"I don't think you can make the leap of shows about serial killers… (Chris Haston, NBC )
Recent mass shootings in Colorado and Connecticut are forcing television executives to justify the escalating violence on the small screen that critics contend glorify or, worse, fuel real-world killings.
Later this month, Fox Broadcasting unfurls a bloody new drama, “The Following,” starring Kevin Bacon as an ex-FBI agent who comes out of retirement to track down a serial killer. NBC is developing “Hannibal,” which explores an FBI agent's relationship with the feared mass killer Hannibal Lecter, a fictional character made famous by the 1991 movie “The Silence of the Lambs.”
“I don't think you can make the leap of shows about serial killers causing the violence that we have in our country,” NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt said Sunday at the winter TV press tour being held in Pasadena. “There are many other factors, from mental illness to guns.”
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Greenblatt has an interesting role in the debate. He was head of programming at premium pay channel Showtime when it developed “Dexter,” one of the first major hits in the serial killer genre. The success of “Dexter,” which is concluding this year after eight blood-soaked seasons, helped spawn the latest wave of killer shows.
After arriving at NBC, Greenblatt ordered “Hannibal,” developed by producer Bryan Fuller (“Pushing Daisies” and “Dead Like Me.”) Greenblatt said NBC's “Hannibal” would not depict killings on screen -- but viewers would get a glimpse of the aftermath, with scenes of dead bodies strewn about. (The Fox and NBC shows were in the works before last year's mass shootings.)
Recent shootings have put Hollywood in an uncomfortable position, most notably last summer when a gunman fired into a Colorado movie theater audience during the opening minutes of Warner Bros.' “The Dark Knight Rises.”
NBC aired an episode of “Chicago Fire” last fall that included a dramatic story line about firefighters caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting. On Christmas Eve, firefighters were ambushed by a gunman in a suburb of Rochester, N.Y. Four were shot, two of whom died.
CBS long has taken flak for its “crime-time” lineup of prime-time shows, which includes the popular “CSI” franchise and “Criminal Minds.”
“We try to be mindful, and we are sensitive to it,” Greenblatt said. But he went on to say that if people want to scrutinize the role of media, “then I would look at movies and video games.”
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This weekend, the slasher movie “Texas Chainsaw 3D” was No. 1 at the box office with more than $20 million in ticket sales. And the Activision Blizzard video game “Call of Duty: Black Ops II,” which came out in November, registered more than $500 million in sales on its first day of release.
“We should ask the people of the country what the problem is,” said Greenblatt, who this month is to mark his second anniversary at NBC.
NBC is in a far better position than it was a year ago. It's the only broadcast network to post gains during the current television season, drawing 24% more viewers in the coveted 18-to-49 age demographic than it did last season.
In that demographic, CBS is down 13%, ABC is off 4% and Fox Broadcasting has plummeted 23%. (CBS remains the top network among all viewers and is expected to surge with next month's telecast of the Super Bowl.)
NBC has gained 19% this season among all viewers.
NBC is benefiting from huge audiences for “Sunday Night Football,” television's top prime-time show, which now goes off the air until next fall. The peacock can also strut because of its smash singing competition “The Voice” and several promising freshman shows, including “Revolution” and “Go On.”
“We are the clear No. 2, up from a distant No. 4 a year ago at this time,” Greenblatt said.
Television writers' interest has been piqued by the ever-brewing late-night TV wars, which continue to unfold. ABC is moving up its “Jimmy Kimmel Live” show to the earlier 11:35 p.m. slot, beginning this week. Kimmel will now compete head to head with NBC's Jay Leno and CBS' David Letterman.
Greenblatt shrugged off concerns that Leno, who last summer renewed his NBC contract, might be vulnerable to an incursion by the 45-year-old Kimmel. The termination of ABC's “Nightline” in the time period means there are displaced viewers up for grabs, Greenblatt said. He hinted that those viewers might switch to NBC rather than watch Kimmel.
When asked whether NBC is formulating a succession plan for Leno, Greenblatt dismissed the notion. “The Tonight Show” witnessed an exodus of viewers under the previous NBC regime's ill-fated move three years ago of Leno to prime time.
“We just extended Jay,” Greenblatt said. “All of those conversations [about succession] are a little premature."
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