Brow Beat

NBC Bets on Parades, a Marathon Trivia Game, and a Hillary Clinton Biopic

NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt from January 2012

NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt from January 2012

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Forget sitcoms, dramas, and reality competitions, TV networks “need to be in the event business,” Robert Greenblatt, the chairman of NBC Entertainment, told the Television Critics Association this morning.

After presenting a lackluster PowerPoint presentation about NBC’s ratings performance—“flat is the new up,” he valiantly proclaimed—Greenblatt said that the battle for TV viewers is now “about fighting the DVR for the premiere of a show.” In other words, new shows face competition not only from other programs on other networks but also from the caches of shows that viewers have squirreled away on the DVRs. (Fox boss Kevin Reilly made a similar complaint about binge-viewing back in January.)

NBC’s answer to this dilemma—this season, at least—is to focus on shows that, it fervently hopes, viewers will watch live. Sporting events, competitions like America’s Got Talent, holiday celebrations like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade or a live broadcast of The Sound of Music that it will air in early December, award shows, and even the late-night chat shows that aren’t technically live but that “feel immediate.” In other words, it’s counting on shows that become as appealing as a week-old sandwich if you leave them unwatched on your DVR.

NBC is placing its hopes on The Million Second Quiz, a 12-day endurance event that several NBC shows, from Today in the morning, to the late-night talkers, will check in on. NBC hasn’t released many details of how the quiz will work, but the NBC executives made it sound like a combination of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They and The Hunger Games. Game play will happen around the clock; viewers at home can play along, and every night the producers will pluck players from their living rooms and fly them to New York to compete with the current champions.

NBC has also caught the mini-series bug that has infected several networks over the course of the last year. Greenblatt announced three mini-series (which means the story will be over at the end of the run): an “updated remake and resetting” of Rosemary’s Baby, a new version of Stephen King’s Tommyknockers, and Hillary, in which Diane Lane will play the former first lady and secretary of state and potential future president. (The script isn’t done yet, and writer Courtney Hunt will need to get a move on. The biopic will become an equal-time hot potato if Clinton declares her candidacy before it airs.) NBC has also given a green light to Plymouth, a limited series (which is to say it could return) about “the challenges and the drama of the Pilgrims’ journey across the Atlantic and the difficulties of settling in a new country.”

NBC called its new marathon trivia game, which will air in early September, The Million Second Quiz. It could also have gone with the title Desperate Attempt To Draw Eyeballs to the Ads for the New Shows That Will Premiere a Couple of Weeks Later. It’s a Hail Mary pass, but as stunts go, it’s a lot cheaper than the Olympics, the gimmick NBC uses in even years.