According to the folks at TV By The Numbers, Comcast is adding $200 million to NBC’s primetime budget over last year. They speculate that a chunk of that money will go to marketing, rather than to increasing the number of pilots the network is considering. But marketing hasn’t really been NBC’s problem—rather, it’s been the fact that the network’s ended up with terrible, terrible shows to market. If I were NBC’s programming director Bob Greenblatt, here’s what I’d want to do with that particular chunk of change:
1) Buy an unusual and exciting property for adaptation. Want to play in the sci-fi/nerd space? Buy the rights to Sandman or Neil Gaiman’s Death one-offs or 1609. Want to woo female audiences? Turn Julia Quinn’s wry Bridgerton romance novels into a series (it would be interesting to have a show that focused on a different character each season). Buying an existing property means buying existing fans, and makes something like this less of a gamble than developing a mediocre original like The Cape.
2) Lure a couple of actors and actresses who haven’t done a television show, or haven’t done television in a long time, onto the network. Alec Baldwin hadn’t had a starring role on a TV show since his stint on Knots Landing in 1984 and 1985 (he did some voice work on Thomas the Tank Engine, and short arcs on Will & Grace and Clerks). But getting him back in the form rejuvenated his career, and the sense of where his strengths were as an actor, and gave 30 Rock a wonderful jolt of life.
3) Play with formats. Do some one-season show. Do some miniseries. Do shows that have 13 episodes rather than 22ish. Hell, do a crazy novela-style show (you’ll have to condition the American viewing public that nuns are always trouble). Try to find forms that fit the stories people want to tell, rather than being a slave to the standard broadcast season. Some of these experiments will fail, but if you’re going to throw things at the wall and see what sticks, format should be part of that.