Ed Martin Live from the Television Critics Association Tour in Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills, CA - Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff, the new co-chairmen of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, yesterday made clear that they are going to embrace the past and move aggressively into the future as they set about the task of revitalizing their network.
Appearing at the Television Critics Association Tour to discuss their strategies for the 2007-08 season and beyond, Silverman and Graboff revealed that since taking the reins of NBC in mid-June they have arranged for former NBC superstar Jerry Seinfeld to appear as a guest on the season premiere of 30 Rock, put into development a new one-hour comedy from veteran producer Norman Lear, added the currently controversial Grey's Anatomy alumnus Isaiah Washington to the cast of the freshman drama Bionic Woman, cast Uri Geller and Criss Angel in an interactive reality series titled Phenomenon that is based on a hit show in Israel, where it is known as The Successor; and determined with Donald Trump that the next edition of The Apprentice will feature celebrities from the worlds of sports and entertainment competing for Trump's approval. According to Silverman, those celebrity contestants could include Rosie O'Donnell, in the unlikely event that she accepts an authorized invitation from her nemesis to appear on the show.
And just to make things really lively, Silverman and Graboff, who are clearly wasting no time in putting their stamp on the network, also decided to make several changes to the schedule NBC unveiled at its upfront presentation in May. The new comedy-drama Chuck will move from Tuesday at 9 to Monday at 8 p.m. NBC's summer hit The Singing Bee will remain on Tuesday at 9:30 coming out of a 90-minute The Biggest Loser. On Friday, Friday Night Lights, which had been scheduled for 10 p.m., will switch time periods with Las Vegas and be seen at 9.
Can all these changes keep NBC out of fourth place next season? "We'd love to be the first place network in the 18-49 demo because you capture the most advertising dollars that way," Graboff said. "That's a revenue view. [But] you need to look at things more than just from the amount of advertising dollars you bring in. You need to look at your business on your bottom-line margin. That can be from advertising revenue, but also from revenue you may get online, in the foreign marketplace, in the domestic marketplace for shows that you own, or making the right kind of deals for shows that you don't own so that you can make money on them by just showing them on the air.
"When we were the No. 1 network in 18-49 we commanded a premium because of our upscale profile and we'd like to get that back," Graboff continued. "But being profitable and maintaining the future profitability of the business is also a very high priority for us."
"The conversation is shifting," Silverman added, noting that NBC this summer has risen from fourth to second place in its target demo. "The difference between fourth and first is .2 of a ratings point," he said. "When you analyze it in the context of where numbers one to four are it's even smaller. So you realize the value of just saying 1, 2, 3 or 4 is lessened."
On the subject of profitability, Silverman noted that "one of the great things" about the critically praised but low rated Friday Night Lights is that it is produced "efficiently." The network, he said, is "looking at fiscally responsible ways to deliver ratings. If you have a show that's a break-out hit you can obviously invest some more cash into it. If you have a [low-rated] show that you believe in creatively, then you need to focus on driving more eyeballs to it through marketing, through partnerships, through strategic alliances. But you also need to figure out how that show [can] continue to survive at a lower ratings basis. That requires some fiscal austerity. Part of the reason Friday Night Lights came back is it's a very efficient show to produce. It is less expensive than Heroes, for example.
"This isn't a new philosophy for NBC," the legacy-minded Silverman asserted. "This is the philosophy that led to Hill Street Blues. This is the philosophy that led to Seinfeld. This is a philosophy that has served NBC well for years so it will absolutely continue under Marc's and my watch."
With the move of Chuck to Monday at 8 p.m. and My Name is Earl and 30 Rock filling the 8-9 p.m. hour on Thursday, it would seem that NBC is moving away from the controversial plan it announced last fall to run only inexpensive reality shows in that time period throughout the week. But Graboff maintains it was "somewhat of a misconception" that reality at 8 p.m. was going to be a "blanket rule."
Rather, it is once again all about economics. "The idea was to have a better portfolio approach to our programming where we'd have less expensive [shows] generally in the 8 o'clock hour where the advertising dollars were not as available," Graboff said.
Asked about the risks of scheduling three fantasy or science-fiction shows on Monday, Silverman said that the "character elements" and the "emotional connections" within Chuck, Heroes and Journeyman are "even more profound than the fantastical elements." He thinks Sunday night football will be a great platform to drive viewers to the new Monday lineup.