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New NBC chief says ‘Community’ coming back

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — After acknowledging that NBC had a “really bad fall,” the network’s entertainment chief moved swiftly Friday to assure viewers that “Community” and “Law & Order: SVU” aren’t leaving.

Although the Thursday night comedy “Community” was taken off the midseason schedule, entertainment president Bob Greenblatt said that he wanted to “dispel any notion that it is quietly disappearing.” He didn’t say, however, when it would be back.

At a news conference, Greenblatt also aired a video clip of star Mariska Hargitay saying that she’s committed to “Law & Order: SVU” through next year. She’ll even get a love interest: Harry Connick Jr. has signed on for several episodes later this season.

For NBC, keeping any audience it still has is important. The fourth-place network has continued its slow decline this fall, with Sunday night football keeping its heart beating. Viewership was off 5 percent from last season, the Nielsen ratings company said.

“We had a really bad fall, worse than I had hoped for but about what I expected,” Greenblatt said.

Still, he said that he hoped new shows like “The Voice,” ”Up All Night” and “Whitney” can provide building blocks for the future, even if they are only modest successes now.

NBC has been outspending its rivals in series development recently, following many years when the network kept such spending down. Greenblatt said NBC’s new corporate owners, Comcast Corp., have shown a willingness to invest money and patience in rebuilding the network.

NBC has high hopes for the midseason series “Smash,” about the competitive world of Broadway musicals. It debuts Feb. 6. Greenblatt seemingly tried to dampen expectations, given how hard it is to develop hits in network television these days.

“In this day and age, you need four or five shows to help things turn around,” he said. “‘Smash’ could be one of those. I hope it is one of those. If it isn’t, we’re not going to go into receivership.”

Greenblatt did not address reports that NBC is interested in Ryan Seacrest as a potential replacement for Matt Lauer on the “Today” show, whose contract ends this year.

“All of that is premature,” he said. “It is our hope and belief that Matt will stay on the show beyond the length of his contract.”

Comcast is talking with Seacrest, who plays a big role on the company’s E! Entertainment cable network, about different things he could do. One idea NBC would be interested in is a network interview show, much like Barbara Walters has done on ABC.