"What we're trying to do is bring quality, must-see TV back," Jennifer Salke, president of NBC Entertainment and Universal Television, told TheGrill
Can the once-proud peacock network restore some of the luster to its feathers after years of languishing in fourth place?
And can it do it with comedies that go more for mass appeal than critically praised but little-watched shows like "30 Rock" and "Community"?
Those were the questions Jennifer Salke, president of NBC Entertainment and Universal Television, and Paul Telegdy, president of NBC Alternative and Late-Night Programming, tried to address at TheWrap's annual entertainment-industry conference The Grill on Tuesday.
The panel had fortuitous timing for NBC, as moderator Sharon Waxman noted at the beginning of the sit-down: The network was the top-rated in the new season's premiere week, thanks in part to shows like the extremely popular "The Voice." And last year, it climbed to third place in the ratings after years in fourth.
But both Salke and Telegdy acknowledged that the network is still in flux.
"What we're trying to do is bring quality, must-see TV back," Salke said, referring to NBC's '90s heyday, when shows like "Seinfeld," "Frasier" and "Friends" dominated the national conversation.
Salke noted that when NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt came aboard from Showtime in January 2011, he had his work cut out for him.
"When Bob came in, there was a selection of shows that he had to work with," Salke noted. And the Thursday-night lineup, once NBC's crowning jewel, contained series such as "Community" and "Parks and Recreation" that "don't translate to an audience on our schedule," Salke noted. ("Community" has since been moved to a Friday night timeslot.)
Greenblatt and Salke said at the Television Critics Association summer press tour that NBC planned to go for a wider audience with broader comedies this season. They include the Matthew Perry group therapy comedy "Go On," which was picked up for a full season Tuesday along with the new drama "Revolution" and gay adoption sitcom "The New Normal."
Salke said Tuesday that its vital to balance edginess with content that's relevant to the largest possible audience.
"In order to have hits you have to create buzz, [and] in order to create buzz you have to have controversy," Salke noted. The goal, she said, is to get "to a place where you're inviting as many people under the tent" while still offering something risky.
"Let's say, the easiest way to redefine 'broad' is, lots of people [are] watching it," Telegdy added.
Salke cited as examples the shows that were given full-season orders.
"Revolution" has performed well since its premiere last month, while "The New Normal" is both "generating a buzz" and "hanging onto a number that, coming from where we were, is amazing," Salke offered.
Salke and Telegdy also addressed the challenges of working in an advertiser-driven environment in an age when people aren't necessarily consuming their TV entertainment during airtime. Telegdy stressed the need to emphasize programs that people need to watch as they air, such as reality competitions and sports.
"Of course, we still need to be in the business of live TV," Telegdy said. "It's the challenge of broadcast to create scarcity and reward expectation, which flies in the face of technology."
Telegdy touts the growing influence of the second-screen viewing experience as a way to both keep viewers glued to the set while the shows actually air, and to provide additional opportunities for advertisers.
"I think that's something that we're going to embrace," Telegdy said. "This is a way that we can create a really great interactive, chewy, sticky relationship."
And of course, the network can point to the success of "The Voice."
Bottom line? "Printing the 'We Suck' T-shirts is something we no longer feel the need to do at NBC," Telegdy cracked.