The week ended a bit differently. The NBC execs who suffered through miserable ratings all year got to high-five one another early Thursday morning after a passel of Emmy nominations for critically acclaimed shows such as "30 Rock," "The Office" and "Heroes."
Networks and studios often find the entire Emmy process bittersweet; any award show that burps out statistics tends to attract invidious comparisons among nominees and networks.
But it's a particularly awkward moment for NBC. They came to bury Reilly, not praise him — and then darned if those unpredictable Emmy voters didn't ratify his programming roster.
Reached at his new office at Fox, a very pleased-sounding Reilly declined to say anything. As if he has to.
All told, NBC earned 69 nominations, compared with last year's 47, and its best overall showing since 2003, when it netted 77. The network got only one less nod than ABC, the leader among broadcasters, and far more than either CBS (44) or Fox (28). And in a detail that no one in Burbank will fail to notice, much of NBC's boost came from hip, critically beloved shows that Reilly personally championed, including the comedies "30 Rock" (a big 10 nominations, same as ABC's mega-hit "Grey's Anatomy") and "The Office" (nine).
"Kevin was there for us from the beginning on '30 Rock,' " said Lorne Michaels, who serves as executive producer of "30 Rock" as well as "Saturday Night Live," which served as the sitcom's inspiration. "I'm obviously very fond of the guy. We got the support we wanted — but more important, he got the sensibility of the show."
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But Michaels added that Ben Silverman, the NBC co-chairman who essentially replaced Reilly as chief programmer, may be the person to find an audience for "30 Rock" and the rest of NBC's struggling lineup. "Ben is something of a showman," he said. "Perhaps he's the person to get some attention for the schedule, which clearly wasn't happening last year."
That's essentially the dilemma for NBC. The Emmy noms telegraphed what people in the TV biz have long known: Reilly put some really good shows on the air. But the only one of them that resonated with a big mainstream audience was "Heroes," a fantasy with comic-book overtones (and, if you're keeping score, eight nominations).
Silverman's headache is going to be how to translate the marginal cult status of "30 Rock" — Tina Fey's workplace comedy via "SNL" — into a sustainable hit. Don't think that an impressive Emmy tally necessarily makes that job any easier. Every lagging show hopes that Emmys will transform it into a ratings Cinderella, à la "Hill Street Blues." But remember that more recently, Fox executives could never quite figure out how to make "Arrested Development" popular, despite an Emmy win for best comedy. Michaels is hopeful that the nominations will spur viewers to check out "30 Rock" and see "what all the fuss is about."
Silverman is in a tricky situation, but he acquitted himself well Thursday morning. "We think these shows are fantastic," he said in an interview, referring to NBC's Emmy standouts.
In the case of "The Office," Silverman feels dual pride, both as a network executive and as an executive producer. Indeed, he sees an analogy between that show and the ratings-challenged "30 Rock." "What's happening now with '30 Rock,' " he said, "feels similar to what happened to 'The Office.' "
"The Office" still isn't the huge, overarching hit that NBC desperately needs on Thursdays. But it's grown enough to stay in the game — Reilly's vocal support of the show, against heavy internal opposition, saved it from cancellation — and that's what NBC needs the bulk of its schedule to do this season.
No show probably illustrates the challenge better than the youth soap "Friday Night Lights," which, despite schedule shifts and massive critical support, could not muster an audience this last season. This fall, the series moves again, to Fridays. But its marketing campaign won't be able to brandish world-beating Emmy nominations: To the surprise of many, the show got just two nods.
"I was very surprised," a disappointed Silverman said. "But I'm sure there are hundreds of producers all over Hollywood lamenting something that didn't get nominated."
Quite so. But as the Emmy list makes clear, the ones who worked closely with NBC and Reilly over the last few years may finally be coming into their own. Now if Silverman and his new employer can just get that message to the masses.
The Channel Island column usually runs every Monday in Calendar. Contact Scott Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Times staff writer Martin Miller contributed to this column.