How Do You Become the Head of a Major Television Network?

Seth Rudetsky   How Do You Become the Head of a Major Television Network?
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories from Robert Greenblatt (the man behind NBC live musicals), plus tales from Broadway’s Mike Birbiglia, and the upcoming Red Bucket Follies.
Seth Rudetsky column 11.26.18
Paul Castree, Bob Greenblatt, and Seth Rudetsky

This week I had Bob Greenblatt, the Entertainment Chairman of NBC on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. I say president, but he recently gave notice so he’s chairman exuent or some other fancy term. Anyhoo, Bob’s from Rockford, Illinois, a town in the Midwest that’s bred a ton of Broadway people. He went to high school with Paul Castree (nine Broadway shows), Joe Mantello (director of every Broadway show ever), Jodi Benson (The Little Mermaid herself!) and the late, great Marin Mazzie!

They all did tons of theatre together, including You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown with Joe as Snoopy, and Bob was Marin’s accompanist on various recitals such as her famous “Evergreen” performance where Sister Alice Patrice objected to the lyrics “You and I will make each night a first…” so Marin simply changed those “offensive” lyrics to Barbra-style humming. Not surprisingly, because of Bob’s theatre love, while at NBC he greenlit the first-ever live musical The Sound Of Music Live!. He told me that he actually thought it would fail but wanted to do it because he loves musicals. He never expected it to have such a large audience and then, of course, the coup was all the Emmys this year of Jesus Christ Superstar!

I had no idea how someone becomes the head of network and he told me that he was a theatre major (focused on theatre management), then he got a business degree and then went to film school at USC where he focused on how to run a studio. Who knew there were these majors? Not since Oberlin where I took Mime for an actual college credit. Anyhoo, USC had internships at major studios for their film majors and he wound up being assigned to Twentieth Century Fox in the creative group led by Scott Rudin! His internship was only supposed to be eight weeks, but he made an impression on Scott who asked him to stay on for the year, which really taught him a lot. Since it was still internship wages, Bob supported himself by playing piano on the weekends in L.A. restaurants.

When he took over NBC, the network had been in last place for years—or “tied for third” which, when there are four networks, is basically last place. The shows he greenlit that first changed everything for the network were Chicago Fire, created by Dick Wolf (who created Law & Order ) and a version of a reality singing show from The Netherlands that became The Voice. Everyone told him that nothing could rival American Idol, but the show wound up getting hosts who people loved…and the idea of the judges listening with their chairs turned around really appealed to audiences. NBC is now the number one network! From worst to first as we say in rhyming sass.

The TV show closest to his heart that he is still sad about is Smash. If you don’t know, it got canceled after the second season and I was finally brave enough to ask the question on everyone’s mind: Was it canceled because of my appearance? If you recall, I did four lines during the second season…soon after, it was canceled. He claimed that my scene was not the reason the show was booted off the air...but I wouldn’t say he gave it a hard sell. I’m not saying I’m paranoid that I’m a show killer, but I will reveal that I was on the final episode of Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-list as well as the final episode of Bunheads. Both shows were canceled directly after my appearance. Here is part of my Kathy appearance (featuring Kristin Chenoweth…maybe she was the reason?).

Kristin Chenoweth, Seth Rudetsky and Kathy Griffin
Kristin Chenoweth, Seth Rudetsky and Kathy Griffin

And here’s my scene from Bunheads that possibly/probably led to a full stop on production.

The great news from Bob is that there really is a plan to bring Smash to Broadway. It would be a combination of Bombshell, the Marilyn Monroe bio-musical they’re putting up during Smash as well as the behind-the-scenes stuff that was the actual plot of Smash.

I also had the hilarious Mike Birbiglia on Seth Speaks. I went to the opening night Off-Broadway of his play The New One, which I loved…and now it’s on Broadway! Mike told me that his father listens to my radio show all the time. Apparently, his dad is completely not impressed by Mike’s celebrity pals. Mike said he once told his father that he was at an event with Tom Hanks and his father gave his typical response: “OK.” For some reason, the one exception is me. Mike imitated his father asking him reverentially, “Do you know…Seth Rudetsky?” Turns out, I still got it!

Mike Birbiglia-_The_New_One_Broadway_Opening_Night_2018_11_HR.jpg
Nathan Lane and Mike Birbiglia Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Mike’s shows are always based on his life and always so sweet and soooo funny! I first saw him downtown in Sleepwalk With Me, his one-man show produced by Nathan Lane. It was about him discovering that he had a sleep disorder where he thinks his dreams are really happening. The thing that made him finally get help was when his dream led him to jump through a second story window at a La Quinta Motel in Walla Walla, Washington. He now has to sleep in a zipped up sleeping bag while wearing gloves so he can’t open it! The stage version was turned into this fabulous filmed version:

I don’t want to give too much away about his current show, but the initial premise is about him not wanting to have children. There are various reasons like “He doesn’t know anything” and, therefore, has nothing to teach a child. He explains that he’s read a lot, but he’s retained very little. In third grade, he learned about photosynthesis and remembers thinking, “This is not gonna stick.” I totally identify! The New One is playing at the Cort Theater for a limited run so get thee!

Mike was just on the TV show Billions where he played the love interest of Asia Kate Dillon and actually had an s-e-x scene. He was so proud of his role in the TV show, because it’s his father’s favorite show, and after it aired he couldn’t wait for the proud parental phone call. Silence. He finally went out to eat with his sister days later and he asked whether their parents saw Billions. His sister said solemnly, “Yeah…we have to talk about that.” Turns out, while the show was airing, his mother stood up, stated “I will not watch my son have sex on television” and stormed out. P.S. I 100 percent agree with her! I get uncomfortable watching people I know fool around on TV.

(Nothing, however, is more uncomfortable to me than something that almost happened, but didn’t: When I was doing Grease on Broadway, Sutton Foster came in for a few weeks to play Sandy. She had to lay down the law that she would not go on/make out with one of the Danny understudies...her brother Hunter Foster! She actually had to clarify how inappropriate it was. Believe me, the producers didn’t give her a straight yes at first. It was more of a “Of course! But..what if there was an emergency…?” Luckily, it worked out and the only making out Hunter Foster did was backstage with Cha-Cha DiGregorio…his wife, Jen Cody.)

Back to Birbiglia: He loves music and at the end of the interview I taught him how to play the theme to Phantom with one finger. I love these pics!

Seth Rudetsky column 11.26.18
Mike Birbiglia and Seth Rudetsky

This Sunday, I’m traveling to Vegas for a show with Kelli O’Hara at the Smith Center (Get tickets here.) and then I’m taking a red-eye home so I can be here Monday/Tuesday and host The Red Bucket Follies for BC/EFA. If you are in town, you must come! It is one of the most amazing shows on Broadway every year! You can’t believe the talent on that stage. Go to BroadwayCares.org for tickets ASAP!

Here’s a video I made from backstage when I was hosting in 2011:

If you watch, you can see Carol Channing in the opening where they saluted her. The amazing part of the story is that after the number, Lee Roy Reams came out and talked to Carol onstage for a while. Well, every couple of sentences, she would walk towards the audience, wandering away from him. It was bizarre and I, like many, started thinking “Oh my. Well, she is getting older. Perhaps she doesn’t know where she is. Poor dear.” Well, after the third time walking away, Lee Roy finally asked what she was doing. She turned to him, and in full sass yelled, “I’m trying to get you to stop upstaging yourself! Turn towards the audience when you’re talking to me so they can see you!” Turns out, she wasn’t “losing it” she was more astute than ever! BRAVA!

And finally, if you’re reading this on Cyber Monday, I have tons of my Playbill columns featuring tons of inside Broadway stories in Seth’s Broadway Diary Volumes 1-3. There’s a huge Amazon sale so buy some for the holidays! Peace out!

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