[10/12/11 - 12:31 AM]
Live at the Hollywood Radio & Television Society's "Newsmaker Luncheon Series: The Network Chiefs"
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

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What happens when you get the powers-that-be from the major broadcast television networks in one room to talk shop? You get the "Network Chiefs" luncheon, which is part of the Newsmaker Luncheon Series hosted by the HRTS (Hollywood Radio and Television Society). Held Tuesday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, the panel was moderated by Jeff Probst (Host and Executive Producer, "Survivor: South Pacific") who tossed out questions to Paul Lee (President, ABC Entertainment), Nina Tassler (President, CBS Entertainment), Kevin Reilly (President, Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company), Jennifer Salke (President, NBC Entertainment) and Mark Pedowitz (President, The CW Television Network). Our Jim Halterman was there to capture the timeline of what was said about the current state of broadcast television.

1:00 PM - Outgoing HRTS President Kevin Beggs (President, Lionsgate Television Group) steps to the podium and prepares to pass the torch, so to speak, to the man taking his place, Sean Perry (co-head of non-scripted television department, William Morris Endeavor). Kevin literally hands over the official HRTS gavel to Sean and, in turn, Kevin receives a large plaque with photos from his tenure. Sean welcomes the panelists out to begin the conversation.

1:05 PM - Sean ventures to his first order of business - introducing today's panel: Paul Lee! Nina Tassler! Kevin Reilly! Jennifer Salke! Mark Pedowitz! And last but not least, our moderator, Jeff Probst!

1:07 PM - Jeff starts by saying that even though he wasn't going to ask about programming, he has to ask since Kevin said at their lunch that this has been a craziest pitch season ever. Nina agrees and adds that the competition "certainly ups the stakes but everybody brings their A-game [and] at the end of the day, the best shows always win, the best pitches hopefully end up at the right places...I think in the end everything settles into the right place."

1:10 PM - The press in this business, Nina says, "has gotten to the place where every single thing that happens at every moment of the day is reported so from meetings that are taken to a pitch that is taken out to speculation of the terms of the deal, these are all captured via online, in print and that does absolutely impacts everything."

1:11 PM - Jeff asks Jennifer if, because she's the newest in her job, does she find herself being more aggressive due to the competition. "Yeah! Right now, my main focus, which I think my strength, is to sit in as many pitches as I can... I have just always gone from my gut and I'll go from my gut going forward.' She says she hears 10 pitches a day and if it's one that scares her a little bit, that is the project she goes for. In response, Kevin likens it to buying a house. "When you go to buy a house you gotta fall in love with it and you gotta envision yourself there and see a future there and when the deal falls through you gotta move on to the next house."

1:12 PM - Mark is asked if this is a time of opportunity and optimism or is it a time of feeling threatened as networks figure out how to hold onto what they have? "It's the time of evolution," Mark says as they figure out the various opportunities in this new world. Kevin says, "I think it's a fantastic time... I think there's some clarity coming into the marketplace." He adds that the digital universe as beginning to provide solutions and there's a reason why Facebook has embedded their products in the middle of their universe.

1:15 PM - Jeff asks how a company like Netflix, that wants to pay for their programming, is changing things. "These are all great opportunities for us," says Nina, "and we look at all the prospective deals as great opportunities and a great upside. The most important thing is it should capitalize on a part of our core business, which is our syndication and our domestic international business. That's a big part of the puzzle for us. As we've seen, people are going to devour our content, we are content creators and these are all plusses for us." Paul agrees with Kevin that a few years ago the business only looked at ratings and now there are many other revenue streams - like Netflix, for example - to figure in.

1:18PM - Jeff shares some of his own viewing habits and online ads. "Typically I watch [Jimmy] Fallon on Hulu and I'll get four commercial interruptions if I watch the whole thing. During those commercial interruptions, typically I'll check email. Subconsciously or subliminally I do hear the advertisement because I'm aware when it's over to go back so I'm sure it's getting in there." Jennifer admits that she fast forwards through a lot of commercials on her DVR just to get through programming but doing this is a concern that's on-going. Mark feels people will watch a full commercial if they love the show they're watching.

1:22 PM - Paul says that besides the talk of ads and multiple platforms, there's another reason why television is a great place to be right now. "There is a lot of talent that is coming in from movies. There are simply less movies being made... television is a place for great storytelling and in the end if you can tell those stories, the audiences are going to come."

1:25 PM - Jeff asks about product placement in shows. Salke says 'It can work. It just has to be embraced creatively by those creators and then figure out a way to make it feel organic to the show because audiences are also savvy."

1:27 PM - In regards to the measuring of ratings, Jeff ask how there's no way to know if they're accurate. "Do you want to know absolute numbers?" he asks, to which Paul answers, yes. "The more specific those numbers can be, the better it can be," Paul explains. "At the same time, this is a system that's been running for a very long time and when it comes in and it's a big number it's a lot of people watching it." Nina adds, "The reality is we all rely on Nielsen and we do have to and will continue to do so but no audience member should be uncounted. Every single person that is watching our show, wherever they are watching it, whenever they're watching it should be counted.'

1:30 PM - Jeff asks what would happen if we switched tomorrow to completely accurate ratings. "I do think there has to continue to be pushback on the accuracy of the measurement," Jennifer says, "because if you're going to trust that kind of snapshot of how your show's doing, a lot is riding on it...I'm an optimist [and] I believe great shows find their way. I have to believe that and I do."

1:32 PM - Paul says the hard economy does provide a reason why comedies are so popular right now. "I think those of us put a lot of effort into comedy this year have certainly benefited from it," he offers.

1:33 PM - Kevin feels escapism is a big part of television and it takes many forms. "Everybody wants eye candy and nothing challenging now. A horror movie is a great form of escapism. There's a reason 'American Horror Story' opened to such big numbers over at FX... escapism takes many forms."

1:34 PM - Salke favors underdog shows like "Glee" and "New Girl." "You are with those people on the journey, you love them and you want to tune in to them every week and you relate to them and it takes you back to your high school years and I think those things reach in and make you feel something " Nina says CBS's new series "Person Of Interest" taps into the paranoia in the zeitgeist. "2 Broke Girls," on the other hand, has characters that are very relatable and going through economic challenges.

1:36 PM - Jeff wants to know if the stats say older people have more money, less unemployment and are watching television more traditionally, why wouldn't you go after them? Paul says you do. "At the same time, people do make some brand choices younger in life and so the key is to get both.

1:38 PM - Jeff mentions a la carte viewing being popular and wonders if brand identity is becoming less important because of it. Does a network need an identity or just shows that people like? Nina says it started shifting years ago. "Audiences do get to pick and choose so what happens is they know a show and they create a relationships with that show...[CBS] certainly have a sensibility. We stand for something at the network - relatability, relevance, the Tiffany network but within that each show is individual."

1:43 PM - Jeff asks if you didn't know 'Jersey Shore' was going to be the hit it was, would it work on CBS? Nina says 'My husband's from Jersey so I know that world all too well. We joke internally...we know our audience and it's about big tent programming for us. Even in its premiere this year which was pretty extraordinary for them, it's not delivering the kind of numbers that we need to have a hit television show."

1:47 PM - Jeff asks is there an idea out there like "American Idol" that could hit on all platforms. Is it inevitable that the next big thing will completely envelope you? Kevin says, "I hope so. I think that's part of what gets us out of bed every morning. We all want that."

1:48 PM - Kevin makes his self-proclaimed yearly pitch to his fellow panelists and the group in the room. "Our business is changing and it is changing fast and honestly if I believe that we are still choreographed to the same cycle... backing up from the upfronts is stupid and highly inefficient and wasteful and it's actually not good for anyone... there's a whole different way of looking at the business that would be better if we didn't all bottleneck up at once."

1:52 PM - "We tend to introduce fewer shows every fall," says Nina. "We are highly selective, which if we're launching fewer shows that gives newer shows a greater chance for survival...and build into a hit. Nina cites "NCIS," "Criminal Minds" and "The Big Bang Theory," as shows in their later years that became even bigger hits.

1:56 PM - Of crazy risks, Paul says "These are obviously very difficult jobs but they're also incredibly exciting jobs. You really get a chance to get it right...from my perspective, I love taking some risks but the chance to sit down and try to swing it and try to knock it out of the park is an extremely exciting thing to do...."

1:57 PM - Jeff wants to know what are the most difficult decisions? Paul says "The easy decisions are the passionate ones...it's much more difficult if you think 'It kind of fits the slot.'" Kevin says his challenge is when the audience is responding but the show is not reaching critical mass. Nina shares, overall, "It's the best and most exciting time to be in broadcasting."

To find out more about future HRTS luncheons, visit www.HRTS.org.

  [october 2011]  

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