deflect attention from the struggles NBC has had gaining creative traction in scripted primetime programming. ("Tepid" might also be a generous word to describe the reaction to most of the new shows that NBC will be launching in the fall.)

On the series front, Greenblatt, who admitted, “We’ve struggled to find those classy new anchor shows,” announced a new series from Mike Schur (left, Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine). Schur's comedy pitch was so impressive -- the NBC chairman called him "one of the most gifted comedy writers in the business" -- that the show was bought at the meeting.

Greenblatt described the show, with the working title A Good Place, as having a lead character who is a “strong and very complicated" woman, exploring what it means to be good.

He also announced that Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, together with 30 Rock scribe Tracey Wigfield, are working on a half-hour comedy created by Wigfield and loosely inspired by her life, set in the world of cable news where a producer suddenly finds herself sharing the workplace with her mother, an intern.

NBC had passed the Fey/Carlock Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on to Netflix, where it has garnered multiple Emmy nominations, including one for best comedy. It is arguable whether that very quirky show would have worked as the lynchpin comedy NBC is seeking. "It's produced by Universal Television, so it's still a win for us," Greenblatt said.

NBC is going back to the archives with the hope of hitting pay dirt. Greenblatt cited the enthusiasm of the Heroes creators, as well as a rabid online fan base, as the reasons they greenlit Heroes Reborn. It will be interesting to see if those fans (and the monetizing potential of the base) will follow it over to broadcast TV again with equal devotion. Greenblatt also said the crippling scheduling choices on the original series would not be repeated this time around: “Look for 13 consecutive episodes, a big story with a beginning, a middle and an end…There will be no repeats.” (Fans can catch up on the original series courtesy of the NBC Heroes Reborn app, "your portal to the past, present and future of the Heroes universe," including clips from the original series, a search by character option, along with the 6-episode prequel series Heroes Reborn: Dark Matters.)

The success of the return of Coach, which ran on ABC from 1989 to 1997 and starred Craig T. Nelson (right), will surely depend on the quality of the storytelling. One critic told Greenblatt that when the news of the show’s return hit, people thought it was a practical joke. “One man’s practical joke is another man’s hit show,” Greenblatt quipped. NBC’s Coach is not a reboot – it’s Nelson’s Coach character, 20 years later. He’s still a curmudgeon, but now he’s a grandfather. “If this works,” Greenblatt joked, “get ready for Alf: the Series.” Exactly.

Donald Trump came up a few more times in the session. Describing Trump as a “very nice person,” Greenblatt said that his relations with NBC and Celebrity Apprentice producer Mark Burnett were always “congenial.”

Trump was also the subject of the last question Greenblatt faced. If Trump became available, would he perhaps return to Celebrity Apprentice? “I’m going to end this [session] with two words and then we're going to move on” said the NBC chairman. “Absolutely not.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story quoted Mr. Greenblatt inaccurately. We regret the error.

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