"It's good to be back at TCA, especially under different circumstances," NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin joked Friday morning at the start of his TCA executive session with NBC Primetime President Angela Bromstad. "I guess I should also thank ABC for creating the headlines this time."
Gaspin and Bromstad were noticeably more at ease than they were the last time they met with TCA members, and why shouldn't they be? Back in January their joint appearance landed smack in the middle of NBC's already legendary late-night mess with Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien -- not to mention the little problem the network was having at that time with a primetime schedule in utter shambles, still-simmering hostility from the Hollywood creative community following the marginalizing of scripted dramatic fare by NBC executives every time they had spoken during the previous twelve months, and I-Told-You-So eye-rolling from TCA members, any one of whom could have done a better job programming NBC during 2009 than its executive team at that time.
Seven months later NBC is looking better than it has in years, with Leno back where he belongs, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon developing into the best of all late-night broadcast talk and comedy shows, and an upcoming fall schedule that features at least three new series that aren't embarrassingly easy to overlook (the big-action serial thriller The Event; the light-hearted spy caper Undercovers, and the self-explanatory Law & Order: Los Angeles). That's two more potential winners than you'll find among any other broadcasters' fall 2010 freshmen.
It didn't hurt Gaspin and Bromstad that the big stories of this TCA tour concern two networks that had had yet to present their new programming. Those would be the turmoil over at ABC surrounding the sudden departure of ABC Entertainment Group President Steve McPherson and the wholesale housecleaning over at Fox's American Idol. By comparison, NBC was crisis free this time around.
So what if Steve Carell will at the end of this season exit The Office, one of the most important shows on NBC's lineup for several years and still one of its most popular?
"We and the producers have been preparing for it for some time," Bromstad calmly explained. "[Executive producers] Greg Daniels and Paul Lieberstein do have a plan in terms of who's going to replace [Carell's character], so there will be a lot of storylines leading up to that and there will be some mystery as to who that will be."
So what if The Event is seeking to succeed where so many serialized and mythology rich series have tanked?
"We accept and have had to deal with the skepticism in terms of returning to this genre of show," Bromstad assured critics. "Really, if you can get this [type of] show right, even though the risks are tremendous, the rewards are really great." Bromstad later added that her team will "do everything in our power" to ensure that The Event doesn't follow last year's big serialized bomb, ABC's FlashForward, into oblivion.
So what if CBS is moving its monster hit The Big Bang Theory opposite NBC's vulnerable sophomore Community, the only survivor from NBC's freshman team last fall and a high profile show with the press.
"Big Bang is a great show and it's going to do very well on Thursday nights," Gaspin admitted. "I'm hopeful that there's room for two comedies. I think their audiences are somewhat different. Community has been there for a year. The audience is accustomed to watching it there. We're going to wait and see what happens."
As for NBC's multiple crises last season, Gaspin offered this hindsight assessment: "We made too many changes too quickly from a position of weakness. And so it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The goal is to rebuild and get stronger. Then, if we need to make changes at that point, several years down the line … we won't be working from such a position of weakness which, I think, really jeopardized some of the decisions that we made and some of the moves that we made."
"We've said several times we're trying to rebuild, and we recognize some of the mistakes that we've made over the past several years," Gaspin also said. "We put a lot more money into development this year. We picked up quite a few series. We're taking more shots, certainly. We believe we have a lot more stability at the network than we've had in quite some time. If you think about this past year, that's a lot to accomplish."