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NBC’s Bob Greenblatt: ‘SNL’ Diversity Moves ‘Being Finalized’

Decisions coming soon on the ”Sound of Music“ follow-up and adding to the ”Saturday Night Live“ cast

NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt says news is coming soon about two of the biggest stories surrounding his network this season: How it will follow the huge success of the “Sound of Music,” and efforts to diversify “Saturday Night Live.”

“SNL” this week confirmed that it held a series of recent auditions to address its lack of a black woman cast member, which has been a subject of criticism and self-mockery on the air. That could mean a black, female face sooner rather than later.

“I’m not really the person to talk about it. But I think it’s close to being finalized, and you’ll be hearing about it shortly,” Greenblatt told TheWrap.

Also read: ‘SNL’ Auditions Black Women on Heels of Criticism

He also says the network has narrowed down its choice of next year’s follow-up to “The Sound of Music” to one of three musicals.

One story he thinks gets too much attention? The transition of “The Tonight Show” from Jay Leno to Jimmy Fallon in February. “I know everybody is looking for the big car accident to happen over and over again,” he said.

Also read: ‘Sound of Music’ Ratings: 5 Milestones It Hit for NBC

NBC’s biggest news is that the network leads in the key 18-49 demographic and is second in total viewers this fall. NBC was also tops in the demo this time last year – but fell hard to third.

Greenblatt talked to TheWrap about why this year may be different, Michael J. Fox and Sean Hayes‘ disappointing Thursday ratings, and what show he kind of wishes was on NBC.

Also read: NBC’s Jennifer Salke on Why ‘The Blacklist’ Has ‘the Goods,’ and Keeping Faith in Michael J. Fox

First, congratulations. Both on “Sound of Music” and the season so far.
Thanks. We feel good about it, which is not always the case.

With “Smash” and some high-profile castings, you’ve done more than any other network to bring Broadway to TV. Does the “Sound of Music” success validate that strategy?
I do like this world and beyond that, it really isn’t just me wanting to put it on because I like it. I really do think that it can speak to an audience. “The Sound of Music” just proved that in a big way. I’m happy if there are kids in Ohio or Illinois, like I once was, who see this musical. And if it’s the first musical they see and it opens their eyes, that’s a great thing.

Any word on the next one?
We are circling in on a couple of titles that I’m not really ready to discuss yet because I don’t know if we can get the rights. We’re narrowing it down. The good news is, people are so curious about what we’re going to do next. I’m getting emails and calls from everywhere, even from some people in foreign countries who are friends of mine, saying do this show or do that show. Some of them are good ideas and some of them are crazy, obscure ideas. People seem really interested. We’re going to zero in on something good in the next couple weeks.

You’re number one this season, but you were number one this time last year, too. You may be in a better position this year because you have the Winter Olympics coming up. Why do you think you’re in a better position than a year ago?
We had another year of planning and another year of things going in the right direction. …This group has only been together a couple seasons. Last year what we accomplished in the fall was great, but we knew the spring was going to be really difficult. “The Voice” was going to be off, it was the first time we produced “The Voice” twice in a season, we had to figure out how we were going to produce the show, it’s a massive show. How do we time it? It had to be off for a number of months for a variety of reasons. There were a lot of things that dictated the spring last year. And this year we’ve had the benefit of another year of planning and thinking and we’ve been able to do some things differently, the Olympics aside.

That’s a great thing to have, but “The Voice” is coming back five weeks earlier than it did last year, “Blacklist” is a show that I think is the real deal, and it’s showing real independence from the lead-in. We’re going to test it in January with three original episodes without “The Voice” lead-in. And I hope it’s going to do really well. We didn’t do that last season with “Revolution” because we felt the show should live with “The Voice,” so it was off for nine weeks. So I think we’ve got some better building blocks, we’ve had some more time to plan, and the Olympics is a whole other thing we could talk about for half an hour. That’s a whole shot in the arm promotionally for not only everything on the air but the five new shows we’re going to launch in February and March.

You need momentum in this business. We had it in the fall. And to keep getting those jolts of momentum are important.

“SNL” confirmed that they had a showcase recently looking for black women to join the cast. Have you talked to Lorne Michaels about increasing diversity?
We talk about it all the time. Lorne has been very much on the record about this kind of thing. He’s got his time frame in mind and I think all that’s going to play out exactly the way it should.

Is the time frame this season? Next season?
I’m not really the person to talk about it. But I think it’s close to being finalized, and you’ll be hearing about it shortly.

NBC seems to stick with certain actors through thick and thin. Sean Hayes is one example, Michael J. Fox is another – you’ve had a decades-long relationship with him. Even if the ratings for their Thursday shows may be down, it feels like you’re in a relationship with them.
I’ve been here two years. I’m not in a relationship with them. They’ve both been on the network before. They both wanted to come back to the network and we wanted them back and I think they’re both really bona fide comedy stars and talents. So it’s easy for us to say, let’s do shows with both of them. But it’s not like we’ve been here all this time together.

Has anything surprised you about Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” handoff to Jimmy Fallon?
Only the degree to which the press seems insatiable about writing about it. Clearly it’s been a legacy and it has a very checkered past in terms of transitions. I know everybody is looking for the big car accident to happen over and over again. But none of it surprises me. We expected it. It’s very tricky to make one of these transitions because you want to be honorable and respectful to everybody and that’s our goal.

Is there any new show on another network this year that you wish you had on NBC?
No. [Laughs.] On another broadcast network? I’d be happy to have any hit from a broadcast network. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many. “Sleepy Hollow” seems to be a real strong show. And I will say that “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is a show that we produce for the Fox network, and there’s a part of me that would love to have it on the NBC network. It will be a great piece of business for us if it becomes a hit on the Fox network, so it’s important that it went there. But I love that show and we’d be happy to have it here, too.