Pay no attention to the vanishing of the man behind the curtain.
That's the message the guy in charge of trying to grow NBC's comedy audience beyond its core constituency of TV critics and bloggers and the people who follow them on Twitter was sending Tuesday at the Television Critics Association's summer meetings in Beverly Hills.
“I think the fans of 'Community' are going to get the same show that they have loved from the beginning,” NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt told reporters after being asked -- not exactly for the first time -- about the less than voluntary departure of the show's creator, Dan Harmon.
“Every so often, it's time to make a change of showrunner,” Greenblatt. “Sometimes you want to freshen the show, and we just decided it was time to do that with 'Community.'”
Given the size of the show's audience and the increasing insularity of its plotting last season, it's probably more surprising that Greenblatt ordered 13 more episodes of the show, sans Harmon, than that there was a change at the top.
Asked, in a rather convoluted way, if it were possible that “Community” might continue past those 13, Greenblatt did his best to meet his questioner halfway.
“I would categorically not rule out that it's not the last season of 'Community,'” he said.
That said, NBC, which ended last season No. 3 among the 18- to 49-year-olds advertisers target, its best performance since 2003-04, would apparently like to get back into the broadcasting business.
Which means expanding its comedy audience beyond fans of what one reporter referred to as its Thursday night lineup of “boutique” shows -- shows like “Community,” “Parks and Recreation” and the awards magnet known as “30 Rock.”
So look this fall for sitcoms with critters (“Animal Practice”) or babies (“Guys With Kids”). And one slightly more complicated one starring ex-“Friends” star Matthew Perry (“Go On”).
Not that you'll have to wait for fall.
NBC has the Olympics starting Friday and if you think it's not going to be inundating viewers with promos for next season's lineup, well, you must never have seen a U.S. network broadcast of the Olympics.
Both “Go On” and “Animal Practice” will get commercial-free previews of their full pilots during the Games and there'll also be a six-minute preview of its new drama “Revolution” on Aug. 4, right after a swimming event in which Michael Phelps is expected to be competing.
Because nothing expresses the spirit of the Olympics like a show about a world gone to hell after the lights go out.
Other tidbits from NBC's day with the press:
-- Pay no attention to the monkey in the tiny white doctor's coat.
“She's the most famous monkey in Hollywood, so we just try to be cool around her,” said “Animal Practice” star Justin Kirk of Crystal, who wears a white coat in the sitcom set in a veterinary hospital (and who also appeared in the movie “We Bought a Zoo”). When Kirk asked Crystal's handler -- “the man behind the woman” -- for advice on ingratiating himself with his diminuitive co-star, the advice was to just “ignore her.” Which, Kirk noted, “I've been doing my whole life.” Crystal, by the way, wasn't taking questions, but did ride in on a tiny ambulance toward the end of the press conference and waved at critics. At least she didn't fling anything.
-- Jimmy Fallon, who's an executive producer on “Guys With Kids,” was stuck in New York, where he has that late-night show, but he appeared at a press conference remotely. Not looming over the proceedings on a giant screen, the way these things are usually done, but on a small vertical one set up beside the cast and crew, as if he and star Tempestt Bledsoe were actually sitting next to one another. Weird, but it worked. Though it'd have been funnier if they'd given the screen a chair.
-- Howard Stern's tenure as a judge on “America's Got Talent” may not have led to a ratings bonanza, but “creatively, we're thrilled with Howard on the show,” said Paul Telegdy, NBC's alternative programming chief. “We'd be delighted if Howard wants to come back.” (Of course, Fox was equally delighted with “American Idol” Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. So we'll see how that works out in the longer run.)
-- Jennifer Hudson is in three of the first four episodes of the new season of “Smash,” which Greenblatt is still high on, particularly after replacing its showrunner and dumping some cast members. “The complexity of producing that show...is just incredible,” he said, while acknowledging that “where we didn't do as good a job...was the arcing of the storylines.”