LOS ANGELES (thefutoncritic.com) -- The departure of Ben Silverman and the addition of Jay Leno to primetime were not surprisingly hot topics during NBC's panels at the TCA on Wednesday.
"Well, I think that Ben -- I think
that this has always been Ben's plan," Peacock entertainment chief Angela Bromstad said about Silverman's exodus. "I think
it has always been Ben's plan to transition back to his
entrepreneurial roots, so I don't think he was looking to
be at NBC for a long-term thing. He brought Paul [Telegdy] and I
back. And I think that was part of putting everything in
place and him transitioning out."
As for what the new status quo will be, Bromstad said she doesn't "think it's going to be
tremendously different than it's been the last --
since I've come back. And that's really all I can
speak to, is since I've been here in December, things
have been incredibly -- there's tremendous continuity
and calm. We're moving in the right direction."
On the Leno front, alternative topper Paul Telegdy says the show will be in originals 46 weeks a year with Bromstad adding that they're committed to the show for the long haul. "I think that we're not going
to declare a specific rating. I think that, you know,
there are a lot of things that will mean success for
this show... I think what is going to be a
success for Leno is that it's going to be the 52
cumulative rating for the show. And I think that we
will improve on our time slot and be very competitive
in that time slot. It's really -- it is a marathon.
It's not going to be determined in the first five days
of the show."
That nevertheless hasn't stopped them from coming up with a back-up plan. "We're always
looking at contingency plans for everything," admitted Bromstad. "I
mean, we're constantly looking at things. I think
that, based on our information, based on the
research, based on the numbers that we see, that
this is going to be a long-term commitment for us
and that we feel really good about the 10 o'clock
alternative basically because for the viewers, it
really does give them an alternative at
As for the man himself, "I'm not counted on to save the
network. The network is on its own. Screw them," Leno joked during his afternoon session. "I'm not here to save the network. I got this job -- do
you know something? I didn't want to change networks
because, to the general public, when you change networks,
A, you are greedy, you wanted more money, or something
like that. I don't have an agent. I don't have a
manager. I've been with NBC my whole life. There are
things I like about it, things I don't like about it, but
much like a marriage, you work it out... I'm excited about it. I think it will
be a lot of fun. Hey, if we go down in flames, we will
be laughing on the way down, believe me. But I think --
I think it's something different. At least it shakes up
the landscape a little bit, another "He's a cop. She's a
doctor. They are married. Let's finally fight crime."
You know, how many of those can you watch?"
The comedian also detailed what viewers can expect with the new show. Previous bits like "Headlines," "Jaywalking"
and "99-cent store" will be back however there won't be a desk or a lot of musical guests. Leno also plans to lean on a regular stable of correspondents, including D.L. Hughley, Mikey Day, Rachael
Harris and NBC's own Brian
Williams. The changes are designed to offset the front-loaded style of "The Tonight Show." "You'd
have all your comedy from 11:35 to 12:00. Then you had
that big six-minute commercial break. And that's where
you lost them," Leno said. "You lost them to sleep, they have to get
up early to go to work, whatever it might be. So then
you'd come back, you'd have a comic or an actress from a
second-string series, and then the music (snoring), "Good
night." Now, you've just got to keep it going. It's
been ratcheted up a bit. The intensity will be -- it
will be a little bit more intense. There will be a lot
more comedy in the show."
As for dialing back the music, Leno says, "[It] doesn't necessarily get you a great
television audience because, if you want to see U2, I can
go to VH1, I can go to the Internet, press YouTube, and
see -- and see any U2 concert at any time that I want to
see. If I announce that I had U2 on my show, I would
have a great studio audience. I wouldn't necessarily
have a very -- and that's nothing against U2. It's just
that fact that, when I was a kid, the only place you saw
the Beatles was "The Ed Sullivan Show." That was the
only place you ever saw them. Now, you can see any music
group when you want anytime."
Other new additions include a new theme song from fellow "Tonight Show" alum Kevin Eubanks and "The Green Car Challenge," a self-professed homage to "Top Gear." "We are working with a major
manufacturer now," explained Leno. "They are building us some really,
really high-powered electric cars. They are as fast as
any race cars. And we will take the celebrity, put them
in the car, have them do a lap on the track and see who
is the fastest. They will have in-car cameras in there.
They can plow into a light post. They could roll the
thing. But I've told it to a number of stars, and in
fact, even Tom Cruise called and said, "Can I get in
there early and practice?" I said, "No, nobody gets to
practice. We put you in the car, and you try it out." I
mean, the fun thing about it, there are a lot of people
who -- people want to see, maybe perhaps athletes and
people like this that are not necessarily good talkers
but would be fun in this sort of environment to see if
Shaquille O'Neil is faster than Cameron Diaz."
Leno also freely admits he doesn't expect to beat shows like "CSI: Miami" in the ratings, but "do I expect to catch them in the reruns and stuff? Yeah." He also addressed the criticism that he's taking jobs from writers of scripted shows. "The thing that sort of annoys me is the fact that
we use writers," he said. ""The Tonight Show" writers, if you look,
are in the top five percent of the highest-paid writers
in the guild. I don't flip my guys. I don't switch them
off. So, consequently, we have a number of writers. And
I would guess "The Tonight Show" writers, eh, it's
probably not as many as five different dramas, but you'd
be surprised. There's a lot of them, and they are the
highest paid -- I'm proud to say they are the
highest-paid writers in the guild or amongst. They are
in the top five percent, all of "The Tonight Show"
writers. So in terms of taking work away from people, I
don't think so. I think you are just switching it over
here. O.K. Instead of drama writers, O.K., now you have
comedy writers. If you want to say drama writers are
better than comedy writers, you are welcome to say that.
I don't necessarily agree."
As for non-Leno and non-Silverman topics, executives once again confirmed various announcements from earlier this year: "Chuck" won't be back until after the Olympics in March; midseason entry "Day One" may end up being a one-off show; and "Friday Night Lights" is being held until the summer, once again after its original window on DirecTV this fall.
Other highlights are as follows:
Bromstad on their summer struggles: ""Merlin" actually has done O.K. "The
Philanthropist" has done O.K. We need to do better.
But I think we need to do more on-brand in what we do
in the fall and in the spring."
Telegdy on Paula Abdul's exit from "American Idol": "Paula's an exceptional piece of talent
that I've been lucky enough to meet a couple of times.
We've got no specific plans for her, but I read the
breaking news last night and wouldn't rule anything
Bromstad on Bryan Fuller's exit from "Heroes": "Our
deal with Bryan now is in development, and that's
really what the deal is that we have with him. And we're looking forward to his
development. I mean, Bryan really is, at this point
in his career, wanting to create his own shows."
Bromstad on "30 Rock's" late start: "Well, right now what we've done
because we wanted to -- because of Alec Baldwin's
feature schedule, "30 Rock" normally premieres later.
So what we've decided to do is launch "Community"
behind "The Office," and that leaves us with a slot at
8 o'clock. So we have ordered six Thursday night
"Updates," and they'll run at 8 o'clock. Right now we
have three of them scheduled."
Bromstad on any changes they've had to make with their 10 o'clock shows now airing at 9 o'clock: "There really hasn't been. It just
hasn't come up. Our shows work at both 9 o'clock and
8 o'clock, the ones that we have scheduled. It hasn't
changed our development spend, our programming budget.
So it really hasn't been an issue in terms of what we
develop. I think, because we're a broadcaster to
begin with, the standards -- we're not really playing
in dangerous sort of standards territory."
Bromstad on the renewed focus on Conan's adults 18-49 success: "We sell the 18-to-49 demo.
That is the business that we're in."
Bromstad on the failure of "Kings": "Well, I think that it was an
amazingly, you know, big swing and a great
production, and Michael Green is a phenomenal
writer. I think that our challenge now, and
hopefully what you see with the new show, is that
in a really crowded marketplace, it's -- you know,
you have to sell something, and people want to
know what something is about. That was a very
complex idea. It was a show that was originally
developed when I was there before, and [NBC
executive] Laura Lancaster, and it was something
that we didn't make because we thought it was just
a little bit too highbrow and a little bit too
difficult to sell in a 30-second spot. It doesn't
mean that we're not looking for big ideas, but
they have to be big ideas that the audience sort
of can grab onto and be a little bit more
Telegdy on if they'll ever go back to a non-celebrity version of "The Apprentice": "That's something we keep as a live
discussion with Mark Burnett and Donald Trump. We
saw a boost to its ratings in its celebrity
iteration, but it's a discussion that we remain
Bromstad on changes to "Southland" this season: "I have
incredible passion for the show "Southland."
We'll have to see -- we'll have to see come fall
how it does. I think we've made some creative
adjustments. I think they tried to do too much in
those six episodes, and instead of re-piloting the
pilot and letting the audience get more familiar
with these characters, they sort of -- you know,
it became very serialized, and they were a large,
large ensemble. So it's really going to focus on
Regina King and Ben McKenzie and those two -- the
two sets of officers and detectives and sort of
focus on, you know, crimes and how they come
Bromstad on the economic challenges broadcasters are facing: "I think that
it's incredibly, you know, naive to think that we can
just keep doing business the way that we've done business
when cable is taking, you know, such a chunk out of
network. Look, I think that Jeff [Gaspin] being brought
in is going to sort of continue conversations that we
endlessly have. I think that a big thing for us -- and
it's always been a big thing for me -- is that we've just
allowed shows to get way too expensive. And they've done
it on the feature side, you know. It just -- it just has
gotten out of control, and I think that we have to find a
way to bring those costs down. I think that's #1. I
think the ability to look at the platforms, all of the
NBC Universal platforms, is a huge advantage. We should
be taking advantage of the success of the cable
properties the way that they take success from, you know,
our shows like "House" or like "Law & Order" and things
like that. So I think that Jeff is going to be looking
at all of those things."
Rick Ludwin (EVP of Late Night) on declaring Conan the new king of late night after one week: "I think it was premature, and I'll tell
you why it was there: Because we were very proud of
the show. And that there were those who predicted
that Conan was not going to be broad-based enough to
work at 11:30, and we were so thrilled from the
numbers from that first week that far exceeded our
expectations, that we used that phrase in that
headline, and that was premature."
Ludwin on expectations for Conan going forward: "We are not disappointed in Conan's
ratings at all. The fact of the matter is what we
sell to advertisers, as you know, is adults 18-to-49,
and Conan has won every single night he's been on so
far. And that's how we keep score. That's what
advertisers buy from us. Conan is winning not only in
18-to-49, but in adults 18-to-34 and adults
35-to-49 -- 54, I should say. So we're winning in all
the demos that advertisers pay a premium to buy, so
we're not disappointed at all. We're thrilled."