NBC at TCA: Bob Greenblatt Emerges as the King of Event Television - Ed Martin

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Pasadena, CA -- There has been a lot of talk about event programming during the Winter 2014 Television Critics Association tour, but the truth is most of it has been connected to "special productions" that are actually series packaged in different ways. Some are "regular" series with fewer episode orders (CBS' "Under the Dome," Fox's "Sleepy Hollow"), some are limited series (Fox's upcoming "Wayward Pines" and "Gracepoint" and USA Network's "The Dig") and others are closed-ended miniseries (FX's "Fargo"). In fact, all the talk about "event," "limited" and "mini" series have left critics and actors alike confused as to which is which.

Regardless, they all have to move aside in the glow of NBC's "The Sound of Music Live!" -- the most special of all special network events in 2013 and one that may singlehandedly reinvigorate broadcast for years to come.

NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt met with reporters Sunday for the first time since "Sound of Music" tipped the business on its side, and to nobody's surprise he announced another live music event scheduled for next December.

"Imagine our surprise when nearly 19 million viewers tuned in to ['Music'] on Dec. 5, [and when] an additional three million played it back on their DVRs," Greenblatt beamed. "In fact, for that week in total viewers, 'The Sound of Music' actually beat our own NFL football game. For once, the drama nerds beat the jocks.

"We had so much fun doing the big musical that the family could watch together at the holiday, so as I'm sure is not unexpected, we're going to do it again," he continued. "I'm pleased to announce this morning that next Dec. 4 we will broadcast live a new production of the Broadway musical 'Peter Pan.'" "Sound of Music" executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron will handle "Pan" too, he added.

Greenblatt went on to explain the history of "Peter Pan" on NBC, beginning with a production in 1955 with the cast of the Broadway version. "The Broadway production, which was doing great business, closed in order for the whole cast to do a live broadcast of it on NBC from a studio in Manhattan, and it was in color, which was a novelty back then," he revealed. "Sixty-five million people tuned in. It was so successful that a year later NBC did another live production with the same cast. And then in 1960, they did it again, this time starring Mia Farrow.

"Get ready for flying children and some kind of state of the art light technology for little Tinker Bell," he laughed. "That's 'Peter Pan.'"

Greenblatt also announced two other "event" programs, both "series" of different kinds. The first was "Emerald City," which he described as a ten-episode "modern reimaging of the L. Frank Baum books" that inspired "The Wizard of Oz" and "Wicked."

"Our version is a bit of a thrilling, more epic telling of the stories through the eyes of 20 year old Dorothy who, of course, gets caught up in a tornado, but drops into a place that is definitely not your grandmother's Oz," he explained. "This is a big unfolding mystery. There are a lot of new characters that you will meet, some of whom might look a little familiar, but some that you've never seen before."

The other, Greenblatt said, was a miniseries titled "The Slap," an eight-hour miniseries about "a family that gets torn apart when a child is slapped by a family member at a barbecue. We live in a world of political correctness with a lot of differing opinions about how to discipline children, and this incident devolves all the way into an ugly court case," he explained. Acclaimed playwright Jon Robin Baitz, the creator of the ABC series "Brothers and Sisters," is writing all eight hours. It is a closed-ended story, which means that it is not intended to return for a second season.

Asked whether or not NBC would join Fox in trying to move outside of traditional pilot season structures, Greenblatt replied, "I hear [Fox's Kevin Reilly] abandoned pilots and then just picked up a bunch of prototypes with the intent to go to series with extra scripts and stuff. So I don't know if that's not sort of another way of doing a version of the pilot process.

"I actually love pilots," he continued. "I think 'The Blacklist' probably would never have seen the air had we not made a pilot, because it came from a relatively young, inexperienced writer. We weren't exactly sure immediately from that script that we should order a series. We found a great director to direct a prototype of the show, Joe Carnahan, who also helped contribute to what that show is and what it should look like. I think you learn valuable information from the pilot process. What I think Kevin was saying, and we all say on a daily basis, is we hate the pilot season. Now, we're locked into it for a lot of macro upfront reasons to a large degree, but I don't think the pilot is a flawed concept.

"In some cases it makes sense to go right to series, but in a lot of cases I think a pilot can be really valuable. We just have to figure out if we can make them more off cycle. If we get a star that no one else has, you know, I immediately feel like that's half the battle. Casting is the worst part of the pilot season."

NBC's day featured a "Hannibal"-themed breakfast, a lunch presentation for "Hollywood Game Night" during which Jane Lynch steered two teams of critics through two of the popular games from that show, panels for a number of upcoming scripted and reality series and, at the end, press conferences with Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers at which they discussed plans for "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" and "Late Night with Seth Meyers," respectively.

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