ALTHOUGH MR. GREENBLATT has declined to speak with the press about his designs for NBC, there is already evidence he is elbows deep in the creative process. In one of his first moves as programming chief, he announced that NBC would pull the flailing Law and Order: Los Angeles off the air in February. Many assumed it would be the first casualty in Mr. Greenblatt’s battle to save the network.
But after just a few weeks of creative overhauling with Law and Order creator Dick Wolf, Mr. Greenblatt announced the show would return on April 11. Star Alfred Molina’s character has been tweaked; three regulars were dismissed; and Alana de la Garza, a beloved face from the original Law and Order, was summoned to reprise her role. Mr. Greenblatt thought the best acting occurred disproportionately in the second half, so Mr. Wolf devised a plan for the show’s strongest actors to be onscreen throughout.
“It is enormously gratifying to see that the changes that Bob and I worked on together have enabled us to have both Alfred Molina and Terrence Howard in every episode,” Mr. Wolf told The Observer.
Mr. Greenblatt’s impact on NBC won’t be measurable for months, but one media organization has given him an early vote of confidence. On the eve of the Law and Order: Los Angeles relaunch, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) will present Mr. Greenblatt with the Stephen Kolzak Award, named for the Hollywood casting director who advocated for gay actors in the ’70s and ’80s before he died of AIDS, at the age of 37.
At Showtime, Mr. Greenblatt oversaw landmark LGBT programming, like The L Word and Queer as Folk, that added nuance to TV’s images of gay and lesbian lives in America. Although his new home earned a progressive reputation a decade ago for Will and Grace, it has since fallen behind in the diversity race. In 2009, GLAAD gave it a failing grade.
“We’re past Will and Grace now,” said Jarrett Barrios, president of GLAAD. “America needed to see a gay best friend then, and now America needs to see a gay family, a transgender person.” Showtime wouldn’t think twice about going there; Mr. Greenblatt’s challenge now will be translating his buzz-baiting style for the more prudish network.
“The medium is good–maybe a little different in terms of depth and frankness–but it is possible at a network, and I think the public craves it,” said Mr. Barrios.
The peacock’s competitors have proven the public isn’t averse to it. Fox’s pituitary musical Glee and ABC’s liberal bourgeois Modern Family–which addressed gay bullying and same-sex parenting, respectively–were among 2010’s most watched scripted series in the advertiser-beloved 18-to-49-year-old demographic. Mr. Greenblatt has already shined the green light for a lesbian sitcom by Will and Grace writer Jhoni Marchinko, which will air next fall.
One of Mr. Greenblatt’s biggest challenges will be to shift from juggling Showtime’s nine hours of prime-time programming each week to NBC’s 22. But beyond that, the differences between broadcast networks and basic and subscription cable are becoming less relevant. As viewers shift their television consumption
from the living-room box to the tablet in bed or the smart phone on their commutes, they cherry-pick content according to what they’ve heard about, not because it’s what comes on after the football game.
“The audience is looking for quality shows wherever they may come from,” Mr. Janollari said. “To rise above the clutter, shows have to be well executed and compelling and grab the audience’s attention in a big way.”
To that end, Mr. Greenblatt can be trusted to succeed, if Comcast trusts him back.