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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: Earnings at NBC Universal over the past year or so have been lackluster at best. And that accounts for Jay Leno saying this on his show last night:
JAY LENO: I take pride in one thing. I leave NBC primetime the same way I found it — a complete disaster.
Ouch, right? NBC, as you know, is moving Leno back to late night. But that is really only the half of it. In a statement this afternoon the other interested party — that would be Conan O’Brien — finally let his desires be known. They categorically do not include hosting “The Tonight Show” if it starts at midnight.
To talk about where NBC goes from here, we’ve got Matea Gold with us. She covers television for the Los Angeles Times. Good to have you here.
MATEA GOLD: My pleasure.
Ryssdal: So here we have the answer to evening television, right, with “The Jay Leno Show” at ten o’clock. But maybe not. What the heck happened?
GOLD: Yeah, it turned out to be an experiment that did not work so well. NBC thought this would be a gamble that would pay off. They would not have to pay the huge production costs of those expensive scripted dramas. Instead they could just strip Jay Leno’s show across the 10 o’clock hour. But viewers decided it really wasn’t what they wanted to see, and even though NBC said financially it was still working out for them, the low audience that it was delivering to the local newscasts for NBC affiliates was just a real problem. And the affiliates cried foul, and said we can’t deal with this anymore. We need a better lead in.
Ryssdal: The events of the past couple of days are the result of a process that NBC CEO Jeff Zucker set in motion a number of years ago. Moving Jay, getting Conan the “Tonight Show,” all of this stuff. And I have to ask in light of all that has befallen NBC Television in the last couple of years, including now this, why does Jeff Zucker still have a job?
GOLD: You know, it’s a question a lot of people in the industry ask. I think most analysts we speak to note that despite the fact that NBC primetime has not fared very well under him, he’s still has managed to deliver levels of profitability that really please his superiors. So that’s really what has kept him riding high all these years. He makes the argument that he had to take a big swing to try to re-imagine a business at a time when, you know, broadcast television is under the same threat as a lot of traditional media, and he was trying to rethink it.
Ryssdal: He is now left with five hours of primetime television to fill when Jay Leno moves. What’s he going to do?
GOLD: Well, NBC is really scrambling now. They had scaled back their development significantly. One of the augments that Jeff Zucker and other executives made is that the pilot system was broken. So they hadn’t ordered up a lot of new pilots. They’re now sending that into overdrive. They announced a slate of, you know, seven new shows as part of their early development slate. They come from big names like Jerry Bruckheimer, and I think they’re really trying to send the signal back to Hollywood that we’re back in the television-scripted business, and we’re here to stay, at least for now.
Ryssdal: Is it fair to say that the model they were experimenting with Leno, that is to say, programming on the cheap for economic reasons, that one is dead, and it’s going to be expensive to do television now?
GOLD: Well, you know, I think in the short term at least most analysts tell us we’re not going to see another network take a gamble like this again. That it seems as much as the viewership is eroding from traditional broadcast networks, those scripted dramas still do bring in the audience. And there didn’t seem to be an appetite for a scripted comedy variety program at that hour.
Ryssdal: It does kind of seem like must see T.V. was just a long, long time ago, doesn’t it?
GOLD: A different eon ago. A different age ago.
Ryssdal: Matea Gold. She’s a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, covers television entertainment, she does. Matea, thanks a lot.
GOLD: My pleasure. Great to be with you.
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