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NBC’s Broad Comedy Strategy: Bring on the Kids and Monkeys

NBC outlines plans for the Olympics, "Community" and Howard Stern

NBC is ignoring an old showbiz adage — never work with kids or animals — as it makes an unapologetic bid for broader comedies this fall.

The show's smart, critically acclaimed and sometimes esoteric Thursday comedies score Emmy nominations, but not many viewers. At the Television Critics Association summer press tour Tuesday, network executives outlined their strategy to push comedies with wider appeal.

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"I think we're going to transition with our comedy programs and try to broaden the audience," entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said. "Those Thursday comedies, which the critics love and we love, tend to be a bit more narrow than we want going forward."

The network's new comedy hopes lie with shows like the cute-kid-packed "Guys With Kids," the Matthew Perry group therapy series "Go On," the post-modern family show "The New Normal" and the veterinary sitcom "Animal Practice," which prominently features a monkey. "Go On" and "Animal Practice" will receive commercial-free airings during the Olympics, and Greenblatt hopes huge audiences will sample them.

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"If we have 30 million viewers, 25 million viewers, pouring into one of these previews we'd be thrilled," he said.

Six months after conceding at TCA's winter press tour that his network had "a really bad fall," Greenblatt said Tuesday that his network had "a great spring." With help from the Super Bowl and "The Voice," NBC ended the season edging out ABC for third place in the key 18-49 demo. It was NBC's first third-place finish since the 2003-04 season.

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Greenblatt predicted this fall would be better than the last one, thanks in part to audiences sampling its shows during the Olympics. He said the network has shot dozens of promos to air during the summer games. It will also air a six-minute preview of the J.J. Abrams drama "Revolution," which has the plum ratings slot after "The Voice" this fall.

The Thursday show "Community" — which is moving to Fridays this fall — exemplifies both the quality and narrow appeal of NBC's Thursday shows. They also include "Parks and Recreation," "30 Rock," and "The Office," NBC's highest-rated comedy. ("The Office" lags behind other networks' biggest comedies, like CBS's "The Big Bang Theory," ABC's "Modern Family," and Fox's "New Girl.")

Greenblatt said moving "Community" to Friday spared the show from cancellation, and that shortening its season and the final season of "30 Rock" to 13 episodes made room for more comedies on NBC's schedule.

"I would love nothing more than for 'Communtity' to have a following on Friday and be able to continue it," he said.

NBC also hopes to build on the success of "The Voice" by expanding it to two cycles this season. The show was neck-in-neck with "American Idol" for the top-rated, non-sports show last season. (NBC's "Sunday Night Football" bumped "Idol" as the top-rated show overall.) Greenblatt said he wasn't worried about "The Voice" becoming overexposed.

"Almost every reality franchise does two cycles a season, and one could argue that 'American Idol' and 'X Factor' are the same show in many respects," he said.

NBC executives also expressed happiness with the summer competition "America's Got Talent," which added Howard Stern this season. NBC president of alternative and late-night programming Paul Telegdy said Stern was welcome to return.

"We'd be delighted if Howard wants to come back," he said.