NBC bouncing back from ratings slump

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PASADENA, Calif. -- The plucked peacock now sports some new plumage.

NBC's fortunes are improving this season after almost a decade of decline. Credit the success of "Sunday Night Football," "The Voice" and freshman drama "Revolution" for the peacock network's strides.

While all the other broadcast networks have seen ratings declines so far in the 2012-13 TV season, NBC has rebounded, becoming No. 1 in viewers 18-49 for the first time in nine years. NBC and CBS are in a close race for first place in viewers 25-54 while CBS remains No. 1 in overall viewership.

NBC has had some missteps -- most notably the bomb "Animal Practice" -- but more has worked. "Go On" draws good ratings, and "The New Normal" is beating its comedy competition regularly. Even ratings for the fairly bland drama "Chicago Fire" have perked up.

"We've made our share of mistakes, and we certainly haven't done everything right," said NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt during a news conference at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. "And as we all know, you and our audience aren't going to embrace everything that we put out there. But we're all working really hard on every front to produce strong, attention-getting, high-quality shows and market them as aggressively as possible. And, of course, we want people to watch them on our network where we air them or DVR them and watch them back within three days on other platforms so that we can monetize them."

No decision has been made about the future of NBC's "Parenthood," which wraps its season later this month, but Mr. Greenblatt touted it by name several times both for its quality and improved ratings, which suggests odds for renewal are better than average.

NBC's improvement remains a soft recovery that's dependent on the success of just a few shows. And "The Voice" and "Revolution" will be off the air for the next few months.

Mr. Greenblatt defended the decision to hold "Revolution" for the return of "The Voice" despite the damage a long hiatus did to another serialized show, ABC's "FlashForward," during the 2009-10 TV season.

"If you've got the goods -- and I think we have it -- it's the safer play for us to make," Mr. Greenblatt said. "What's equally hurtful is to have one new episode in January and then have three repeats and then two new episodes and try to stretch the last 10 episodes through four months of the schedule."

"Revolution" executive producer J.J. Abrams said the scheduling came as a relief.

"When we were doing 'Lost' and they ended up changing the schedule to eliminate the constant and -- for the audience, which is our primary concern -- unpredictability of repeats, it just helped enormously," Mr. Abrams said. "When this idea came up, I was enormously relieved because I felt like we were getting to a place where it would be, for the viewer, the best possible way to present the show."

He's right. Viewers are becoming accustomed to watching shows in batches. And NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke made the point that holding "Revolution" is an effort to protect it by keeping it paired with lead-in "The Voice."

"We're obviously giving it the best lead-in it could have, which is key to the whole strategy."

'DaVinci's Demons' emerges

With "Spartacus" about to begin its final season Jan. 25, Starz is looking to build a new adventure drama franchise with a new entry, "DaVinci's Demons" (10 p.m. April 12 following the "Spartacus" series finale).

The series stars British actor Tom Riley as Leonardo DaVinci in a historical fantasy set in Renaissance Florence. The series is created and written by David S. Goyer, who co-wrote the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, including shot-in-Pittsburgh "The Dark Knight Rises."

Mr. Goyer said writing "DaVinci's Demons" isn't that different from scripting superhero mythology.

"In this case with DaVinci, we did a lot of research but he's kind of a superhero anyway," Mr. Goyer said. "There are so many legends that have grown up around DaVinci, so many tall tales about it. People have said aside from Christ, he's the most recognizable historical figure in the world. In that regard, my approach to it was not that dissimilar from adapting Batman or Superman."

Mr. Goyer said 80-85 percent of what's in "DaVinci's Demons" actually happened and the rest is embellishment.

"But we didn't have to embellish as much as you'd think," he said. "He had a pretty incredible life."

Channel surfing

Murrysville native Jason Kilar announced late Friday that he will leave Hulu.com, the digital streaming service he's led since the company's launch in 2007. ... Playwright Larry Kramer will adapt his Broadway play "The Normal Heart," about the beginning of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York in the early 1980s, for an HBO movie to be directed by Ryan Murphy ("Glee") and starring Julia Roberts, Mark Ruafflo and Carnegie Mellon University grad Matt Bomer ("White Collar"). ... Cable's Chiller will replay the short-lived ABC drama "Pushing Daisies" beginning at 9 p.m. March 5. ... Tyler Perry, whose sitcoms previously aired on TBS, takes his brand to cable's OWN with two new comedy series: "The Haves and the Have Nots" and "Love Thy Neighbor" will debut May 29. ... Animal Planet has renewed "Whale Wars" for a sixth season. ... Encore will debut a two-part mini-series, "Hindenburg: The Last Flight," on March 11 and 12. It stars Stacy Keach. ... New episodes of "Luther" will air this summer on BBC America. ... Hallmark Channel will launch its first scripted series, "Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove," with a movie June 1 and series episodes follow Sunday nights starting June 9. ... HBO's Ricky Gervais comedy "Life's Too Short" will not go for another season, but it will get a wrap-up special. ... With the pending sale of Current TV to Al Jazeera, "Viewpoint" host Eliot Spitzer has departed the broadcast; Joel Fugelsang will host the program for the foreseeable future, according to The New York Times.


A portion of this column originally appeared online in the Tuned In Journal blog. Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or Facebook. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.


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