NBC defends ratings, calls 'The Walking Dead' an 'anomaly'

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NBC’s ratings aren’t down?

The Walking Dead is an “anomaly”?

And broadcast is the “bastard child” of the TV industry?

After declining to offer a press conference during the broadcast upfronts last May (following its spring ratings dive), NBC programming executives collectively faced the press for the first time since January during the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills on Saturday, with executives defending the network’s ratings performance.

NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt spoke up for broadcast TV against comparisons to cable shows like AMC’s The Walking Dead, which was fall’s highest rated show among cable and broadcast.

“The bastard child is now broadcast television,” he says. “Our peers in the industry don’t look at the work we do. They just look at the shiny new bulb in the cable world … it’s just a fact of life … I lost count of how many networks do original programming these days … I wish we could get more respect for the good work that we do.”

The Walking Dead is an anomaly,” he added, and pointed out that if many cable hits “did the [same] ratings in our world, they’d be cancelled.” Greenblatt cited HBO’s modestly rated Girls as an example of a cable show that wouldn’t survive broadcast standards.

“If we could put on one show a year, it would be the best show you ever saw,” he said.

Before taking questions from reporters, Greenblatt made headlines announcing some promising-sounding limited series (including a Rosemary’s Baby reboot and a Hillary Clinton miniseries). Then the executive unveiled statistics showing NBC’s ratings have actually been flat compared to rival broadcasters, and said the network was coming off a “year of improvement.” NBC had a terrific turn-around in the ratings last fall, winning November sweeps, but then face-planted in mid-season.

“It’s our most competitive year in the last nine years,” Greenblatt said. “At this point in our business, flat is the new up. Network television declined 4 to 7 percent … in that environment I think holding your position is a good thing … the other nets are all down.”

Except the flat claim seemed to hinge on using the whole year to calculate ratings — including summer — rather than the broadcast season valued by advertisers for its higher viewing levels. All networks are down among adults 18-49 when using the broadcast season, with CBS down the least — 3 percent — followed by NBC, down 4 percent (though that usual measurement also includes sporting events such as CBS’ coverage of the Super Bowl, which helped boost NBC the previous year — exclude sports and NBC was actually up a tad). Greenblatt called the broadcast season an arbitrary set of dates and noted “we try to look at the whole year.”

The executive was also asked about the network’s unsuccessful new comedies last season. “Comedy is frustrating,” Greenblatt said. “Nobody is more disappointed about New Normal and Go On not returning to the schedule [than we are].”

Talking specifically about last season’s Ryan Murphy sitcom The New Normal, about a gay couple adopting their first child, Greenblatt said the comedy may have been “slightly ahead of its time” given the “focus of the show.” “I wouldn’t say it didn’t work because it has gay characters,” he said, noting the success of Will & Grace. “We think the country is moving in the right direction and the Supreme Court is doing the right thing … we have no regrets.”

On the subject of Parenthood, which is moving to Thursday nights this fall, Greenblatt called it “one of the best shows on television,” yet expressed disappointment at its lack of Emmy nominations. “It doesn’t get the Emmy nominations; it doesn’t get the accolades; I wish it had more of that acclaim. It really had a great season this past year.”

The executive also defended its plan to switch The Tonight Show host from top-rated Jay Leno to Jimmy Fallon early next year. “We know the late-night time-period declines every year also,” Greenblatt said. “We wanted to make a transition when the time period was really strong to give Jimmy Fallon the best chance of succeeding.”

This fall NBC unveils a new slate of shows, including promising drama The Blacklist. See the trailers here.

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