NBC Chief Says Strategy Worked, Talks Newtown Shootings, Notes Aging CW Audience

NBC comes off a triumphant fall

A year to the day after he had to announce that his network had had "a really bad fall," NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt returned to the Television Critics Association winter press tour Sunday to talk about NBC's rise to TV's top-rated network this season.

He also answered questions about how NBC is responding to the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., and to note that his network's audience is getting younger even as those of others — including the youth-targeted CW — are aging.

Getty ImagesHe also referenced a recent comment by Fox entertainment chief Kevin Reilly that some in the TV industry "have our head up our ass."

"We don't have our heads up our asses," Greenblatt said.

He also brought out some numbers to prove it.

As Greenblatt noted, NBC was the only network to grow in both the key 18-49 demographic and total viewers this fall, and was the top-rated network in the demo. It was still No. 2 to CBS in total viewers.

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But NBC gained largely on the strength of Sunday Night Football — which is ending for the season — and "The Voice," which is leaving the airwaves until the spring. Greenblatt conceded, as he has before, that NBC will have a harder road without them. But for now, he took the opportunity to point say that NBC's strategy under his watch seems to have worked.

That strategy called for using the Summer Olympics to promote NBC's fall lineup, premiering fall shows earlier, and using "The Voice," the network's biggest hit, as a ratings weapons.

"The Voice" has given NBC huge gains on Mondays and Tuesdays, and helped launch the new hit "Revolution" — though "Revolution," like "The Voice," is also taking a midseason break. It will be back in March.

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NBC isn't just improving in the ratings, Greenblatt said: It's average audience age is also getting younger. That's important because the 18-49 demo is prized by advertisers.

NBC's median age is 48.4 years, down from 49. CBS is at 56.4, ABC is at 53.2 and Fox is at 45.6, he said. The network's audience getting younger is important because advertisers most cherish viewers who are 18-49. 

"Even the CW is up to 41.2, which is almost four years higher than it was last season," he said. "Did anyone think that the network once known for its teenage profile would have a median age of 41?"

He also fielded a question on NBC's response to the Newtown shootings. Many shows on other networks carried messages warning about violent content in the days after the shootings, and the NRA has claimed films and video games inspire violence.

Greenblatt and NBC entertainment president Jennifer Salke said the network didn't need to revamp its shows in light of the violence, because they weren't very violent to begin with.

"I mean, most people have children at this network and really care about the shows that we’re putting out there. And, you know, so it’s always on our mind. This just kind of really brought it to the forefront. And I would say, you know, the best tonic for not to be glib, but for this kind of thing is go watch an episode of 'Parenthood' as a really great example of a show about a family who love each other and grapple with all of the issues in life. And ultimately, I think you feel good at the end of the day."

He added: "You know, there’s an hour answer to that question, but we’re conscious of the amount of violence and the amount of edge in our shows. Obviously, in the cable world you can do all kinds of things that are no holds barred. There still is there are a lot of parameters in broadcast television that we think about, not only as a company that has responsibilities to the FCC, but as people who have families."