Pasadena, Calif. -- NBC Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt kicked off his session at the Television Critics Association press tour Friday with a candid analysis of the fourth-place network's season thus far, saying, "We had a really bad fall, worse than I hoped for but about what I expected."
Greenblatt cited the challenges NBC faces in improving its fortunes, noting that the network has few strong lead-ins and that its most recent scripted hit (The Office) is six years old.
Despite that, he said that its new Comcast owners are investing in the network both with financial resources and patience, saying that the network still has a lot of work to do to turn things around. While traditional wisdom says that it only takes one hit show to turn around a network, Greenblatt says he believes it takes four or five now.
Greenblatt used the stage to clear up some misconceptions, including that Mariska Hargitay will remain with Law & Order: SVU, and that Harry Connick, Jr. will join the show for a four-episode arc this season as her love interest. He also revealed that NBC quietly signed Alec Baldwin for another year of 30 Rock this fall, although a renewal decision on the comedy series has not yet been made.
He also quelled Community fans' fears, saying that the show has not been cancelled despite being left off the net's midseason schedule, and that it would be back at an undetermined date in the spring. As for the chances of a fourth season, he said that was "really hard to say" though noting he doesn't know if it makes sense to ask the cult comedy to start off a night again.
Greenblatt also addressed the rumors of Ryan Seacrest inking a deal with NBC's Today, saying that the talk was "premature" and that it is the network's hope that Matt Lauer renews his contract on the top-rated morning show. He said NBCU is discussing how to keep Seacrest in the family, and that if the multi-hyphenate talent wanted to expand his role to do Barbara Walters-style interview specials, for example, that would be of interest to NBC.
Much of Greenblatt's comments here Friday harked back to his experience in cable, including the cable-like promotional launch the net is planning for its midseason bet Smash, including making the pilot available on Comcast's Xfinity platform ahead of its premiere. He also said that NBC would consider shorter seasons of some shows in the future, like the cable norm of 13 episodes.
"I don't know to what extent I mean that yet, but I don't know if every show benefits from 22 episodes over 9 months," he said. "There are going to be some shows that benefit from compacted schedules."
Greenblatt also stood by NBC's recent NFL rights extension, rebutting the idea that the programming, estimated to cost CBS, Fox and NBC a combined $1.93 billion annually, is a loss leader for the network.
"The NFL deal will ultimately break even or maybe make money," he said, estimating that by the end of the nine-year contract, NBC will have some entertainment shows that are losing more money than football programming.