Was it a case of sour grapes or a line in the sand? NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt engaged with TCA critics Saturday morning on the issue of cable vs broadcast and it got a bit heated. OR what passes for heated in today’s tight-lipped corporate world.
Asked to respond to explain why broadcast television ratings are declining again, why Emmy awards for drama seem to be reserved for cable at the moment and whether this all means the broadcast model is dying or dead, Greenblatt blasted the question’s premise. “Cable does one show a year… If we did one show a year we’d have 85mln people working on every word” and “it would be a great show,” said Greenblatt, who receives much credit for shaping Showtime into a legitimate contender.
More than that, he said, cable shows, like ratings grabber “Walking Dead,” are “an anomaly,” in that they beat some broadcast shows’ ratings. What did the last “Girls” premiere get? 1mln viewers? Greenblatt said. Cable shows that are labeled successes by the media would “most likely be cancelled” if they were broadcast shows due to their ratings, which are low to very low by broadcast standards, Greenblatt said. “We just serve different financial masters.”
“Look,” Greenblatt continued, “cable is able to do things we can’t [in terms of edgy content] … [and] there are, what, 50 networks doing original programming? Is it triple digits yet? … People seem to look at the shiny new bulb in the cable world… cable is just taking viewers away… I wish we’d be recognized for the fine work we do,” Greenblatt said.
While we don’t expect cable execs to treat Greenblatt’s words as motivation a la sports coaches, who often tack up a rival’s disparaging comments about them as a tool to rally their own teams before a big game, his comments bear notice.
Let’s also say upfront that we respect and like Bob Greenblatt, who was one of the most accessible and direct execs we had the pleasure to cover while he and Matt Blank were remaking Showtime.
So let’s look at his comments.
· Cable does one show per year: By the numbers, the amount of cable originals indeed pales vs the broadcasters’ totals. But does cable produce one show a year? Of course not. Greenblatt was oversimplifying it. Yet, with the relatively small budgets most cable networks work with, some of the content produced at HBO, Showtime, AMC, A&E, ESPN, FX and many others clearly has changed the television ecosystem. Greenblatt, who knows that better than most, probably should have acknowledged what cable’s done; heck, he was an integral part of it.
Certainly, it’s true that when a cable rating beats a broadcast show it becomes news; big news, actually, since it occurs rarely. When a broadcast show bests cable in the ratings it’s the normal course of things and gets little or no media attention. That should tell you Greenblatt’s correct about calling cable ratings victories "aberrations." He probably could have used a nicer word, but… Enough said, but if you want to read more on this subject click here
· When I was at Showtime I looked at broadcast as the bastard child of TV, not part of the golden age of television: This comment is surprising. Broadcast gets more press coverage than cable usually; its talent receives far more pay generally; its ads generally command more dollars; and its product is seen by more people than cable. And broadcast is the bastard child of this space? That impresses me about Greenblatt and provides an insight into who he is and how he thinks. As he should be, Greenblatt clearly is committed to where he is. While he was in cable, he looked down at broadcast, despite its obvious power. Now that he’s running a broadcast entertainment operation and under a great deal of pressure, he’s a bit disparaging about cable’s successes. Fair enough.
An interesting thing to take away from all this is that while so many viewers rarely make the distinction between broadcast and cable, it’s still a hot button for people in the business. As for the broadcast model being dead, that’s up for debate. Perhaps Greenblatt’s announced emphasis on “events” will lift NBC’s ratings this season. As NBC Late Night Pres Paul Telegdy said during the session, “When it’s Thankgiving Day and 44 mln people are watching [the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade] on NBC… it’s exhilarating.” Closer to the point of all this is what Jennifer Salke, the NBC entertainment chief said. “This job isn’t for the faint of heart… you look for something that excites you,” you develop it and air it and “then it’s up to the television gods” what happens after that. True that.