Podcast Episode 41 Transcript – Robert Greenblatt
Ken: Hi, everybody out there. Ken Davenport here. Welcome back to The Producer’s Perspective Podcast. Thank you for tuning in. I could do a very long introduction for today’s guest, or I could just say three letters . . . NBC. Yep, that’s right, ladies and gentle-listeners, welcome the chairman of NBC Entertainment, Mr. Robert Greenblatt. Welcome, Bob!
Bob: Thank you, Ken, and please call me Bob, thank you.
Ken: So, Bob, you’re the chairman of one of the largest television networks in the free world, which, frankly, is a little mindboggling to me, that kind of position, and I’m sure to a lot of people out there listening. What was your path to getting to where you are? Were you watching episodes of The Cosby Show as a kid, going, “One day I’m going to be chairman of that network.”
Bob: You know, it’s funny, I never really thought much about television when I was growing up in Rockford, Illinois. I always wanted to be a movie executive. I was very taken with the idea of movie studios and kind of going behind the scenes of how movies were made. Studios were just fascinating to me, as kind of their own worlds. I always loved television but I didn’t grow up like Brandon Tartikoff, making my own scheduling board and moving pieces around. For me it was movies. And so I went to LA and went to film school and came out of film school in the mid-80s, at a time when film was a lot more important and television was sort of the bastard stepchild. Television was a lesser form back then. If you were anything, you were in the film business . . . that’s how I looked at it. I had a quick first job in the film business out of film school and that turned into a television job just by accident. At the time I thought, “Why would I want to go into television?” That was 1989 and I’ve never been in the film business since. I’ve really loved being in TV and it’s transformed incredibly in the last 25 years. It is now the preferred medium, I think, and many people in the film business would tell you that. Film is still what it is, but television is in a golden age. There has never been more great programming, especially drama programming, and everybody in the film world is now crossing over to TV, which was not the case 25 years ago when I first started doing this. So that was the strange route to television, completely unexpected, and here I am.
Ken: Why do you think we’ve seen this resurgence in television? Is it because television, for the most part, is a free service and in the world of free, on-demand video on YouTube or wherever, we can still get it somewhat for free?
Bob: Television is free . . . certainly we offer it for free, if you want to look at advertising, but television also costs a lot. If you’re a subscriber to Netflix or a cable subscriber, you’re paying for it. I think it’s really more about . . . the form has just matured. It’s a way to tell stories and develop characters over long periods of time. You don’t have to compress it into a two hour movie experience, so lots of film writers have explored the longer form of storytelling, coupled with the fact that the economics of the film business are just out of control. You walk out the door with a film and it’s $100 million, or a big blockbuster is $250 million or $300 million, so the studios are much more reticent to gamble on Terms of Endearment or All the President’s Men or Tootsie, The Sting, movies that used to be made all the time, and now it’s big action adventure superhero movies or teenage male comedies. The art films get made between there, but I think a lot of writers have found that television is where you can really develop a great story and characters, whether it’s on cable or network, or now on these digital streaming platforms.
Ken: Before you were at NBC you were at Showtime and you supervised the creation and development of some incredible shows there, including Dexter and Weeds. Can you describe the development process for a television show compared to the development process for a play or a musical? Is it similar, different?
Bob: Sure, there are similarities. Obviously you’re working with creatives who are struggling to find their show. In television it’s just accelerated, it’s almost a factory mentality. Broadcast networks are just voluminous in terms of number of shows. Cable has a more luxurious pace because there’s only a handful of new shows so you can take more time and develop something more thoroughly, but you’re on a cycle and every year you go through a cycle. You make pilots and you make series and you just keep plugging ahead. So I would say the tempo is a lot faster in television, but it’s all the same . . . we don’t have to try things out, we’re not spending other people’s money, we’re not raising money like you do in the theater. We’re spending our own money, and the tryout in television is the pilot or the stages you might go through before you pull the trigger on a series. The economics are vastly different, but I think the failure rate is probably similar. There’s a lot of failure in any artistic medium and rare are the The Sopranos or the Six Feet Under‘s or the The Voice‘s, where every now and then something really breaks through. But the process of finding a show is difficult, regardless of what medium, I think.
Ken: I never thought about it . . . the pilot process is a lot like our workshop process.
Bob: It just costs millions of dollars! But yes.
Ken: So how many pilots will you do a year that don’t get on the air?
Bob: It depends where you are. If you’re at a cable network, where the numbers are all smaller, you’ll make a few pilots, and maybe a couple of pilots won’t go to series. But so many fewer shows are put forward in cable that you make fewer pilots and you waste fewer pilots. In the network game, we’re filling hours and hours of original programming per week. In cable, it’s maybe a couple of hours a week of original shows. The rest of it is filled with other things like movies, or you run your series a number of times, but you’re only doing a few original shows at one time. In the broadcast world, you’re doing 15 or 20 original shows, so in order to replace those shows you have to make many more pilots and it is just exponential. In the broadcast world we’ll make 18 or 20 pilots in a given season, and we’ll probably see half of those go to series, so there’s a lot of waste. On the other hand, there’s something nice about making a pilot and then no one sees it. If it doesn’t work, you can just put it away. If you make a movie, you have to release that movie, but with pilots there’s a fair number of them that don’t see the light of day. We make mistakes in passing over things that could work, but it’s a really valuable way to try to figure out what the show is. I’ve always said, if you get the show 60% right in the pilot, you’re doing great. Everybody expects pilots to be perfect but they really are just the first learning tool as you figure out what the series is and then, in the first series of a new show, there’s a lot of experimentation that’s done by the writing staff trying to figure out what the show is. Nobody knows exactly what it is until you get into it. You make a lot of pilots to get a hit show.
Ken: It sounds like if the pilot is like our workshop then your first season is like our preview period here.
Bob: Right, that’s a good analogy. I’ve worked on some shows, ranging from shows as different as The X-Files to, you mentioned, Weeds and Dexter, and something like The Blacklist. If you’re lucky, you get a lot of it right in the pilot and you kind of know where the show is going, but a lot is discovered along the way. The first season of The X-Files, going back a number of years, there was a lot of discovery to figure out exactly what that show was. I’m happy to say it’s being revived next year by Fox for, I think, an eight episode order, but it was a massively successful show and I would say that first season was a lot of experimentation on the part of Chris Carter, who created it, and the writing staff to figure out exactly what worked and what didn’t work. And then you get the show picked up for subsequent seasons and you hopefully perfect it. And then shows grow and morph into different places as they go on also but that’s, I think, the excitement of a series. It just keeps living and changing. It’s just a really interesting process. The creative side of it is never finished.
Ken: Just like the theater.
Bob: Just like the theater. Well, in the theater you acutely lock a show and run it and you can replicate it and duplicate it and there’s something nice in that, after you figure that you’ve kind of nailed it, for better or worse, and in a lot of shows they go back in after the fact and tweak it here and there, but for all intents and purposes you kind of muck around for several years and then you figure out, “This is it,” and if you’re lucky enough to have a big hit it can just replicate itself for decades and decades. The same with a movie. Once you a lock a movie and you have Avatar it’s the number one movie of all time and no one’s ever going to change that until another big movie comes along. But series are always kind of alive. You’ll hear people complain about the sophomore slump of a show. A new show will hit its stride in the first season and then kind of falter a little bit in the second and then take off again in the third. Think about a show like Breaking Bad. That first season was like, “How are you going to sustain this math teacher who’s got cancer and he starts dealing meth?” As you look at where that show went over its seasons, it was extraordinary how they kept unfolding it and growing it. I don’t think the creator of that show, Vince Gilligan, who I also know because he was an original writer on The X-Files, I don’t think he knew when he wrote the pilot what the finale of that show was going to be or even what season three, four or five was going to be, and that discovery process can be really exciting. And you also have the audience weighing in now, with social media, telling you every single thing they think about a show . . . some of which you have to ignore. But it’s an exciting process because it’s continuing to unfold.
Ken: And do you, and NBC as a whole, listen in to that social media chatter about the shows and take them into the boardroom and say, “This is what people are saying. Maybe we should think about this direction?”
Bob: We do. I don’t think we take it into the boardroom but we listen to it in terms of marketing and how a show is perceived. I think the writers and producers of shows really look at it and try to weigh it appropriately. Obviously you can’t listen to everything. You can kind of get a consensus. If everyone is telling you something is wrong it’s probably a good bet to listen to that and think about it. Rarely are you going to find all social media telling you they love everything you’re doing. I mean have you read the theater blogs lately? Unfortunately, it’s a medium where criticism reigns and you have to, I think, sift through that, but it’s good to get that feedback. We used to do audience surveys and people would check boxes and write down things and put them in a box at the back of the theater. This is a much more efficient way to do it, if sometimes frustrating when you read some of it. The hate-watching thing is a phenomenon that is both disturbing and fascinating to me, but there you have it.
Ken: You obviously have a soft spot for the theater so I’m sure you have a lot of playwrights coming to you going, “Bob, Bob! I’ve got an idea for a television show!” Do you find that there is a big difference between the playwrights who try to write for television? Can they do it? Is there a difference in style? What does it take?
Bob: I think there are a lot of differences. I think it depends on the individual. It’s funny you say there are a lot of playwrights coming to say, “I want to write a TV show.” Here’s the phenomenon that I see happening, which is kind of remarkable, I think. There are lots of TV writers, primarily comedy writers, who are dying to write the books for Broadway musicals. I don’t know what that phenomenon is, but there are lots of musical lovers in the television world already and there’s something about the fascination of the theater, almost in reverse. We, of course, are always looking for playwrights and writers, any great writer with a vision, to develop a TV idea, and usually it’s good to have them paired with producers who know what they’re doing and have been through the process before, but I can’t tell you how many people want to write Broadway shows. And I tell them either, “Get ready for the rollercoaster ride,” or “Run for the hills!” because there’s nothing more frustrating at times but also nothing more thrilling if you’re lucky enough to get it right.
Ken: Speaking of that, you were a producer on 9 to 5, several years ago, before you got to NBC.
Ken: How did that happen?
Bob: I come from this little town in northern Illinois called Rockford, which spawned a whole bunch of people who work in the theater. There were a lot of community theaters in town so there were a lot of us who went to New York or to LA after college to work in the theater or in the movie and TV business and, having done a lot of theater as a kid, I was really good friends with people like Joe Mantello and Marin Mazzie, both of who I went to high school with. There’s a whole long list of other people like Jodi Benson and Gary Griffin and Kevin Stites. The list goes on and on, but a lot of people went to the theater, and I went to the TV business. But I always wanted to do something in the theater. I’m a musician to start with so I’ve loved the musicals ever since I was very young. And I really want to work with Joe Mantello, who is a really, really dear friend, and I’ve watched the success of Wicked happen and his whole career. He’s not interested in doing anything on film and I have, over the years, tried to talk him into doing this show or that show and he really is just interested in theater, so I thought, “You know what? I’ll try to do some theater.” And, I don’t know, one day during the first phase of movies being turned into musicals, which I know is now a very tricky line to walk . . . but you sit around, watching an old movie, and you go, “That would make a great musical, that would make a great musical.” Fortunately or unfortunately, they’re all now being turned into musicals and many of them aren’t great, but I always thought 9 to 5 could be a really fun stage vehicle, and it has a musical element built into it with Dolly Parton’s title song. So I said to Joe, “Wouldn’t it be fun to do 9 to 5 as a musical?” And we are both Dolly Parton fans and he said to me, “If you can get Dolly to write the score, then I’m in. I’ll direct it,” and I went about the task of doing that and the good news is she wanted to do it and was very excited about it, and we just went the distance with it. It was just a joy to work on, a joy.
Ken: That’s where we met. I remember speaking to you about it and I remember you just being very joyous about it. It had a nice run here, it went on the road, I’m sure it’s doing incredibly well in stock and amateur.
Bob: It is. Of course it didn’t do what we hoped it would do on Broadway. I opened the out of town production, a big, Broadway-bound production, at the Ahmanson, the third week of September in 2008, and if you remember what happened in September 2008, the bottom fell out of our economy and we were like, “Oh, now what do we do?” At a certain point, when you’re almost fully capitalized and you have a Broadway theater and the train has left the station, there’s nothing you can do, so we opened in April of 2009 and it was tricky. I don’t think I blame the economy, necessarily, but it sure would have helped if the economy wasn’t in that state at the time. But we loved doing it and I’m working with Dolly now on some things for NBC. To know her is to love her. There probably is no bigger joy that I’ve had than doing 9 to 5 and Joe will probably tell you the same thing. Working with Allison Janney and Stephanie Block and Megan Hilty . . . that’s where I first met Megan, who I eventually put into Smash. That’s where I first met Stephen Oremus who’s now working with us on The Wiz, which we’re doing live on NBC in December. It was just really a joy. I keep using that word, but that’s what it was. It is doing well. There are lots of theaters that want to produce the show because they know the movie, and it’s relatively easy to produce. You don’t have to build period costumes or do any kind of stage pyrotechnics. It’s just a really fun and funny musical.
Ken: In your own personal post mortem, when it was over . . . and it was a shorter run than you would have liked . . . anything you would have done differently?
Bob: I guess . . . probably not. I would have liked a more intimate theater. But you know what was great about watching that show in the theater with the audience? They would fall out of their chairs with laughter. It was that rolling, raucous laughter that you don’t always hear in a musical. What I would have done different is had a better New York Times review. I think that’s the thing that ultimately did us in, although when people went to the show they came out loving it.
Ken: You’ve been such an advocate for the theater in your position at NBC and doing all sorts of things that seem to be letting theater and television hold hands, if you will, including, of course, the live telecasts of The Sound of Music and Peter Pan and, as you mentioned, the upcoming The Wiz. Where did the idea come from on this?
Bob: When I first went to Showtime in 2004, one of the first things I did was greenlight a movie based on Reefer Madness, which was a musical also, that I think played Off-Broadway for a while.
Ken: I saw it.
Bob: It was a really funny show. I got to know the creators and Andy Fickman, the director . . . that was his first film directing job. He had been a theater director . . . and we had such a blast doing that. And I was very envious . . . I’d been friends with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron for a number of years, and I was always envious of the musicals that they were doing, primarily at CBS or ABC. You know, the Gypsy with Bette Midler I thought was incredibly great, and they did all of these Disney/ABC musicals for all those years. I was at the Fox network during those days and they really wouldn’t have been right for us at Fox so I kept selfishly trying to figure out, “How do I figure out how to do something that would work for the network that I’m running?” At Showtime, Reefer Madness seemed like a fun thing to do there. When I got to NBC, Craig and Neil and I were just kicking around ideas and I think I said to them . . . I knew about Hugh Jackman’s Oklahoma! production that he did in the UK many years ago and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to just go to Hugh and say, “Do you want to do a new production of Oklahoma! on film?’” And obviously I figured a big star would help put it across, because I didn’t have any idea if it would work on a big scale. They said to me, “We have a better idea . . . something we’ve wanted to do for a number of years. What about doing The Sound of Music . . . live?” So it was completely their idea and I thought to myself, “Well how would that work? How could we even do it?” And the learning curve was steep but fast on how to do it, but we just decided, “Let’s try it,” and I don’t think anybody in the world thought it would deliver 20 million viewers, or 19 million viewers, and become a kind of phenomenon. And then we figured, “Well, we did one. Let’s keep doing them.” And the holidays seemed like the perfect time. We’re trying to do these for the family, so Peter Pan seemed like a really good follow up to that, and The Wiz is enduring. The The Wizard of Oz story works almost every time you do it. You look at Wicked or The Wiz or The Wizard of Oz and it seems to be the gift that keeps on giving, so we’re really excited to be doing a brand new big production of The Wiz with a new book by Harvey Fierstein and a really great cast that crosses from pop music to theater, and we’re really excited about it. At the end of the day, I sort of figure I’m doing these because I want to do them, and I hope that they bring a big audience. I’m very happy that they do. If the first one hadn’t done that, we probably wouldn’t be doing this.
Ken: That’s what I was thinking about, that first one, because, sure, you are the boss. You want to do something, I’m sure you can make that happen, but I’m sure a lot of people there were like, “This is a bit scary.” How was it for you on set that first night?
Bob: It’s funny, I think everybody thought, “What the hell is he doing?” But of course no one would say that that and, you know, I just didn’t really get bogged down in what people think, or, “Will it work or not work?” We just focused on how to get it off the ground, which was an enormous undertaking. It sounds much simpler than it ultimately is and these things are very expensive to produce also, because . . . essentially, you have to rehearse and put together a full stage musical, and then you have to put it in front of cameras, which is another process. And we figured they’ve got to be big, they’ve got to look like movies. I didn’t want them to look like filmed plays in a theater because we used to do them at Showtime and HBO and they just felt PBS-like, so we wanted them to look filmic, which means they had to be bigger. We learned a lot about how to make it seem bigger but not spend as much money, but they’re big. For The Sound of Music we just said, “Let’s try to figure out how to get it done.” Interestingly, there were a lot of actors who were very scared about doing it live. We went to Carrie Underwood, who is a live performer, primarily, she said, “I’d love to do it,” and it still irks me that she was criticized for her limitations as an actor or as a theater performer, but I loved what she did in the role, and the fact that she fearlessly jumped into it nobody really gives her credit for.
Ken: One of the other things, obviously, that you’ve done that ties into the theater world is the development of Smash.
Ken: How did that come about?
Bob: Smash was a great show which I loved and the theater community just rallied to hate it, many of them, and say how inauthentic it was, even though all of the people involved had produced Broadway musicals. But that was a wonderful experience, which started at Showtime. Steven Spielberg, who I’ve gotten to know over the years, called me up one day and said, “I’ve always wanted to do a television series about the making of a Broadway musical,” and without even putting the phone down I said, “Let’s do that. Sold!” Now we had to figure out how it would be created and who would write it and who would do the music and all the millions of details, but we decided to embark on the development of it. I left Showtime shortly thereafter and when I went to NBC the cupboard was bare and we were deep in fourth place at the time . . . I’m happy to say that we’re first place now and have been for two years . . . but I was looking around and thinking, “What can I do that’s just going to be different and exciting and get the press talking?” and that’s one of the reasons for the live musicals also . . . press, press, press and excitement . . . and I thought, “I bet we could do a version of Smash for NBC that didn’t feel dark and cabley and twisted,” and that was it. Steven wanted to do it and everybody, Craig and Neil were involved from the get-go, and we just said, “Let’s do it!” Michael Mayer directed it . . . an amazing, two-time Tony Award-winning theater director . . . and Shaiman and Whitman wrote the music and we just had a blast doing that show.
Ken: I’m trying to think of what other ideas you’re probably cooking up for the theater and television. Everyone comes to me, saying, “Ken, why isn’t there an American Idol-like Broadway reality show where you find the next so-and-so?” There have been a couple.
Bob: Those have been done, yes, and NBC did that Grease and I know in the UK they did the search for Maria for The Sound of Music. We’ve talked about some of those. I think I’d rather do new ideas than more of those ideas. I’m a little concerned that once something becomes replicated it’s less special. Now Fox is going to do a live Grease in January and if there are a lot of these live musicals I’m not sure they are going to be special. So I’m totally open to new ideas. I talk to people like Craig and Neil and Kevin McCollum and Steven Spielberg all the time about what we can do. We’ve talked about filming some things in the theater and doing those, like we used to do on cable again, because no one’s doing that either, but to me it’s all about, “What’s a big event?” We’re in the event business now because there is so much competition, and these tend to be big events if you get them right.
Ken: It’s interesting you talk about showing something in a theater. Obviously Broadway is trying to crack, I think, the live stream idea. London is kicking our ass, actually, in doing this, because the non-profit institutions are doing it like crazy.The Met obviously does it here, and Broadway is wickedly trailing behind. We’ve done a couple but no one has ever talked about live streaming onto television. Is that a possibility, do you think? Could you do a live stream of Wicked? That’s actually in the family property, right?
Bob: I’ve actually talked to some people on Broadway with shows that are currently running. It wouldn’t be a stream, we would film it, but doing either a film of a current Broadway musical, either live or filmed, in the theater, which is very expensive for us to do, which is a good thing because The Wiz‘s and The Sound of Music‘s are inordinately expensive and you have to have a huge audience to offset that cost, and it’s funny, you still meet with the same resistance. There’s one I’ve been talking to right now, and they fundamentally believe that if we do a broadcast of the musical it will hurt their business. And I just believe that’s old fashioned thinking. I think, yes, there will be some people who say, “I saw it on television, why would I buy tickets?” But I think the reverse is much bigger. I think there will be so many people who will hear about it for the very first time . . . maybe not even see it on television . . . and suddenly be aware of it in the theater. It’s much like when the Chicago movie was released. Everybody thought, “Oh, it’s the death knell! Why would you go to the theater production again?” And didn’t it inject many more years of life into the stage version of Chicago? I don’t know if I would do Wicked, because Wicked is going to be developed into films and there’s still a huge life in Wicked and I think it being exclusive to the stage is one of the reasons why it’s still such a big hit, but I think there’s a number of things, including revivals, that have been around for years that could become big films, big television films, and I think they would do nothing but raise the box office excitement of the current production. But I can’t prove that so, until I get some courageous producers who want to try it, it’s going to be hard to do that.
Ken: No one on this podcast can see me raising my hand right now, saying, “I’m in for that game!” Also I’m just waiting for David Stone to call me to say why did I mention Wicked as a possible television movie.
Bob: Believe me, I don’t think Wicked is going to be put on television before it’s turned into a big movie and runs for many more years. When they do it in the UK, I’m not really familiar with that business, but they’re putting in the theaters high definition streams or broadcasts of the shows that are in the theaters, right? Are they having a detrimental effect on the box office? Are the shows closing once that happens? Are they doing better after that happens? I don’t know. I should do some research myself, but clearly it’s working there.
Ken: There’s a national tour of The Sound of Music about to go out with Jack O’Brien. The Sound of Music is a classic. It’s always done every few years. But I would argue that that’s going out, somebody was reminded, “Maybe we should put it out now,” because of the success of your televised production.
Bob: Yes, I think you’re right, and that’s good for the rights holders. But I understand, if you’ve got a big show on Broadway and it’s grossing really well, you would be nervous about, “Well, what happens if we just let a network do a film of it?” So I would suggest you wait long enough into the run, I wouldn’t do it, obviously, very early in the run, but I think it’s a conversation worth having, and I am having it and I’m getting some resistance and maybe we’ll figure it out one day.
Ken: Shocking! Resistance from the old guard on Broadway! We are scared of a lot of things, including all the other ways to consume entertainment in two dimensional forms. “Oh my gosh, it’s the death of Broadway now because we can see movies at home and on our phones,” etc. Do you have any advice on how to compete with that, even though you’re on the other side at times?
Bob: We live in the same fear. I’m telling you, the television business has never been more challenged because of the ability to move programing over to many different devices. Our whole business depends on advertising revenue, which is challenged if you can take a show and watch it with no advertising, and that happens all the time. I think you can either be scared of it and worry about it and not do anything, or you can embrace it and figure it out and be clever and creative. I don’t have advice for anybody. All I’m trying to do in my business to keep ahead of all of the technology is continue to come up with things that feel like events. The more it feels compelling . . . it’s an old phrase but everything old is new again . . . the more it feels must-see, the better chance you have of it being successful in any form that it’s viewed. We just premiered this big new show starring Neil Patrick Harris which is live. It’s a big event with a live audience and it did really well behind another big event show called America’s Got Talent and I think just keep on trying to figure out what’s an event. Don’t just depend on titles of movies to drive your awareness, but that can help too.
Ken: So my last question, which is my infamous genie question . . . I want you to imagine that the genie from Aladdin knocks on your office door and says, “Bob, you’ve done such a great job. The live telecasts . . . I love them. You’re really building a bridge between Broadway and Hollywood. I want to thank you for that. I want to grant you one wish.” What’s the one thing that drives you so crazy about the Broadway environment or community or how business is done that would keep you up at night? Maybe it was on 9 to 5, maybe it’s as a theatergoer now. What’s the one thing that you hate? You seem like a very even keeled, a very nice, gentile man. What would get you so mad about what happens here that you would wish away?
Bob: I would wish away the bad reviews, even if they’re warranted. I just think let the public find the show themselves and figure out if they want to go to it. I think a few people’s opinions which drive business either to the theater or away are more damaging than, I think, anything. I think great reviews are great to blow the box office up, but let the box office blow up because people talk about it. That would be my one wish. I happen to be a very lucky little investor in a new show called Hamilton.
Ken: Never heard of it!
Bob: Which I had nothing to do with, I can claim no credit for any of the artistic achievement of it, but it didn’t need a great review and I guess a bad review wouldn’t have hurt it, but I don’t know how that serves the audience or the creative community anymore. It may have been important 50 or 100 years ago when the theater was new and growing, but I don’t think it’s relevant anymore.
Ken: And television?
Bob: The same thing. I don’t think they’re relevant ever, anywhere. In television they don’t matter, at least in broadcast, because there’s no purchasing decision that’s going to be affected by a yay or a nay. We use the reviews because it helps in marketing, but I don’t know that a great review really ever did anything. What does is incredible word of mouth, which is the classic, and it certainly has driven Hamilton from that first workshop. People started talking about. But movie reviews, does anybody read a movie review? Not to mention that most reviews are 100 words . . . are they 100 words? You get three sentences of what the story is and then three descriptive sentences. Is that a review? I’m not sure it serves any purpose. It’s nice to have the little marketing blip in whatever publication you’re in, but I think there are more creative ways to accomplish that too.
Ken: My mind is being blown right now because I don’t see television shows trumpeting their great reviews like we have to trumpet our great reviews.
Bob: We do in cable more than we do in broadcast because cable is a purchasing decision. It’s less than what it used to be 10 or 20 years ago. When you bought HBO or Showtime for the first time, that was a lot of money. Now your cable bill is $200 a month. Your cable used to be $40-50 and Showtime was $10 and HBO was $12 or $15, that was a lot. So it kind of made sense to say, “The Sopranos is the greatest show ever to come along,” if you’re trying to drive subscriptions and get people to actually make a purchase. And I guess that’s what’s happening in the theater but I would say we have so many other ways to now drive ticket sales and get word of mouth out there. I don’t know where the great law was ever written that there needed to be criticism of anything. Let the world just play out on its own terms. It is what it is, it will probably never change, but that’s the one thing that I think, if we get rid of it tomorrow, it would be like lifting this heavy blanket off of everybody’s shoulders, if only psychologically.
Ken: It would certainly create a much freer art, without a doubt, if we didn’t have that pressure on us. I want to thank you so much for being here today, Bob, but more importantly I want to thank you for your incredible efforts on building this bridge between our two related mediums. I firmly believe that everything you’re doing at NBC is actually one of the greatest marketing weapons that Broadway has right now because you speak to so many people. Someone asked me the other day why I thought Broadway was booming at this very moment and I actually think that it’s because of a seed that Disney planted 20 years ago and, 20 years from now when we are booming, I honestly believe they’re going to say it’s what Bob Greenblatt was doing at NBC and what he started. So thank you for all of that.
Bob: Well that’s very nice of you to say. I do think putting these shows on a national platform helps, so if that’s bleeding into ticket sales and helping the business in general, that’s great.
Ken: You’re helping create a whole new generation of theater goers out there, that I know will eventually come here to see it in person and live.
Bob: I know when I was a kid what I looked forward to was the annual airing of The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music. You couldn’t get them anywhere else at the time so we really looked forward to those and it’s one of the things that made me want to go into the business. If this is that for kids in Iowa or Montana or Arizona who don’t have access to Broadway, then that would be a great thing.
Ken: For sure. Thanks again, Bob. Thanks to all of you for listening. Make sure you subscribe. Next week we’ve got one of Broadway’s biggest hit makers on the podcast . . . director and choreographer of Aladdin, Book of Mormon and a whole lot more, Casey Nicholaw, so tune in then. Thanks again!
See the entire list below, including the shows currently running,…
See the entire list below, including the shows currently running,…
There are seven shows beginning performances on Broadway this month!…
See the entire list below, including the shows currently running,…
Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.