NBC wants to find fresh comedic voices. NBC’s Entertainment President Jennifer Salke today announced “NBC Comedy Playground,” which the network is calling a “grassroots” initiative designed to invest in new “cutting-edge comedy” through a national campaign that offers aspiring comedy writers from across the country the opportunity to pitch ideas with the winners getting a show on the NBC schedule. Salke made the announcement at NBCU Press Day — a sort of itty bitty Summer TV Press Tour — in Pasadena. “In our quest to break new comedy at the network in addition to our team doing great work, I felt it was time to push forward a marriage between what’s happening on the internet and the network,” Salke said.
More than two weeks after its upfront presentation, NBC has decided the fate of its last remaining bubble series, giving drama Hannibal a 13-episode second-season renewal for a return next midseason or later. The series, based on the characters from Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon, was developed for television by Bryan Fuller, who executive produces. “We’re so proud of Bryan’s vision for a show that is richly textured, psychologically complex, and very compelling,” NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke said. “There are many great stories still to be told.”
Hannibal got off to a solid ratings start and was in serious contention for an early renewal. The numbers eventually tapered off, and NBC put the renewal decision on hold. Hannibal was well reviewed, and there overtures from at least one cable network in case NBC passed on a second season. Additionally, Amazon, which carries repeats of the show, had expressed serious interest in taking it on. Hannibal, from Gaumont International Television, is produced under a different model at a license fee that is a fraction of what dramas with similar production values cost.
EXCLUSIVE: NBC‘s president of entertainment Jennifer Salke is getting some additional responsibility — to oversee Universal Television. The promotion was built into Salke’s contract when she first joined NBC last July from 20th Century Fox TV. Because of her high-level position at 20th TV, where she served as EVP Creative Affairs, the studio component of Salke’s NBC job does not kick in until a year after she joined the network. I hear Salke will now be involved in the workings of Universal TV as NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt wanted to take advantage of her 9-year studio expertise.
In the past year, Greenblatt focused on transitioning Universal TV from an NBC production arm into a full-fledged studio that supplies all broadcast and cable networks. Bela Bajaria, who joined Universal TV as EVP last August, has been key in Universal TV’s turnaround and will report to Greenblatt and Salke. She will continue to run day-to-day operations of the studio. I hear NBC brass are very happy with Bajaria’s first year on the job, which resulted in eight new series for NBC and one — high-profile comedy The Mindy Project – for Fox, as well as the The Bates Motel for A&E and the newly announced international co-production Dracula for NBC. The goal is to continue to expand Uni TV’s footprint in broadcast and cable.
Out of the Hilton Hotel ballroom and back into Radio City Music Hall, NBC is presenting its first schedule developed by chairman Bob Greenblatt and his team. It features four nights of comedy and a total of 10 half-hour series. The programming part of the presentation opened with a video featuring former SNL Weekend Update co-anchors Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey “previewing” NBC’s lineup for next fall via DVDs sent to them by Greenblatt, who Fallon thought was “the Asian judge on The Voice.” The preview featured the casts of such NBC series as Law & Order: SVU, The Office, Grimm, and 30 Rock doing musical versions of their shows. The highlight: Meet The Press anchor David Gregory belting out a tune surrounded by a group of showgirls.
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The presentation kicked off with a performance by Smash stars Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty and the emergence onstage of the four Voice spinning chairs. One by one, they turned around to reveal Voice stars Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green and Adam Levine sitting in the first three and Greenblatt in the last.
Known for his love for Broadway, Greenblatt, for whom Smash has been a passion project, felt right in his element on the Radio City Music Hall stage. But he was quick to note that “despite speculation, I’m not hijacking the network and turning everything into a musical.”
Greenblatt presented the network’s new shows in tandem with NBC entertainment president Jennifer Salke or, as Greenblatt referred to it, “the next Channel 4 team.”
We are at the tail end of a TV selling season that saw more bidding wars and production and put pilot commitments than I can remember, and that isn’t lost on the broadcast entertainment presidents. Survivor‘s Jeff Probst opened the discussion at the annual Hollywood Radio & Television Society network chiefs luncheon today by sharing that during his lunch with the executives before they took the stage, everyone was complaining about how crazy and out of whack this pitch season has been. Fox’s Kevin Reilly, who spoke his mind more than anyone else on the panel, quickly jumped in. “(NBC) got cash, (ABC) got competitive against that cash, and we took the bait,” is how Reilly summed up this year’s marketplace. “We all think we were played a little bit. Agents are doing very well this year as a result.” Reilly’s counterparts mostly agreed, though their responses were more measured. “It’s been very, very frantic this year,” CBS’ Nina Tassler said. She blamed media coverage for the increased intensity of the pitch season. “Every single thing that happens is now being reported, from a pitch to speculation on the terms of a deal, and that does absolutely impact the business.” Added NBC’s Jennifer Salke: “I get the email about a media inquiry while the producer is still in the parking lot. That adds to the frenzy.” But it wasn’t all bad this buying season, ABC’s Paul Lee said. “There was also a rush of new energy, with a lot of new people and new ideas; there was lot of ambition in the projects coming in,” he said.
EXCLUSIVE: NBC is China-bound. The network has bought a cop drama project set in Shanghai from writers Cyrus Voris and Ethan Reiff. The project is about a pair of fugitive recovery agents working in China’s (and the world’s) largest city, population 23 million. It stems from a blind script deal Voris and Reiff had at NBC and will be produced by Universal TV. Voris and Reiff had been thinking about doing a cop show set in China for a while, and separately new NBC entertainment president Jennifer Salke had been looking to do a show set in the Asian country for some time, originally as top development executive at 20th TV. UPDATED: Voris and Reiff have an extensive background and knowledge of China working on Chinese-themed projects, including co-writing the story for DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda, which was set in old China. The new project reunites UTA-repped Voris and Reiff with NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt. The two co-created and executive produced the Showtime drama Sleeper Cell, which ran for two seasons while Greenblatt was at the helm of the pay cable network.
“There is no one in the television business more perfect for this job than Jennifer Salke,” said Greenblatt. “I’ve known and worked with her for many years and have the utmost respect for her creative instincts, her relationships with talent of all kinds, and probably most of all, her taste. Her incredible tenure at Twentieth Century Fox Television (TCFTV), where she was instrumental in developing two of network television’s biggest hits, ‘Glee’ and ‘Modern Family,’ is unmatched. This is truly a significant moment for NBC as we continue to rebuild the network from top to bottom and put together the best possible team.”
Salke will report to Greenblatt and will be responsible for Primetime and Daytime programming, with Drama Development, Comedy Development, Current Programming, and the Casting department of NBC Entertainment reporting to her.