NBC Chairman Robert Greenblatt says the solution to bringing his network back from fourth place in the ratings is to be more “provocative.” Unfortunately for families, so far that has translated to, “show more violence.”
The NBC boss hasn’t let the grass grow under his feet in his push for more violent programming. The PTC recently showed that most of NBC’s dramas contain graphic violence – yet are rated as appropriate for 14 year olds. This is a strange approach to take if the goal is luring in more viewers overall, especially since Greenblatt himself noted that NBC “used to be one of the most innovative, acclaimed networks in America.” That is true; under its president Grant Tinker, in the 1980s NBC brought Americans programs like The Cosby Show and Family Ties, and top-notch dramas like Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere, shows which appealed to the entire family, not a narrow group of 18-34 year olds.
However, Greenblatt’s claim that “we’re trying to bring that [era] back” is utterly false. Rather than returning to the programming that gave NBC its greatest success, Greenblatt apparently believes that extreme graphic violence is the way to attract a larger number of viewers. Instead of competing with cable by being different and appealing to wider audiences, Greenblatt’s strategy is to imitate it (and thus, try to attract the same audiences away from cable shows to which they’re already loyal).
Greenblatt claims that “we have to be provocative and do things to surprise people.” Apparently, to the network chief, “provocative” automatically equals “grotesquely violent.” And NBC’s current obsession with gore-soaked, disturbing programming like Hannibal, Grimm and Law &Order: SVU would not “surprise people” who knew that Greenblatt produced the serial killer drama Dexter for Showtime, and the death-obsessed Six Feet Under for HBO.
In fact, Greenblatt appears to be indulging in the same classic mass communications fallacy NBC’s first president, “Pat” Weaver, did in the 1950′s: putting on programming HE enjoys, not shows which appeal to most of his audience. The situations differ in that Weaver’s tastes ran to opera, not bloody serial killer shows; but under Weaver, NBC took second place to CBS for decades — a situation with which Greenblatt should be familiar.
“We’re in the process of trying to figure out what is the next stage of broadcast TV,” Greenblatt says. One answer might be to put on programs families actually want to watch. But that’s not the answer entertainment industry bosses like Greenblatt want to hear.