Thursday, August 6, 2009

Chicago Tribune Coverage of NBC @ TCA

August 05, 2009
'I'm an Executive, Get Me Out of Here': Notes on the NBC session at press tour

The Watcher Blog: Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune

Wednesday's NBC executive session, which kicked off the network's day at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, was both entertaining and immensely irritating.

Entertaining if you enjoy the sheer comedy of evasion and executive doublespeak in the wake of consistent failure. It was hard not to cackle -- and many in the room did -- when NBC primetime president Angela Bromstad said that it was "always the plan" for Ben Silverman to have a short tenure at NBC.

We can only presume it was part of the plan for him to leave a string of schlocky, low-rated shows in his wake. But, to paraphrase Spencer Pratt, that network was devaluing Ben's fame, right?

Despite the unintentional comedy, the session was also quite irritating, and in the end somewhat contentious, because Bromstad consistently acted shocked -- shocked! -- that this room full of pesky journalists wanted answers about NBC's direction and plans in the wake of Silverman's recent departure (Jeff Gaspin, who is actually the top executive at NBC, was a no-show at the panel, which didn't help the situation. Bromstad was joined by NBC reality chief Paul Telegdy).

Nbcu By the end, this grim session might as well have been called, "I'm an NBC Executive, Get Me Out of Here!"

What ratings does NBC want for Jay Leno's primetime show? Bromstad said the success or failure of Leno's show has to be determined over the course of the program's first year, not over the course of its first five days. If we wanted anything more specific, we should ask the late-night executives who would be part of a Leno panel later on Wednesday. (The specifics of Bromstad's Leno and Conan O'Brien dodges are laid out by Alan Sepinwall here.)

Perhaps the most dispiriting part of the panel was the confusion over what, if anything, NBC stands for. Bromstad talked about some recent shows not being "on brand" for NBC.

Well, what's NBC's brand? She cited "30 Rock," "Law & Order: SVU," "The Office" and "Heroes," as well as "The Biggest Loser" and "The Apprentice," all shows that were developed well before the Silverman era.

She also said something about shows having to be "relatable" and about "real people." Part of the problem with "Kings" is that it was "a little bit too highbrow and a little bit too difficult to sell in a 30-second spot."

"Knight Rider" didn't have that problem, and it did great, didn't it? (And if NBC wants advice on how to be "on brand," or how to even have a brand, I'm sure the folks from USA are still somewhere in the building today. With the success of their shows, they're schooling the mothership on a consistent basis.)

Seriously, despite the annual TCA blather about NBC reclaiming the Peacock's quality crown, I'm not going to get my hopes up. The network has booted "Friday Night Lights" to the summer of 2010, it completely mishandled "Kings," and it may well be dumbing down "Southland."

"I think they tried to do too much in those six episodes" of "Southland," Bromstad said. Instead of, in effect, making six versions of the pilot (she actually called it "re-piloting the pilot"), "it became very serialized, and they were a large, large ensemble. So it’s really going to focus on [the characters played by] Regina King and Ben McKenzie ... the two sets of officers and detectives and sort of focus on, you know, crimes and how they come together."

Great. Because if its one thing we need on TV, it's another show about cops and crime.

Time critic James Poniewozik said that critics are unusually hard on NBC, and maybe that's true. Perhaps there is lot of pent-up resentment when it comes to the once-proud peacock network..

What's happened to NBC over the past decade hasn't been easy to watch. If the network's executives could at least be candid and forthright, it would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Some news bits from the executive panel and from the "Community" panel that followed:

* As mentioned above, "Friday Night Lights" won't return on NBC until the summer of 2010. However the show's fourth season will premiere Oct. 28 on DirecTV's 101 Network.
* The plan is still to bring back "Chuck" in March, but Bromstad said she feels it can "move around" and discussions about whether to bring it back earlier and increase its episode order beyond the 13 episodes that have been ordered are "continuing."
* Though much of the primetime NBC schedule is now taken up with Sunday football and Leno's show, the development budget for the network has not been cut.
* NBC sees "Day One" as a one-season show, though if it's a hit, it could come back.
* John Oliver from "The Daily Show" is very good in the somewhat uneven pilot for "Community," NBC's fall comedy. However he'll only be in two of the first 12 episodes, which is a bit of a drag, given that he and star Joel McHale are so good in their scenes together.
* Ken Jeong ("The Hangover") has joined "Community" as a Spanish teacher.

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