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[08/06/09 - 10:41 AM]
NBC at TCA: Leno, Silverman Draw Focus
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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 10 o'clock."

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 out."

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 relatable."

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 open to."

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 together."

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."





  [august 2009]  
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· 30 ROCK (NBC)
· AMERICAN IDOL (ABC)
· APPRENTICE, THE (NBC)
· CHUCK (NBC)
· COMMUNITY (YAHOO)
· CSI: MIAMI (CBS)
· DAY ONE (NBC)
· FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (DIRECTV)
· HEROES (NBC)
· HOUSE (FOX)
· JAY LENO SHOW, THE (NBC)
· KINGS (NBC)
· LAW & ORDER (NBC)
· MERLIN (SYFY)
· OFFICE, THE (NBC)
· PHILANTHROPIST, THE (NBC)
· SOUTHLAND (TNT)
· TOP GEAR (BBC AMERICA)





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