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And it was before his stretch as an award-winning producer of more than a dozen series including the groundbreaking funeral-home drama “Six Feet Under,” which ran on HBO from 2001 to 2005.

Greenblatt, a smartly dressed redhead with a trim beard and mustache, had begun his career at the infant Fox network. There, from 1992 to 1997, he ran its prime-time programming.

“That was back in the days when Fox was just getting off the ground,” he recalled, “and, in a world where viewers only knew three networks, we’d ask ourselves, how does a fourth network get in the door?”

The answer: “programming that viewers could not avoid, that you could not turn away from,” he summed up. “We did things that nobody had done before.”

Fox innovated with adult-oriented animation (“The Simpsons”), science fiction (“The X-Files”), teen drama (“Beverly Hills 90210”) and edgy prime-time sketch comedy (“In Living Color”).

“Suddenly viewers were coming to us, wondering `What’s going on over there?!’” he said. “And that is almost exactly the mentality I have at NBC right now. NBC in recent years has been the fourth network, and here we’ve had to ask ourselves, `How do we get attention?’”

Greenblatt won attention for NBC a year ago with the much-ballyhooed premiere of “Smash.” This musical drama set in the world of Broadway was a Greenblatt passion project whose development he had overseen while at Showtime, then brought with him to his new network.

In its first season, “Smash” won praise but also a helping of jeers and snark. Despite lavish production values and robust original songs, some viewers complained that the show was hackneyed and cartoonish.

But it was noticed, and by malcontents no less than by admirers. And with some shrewd tweaking, it returns in early February for a singing, dancing second season.

“Smash” depicts a world Greenblatt clearly loves and understands. In his spare time in 2009, he produced the Tony Award-nominated musical adaptation of “9 to 5.”

“I’m a producer at heart,” he said. “I get really excited about The Show” _ whether it’s on Broadway or, more typically, his network.

Greenblatt boils down his background this way: a gay, Catholic kid with a Jewish last name who grew up in rural Rockford, Ill. There, as a youngster, he got deeply involved in theater.

Neither acting nor directing caught his fancy. Along with playing the piano for musicals, he chose to serve as stage manager, the equivalent of producing.

“My dream as a teenager was to run a movie studio, as in the old studio system,” he said.

But that Tinseltown era was long gone. Television represented the modern version of the Hollywood “dream factory” where he could produce or present the shows that got him excited.

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