LiveTV:LA: Robert Greenblatt Talks NBC’s Next Live Project

By Kathy Haley, TVNewsCheck

NBC is in the early stages of creating a live primetime movie based on Aaron Sorkin’s play A Few Good Men, announced Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, during a keynote interview at LiveTV:LA today in Hollywood.

Greenblatt, who scored a huge hit last December with NBC’s live broadcast of Sound of Music and is prepping the network’s next live telecast of a Broadway musical, Peter Pan, for Thursday Dec. 4, said he wants to try producing and airing live drama.

“I approached a producer about doing a live drama series, but they said they were too scared of that,” he said. NBC successfully aired several live episodes of hit sitcom The Office and telecast the 1997 season opener of ER live.

A Few Good Men, which originated as a play, was adapted 20 years ago into a hit movie, based on a screenplay penned by Sorkin. It is a courtroom drama about a pair of U.S. Marines charged with the murder of a fellow Marine and the tribulations of their attorneys as they prepare the case to defend their clients.

Live event programming offers a way to attract large television audiences, Greenblatt said. “It’s no longer enough just to put on a good show that people want to watch. They have to be compelled to watch it. If they like something, you might get them to watch it when it first airs, but, most likely, they’ll record it. The best way to get people to feel compelled to come that night is to make it an event.

“We could do a musical not live, and it would have been an event also,” he continued. “But what kicked it into overdrive was the fact that it was live. I got e-mails from people all night long saying, ‘I’m in bed with my kids watching this. It’s great to be able to do that again.’”

Sound of Music wouldn’t have been a financial success for NBC if half the audience had shown up to watch, Greenblatt noted. “We didn’t know what we had. It was a risk. It could have been yet another failed experiment. We live in a world of failed experiments.”

NBC will ramp up promotion for Peter Pan this weekend, after having recorded scenes of the show in recent weeks for that purpose, he said. “We don’t have the show months in advance to promote it, so we have to shoot these bits of it while they are in rehearsal in costume. Next week, you’ll begin to get a sense of what the show looks like.”

The trick with promoting Peter Pan is that NBC won’t have Carrie Underwood and her 6 million Twitter followers to help promote the event. It does however have Christopher Walken in the role of Captain Hook. “He will blow people away,” Greenblatt said. “He’s such an original take on Hook. He’s not doing it in a Pulp Fiction way. He’s playing a British, crazy sea captain, and his opening number is a big dance number.”

Even with Underwood’s Twitter promotion of Sound of Music, the social network didn’t play the biggest role in promoting the live telecast, according to Greenblatt. “Social media is usually exaggerated in its scope,” he said, pointing out that Sound of Music “attracted a massive kid and 18-49 audience and also did really well among people over 50. That was a huge audience span.”

In addition to developing A Few Good Men as a live primetime movie, NBC is working on a live sitcom with Sean Hayes, who created Hollywood Game Night. “They are dying to do a live sitcom,” Greenblatt said.

The network is also developing a live variety show, hosted by actor Neil Patrick Harris and based on the British format Saturday Night Takeaway.

Noting that CBS will air the first telecast of the Hollywood Film Awards next week, Harry Jessell, who was interviewing Greenblatt as the opening keynote to the Live TV:LA conference, asked whether the networks were in danger of overdoing the live-awards genre.

“It’s worth all of us thinking about that,” Greenblatt replied. “A couple of years ago, there was a little trend of these awards shows going down a little in the ratings. But, the last couple of years, they have been trending back up, and the audience almost seems insatiable.”

The question producers face, Greenblatt said, “is how great can you make these shows?”

Jessell interviewed Greenblatt at Loews Hollywood hotel, the site of Live TV:LA, a conference aimed at enhancing the experience, audience, production, and monetization of live TV programming.

TVNewsCheck and Sports Video Group presented Live TV:LA in association with Variety and Variety 411.

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