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Five changes Comcast should make to NBC

by Joel Keller, posted Dec 3rd 2009 3:02PM
Comcast and NBC Universal logosIt's official: GE has sold 51% of NBC Universal to Comcast, for approximately $6.5 billion dollars in cash (what are the odds they'll use this as an excuse to raise my cable bill again?). It'll take about a year to go through the regulatory and anti-trust gauntlets, but after that, the cable giant will be in charge.

Everyone makes fun of NBCU because of the NBC's bumbling high-profile moves over the last half-decade or so, but the reason why the company was so attractive to Comcast was not the broadcast network, but its über-successful cable networks, especially Bravo and USA. Still, it's embarrassing to have your flagship net stumble around like a disoriented shopper on Black Friday. So, if I were in the Comcast executive suite, here's a few things I'd do to prop up the Peacock:

Dump money into developing shows
and follow the cable model: The Jay Leno Experiment (sounds like the name of a college band) hasn't been an out and out failure, but it's been pretty darn close. Sure, NBC is likely making some money from the experiment, but the bad will that it's fostering with viewers is sapping viewers away from the rest of the network. If they want to get some of that goodwill back, they need to re-invest in programming.

"Well, duh!" you say. But sinking tons of money into grand failures like Kings is what got NBC into this mess to begin with. Maybe it's time for NBC to follow the successful model of its cable cousin USA: cheaper shows and shorter seasons. Develop more pilot-less shows and commit to showing them for the entire season. Get more shows that are produced outside of the United States. Reap the benefits of DVD sales.

If they're willing to get low ratings for Leno, why not get low ratings for something like White Collar or Burn Notice, and make money on the back end?

Give Jay Leno a daytime show: It can either be on the network or syndicated. But Leno and his shopworn bits might work well in a daytime environment. Heck, if Ellen DeGeneres and Bonnie Hunt can do well in daytime with a traditional comedy-based talk show, so would Jay.

Yes, you could go back in time and put Jay back at 11:30 and Conan at 12:30. But unringing that bell will not only tick off Conan -- they'd probably lose him before he goes back to the Late Night arena -- but it's a short-term fix. And this network is not in any shape to withstand more short-term fixes.

Give the 10 AM hour back to the affiliates: I know it's a painful thing to do; Hoda and Kathie Lee on Today get decent-enough ratings, and handing back a revenue-generating hour isn't easy. But I see this as a goodwill measure to the stations who have stuck with you, even as they saw their local newscasts' ratings sink due to your horrible primetime programming choices, including Leno. Let them put Dr. Oz or some other highly-rated show in that slot. If you're smart, your syndication arm will develop something just as compelling, and you'll get the money via rights fees.

Ditch the two-hour reality shows: This would only be able to happen after developing more programming. But there's really no need for the padded episodes of The Biggest Loser or The Celebrity Apprentice. Both those shows can be just as effective in an hour as they are in two, and using them as a lead-in might actually help whatever show you put at 9 PM.

Fire Jeff Zucker: People thought the sale would be the end of everyone's favorite failer-upper. But the guy does know how to make money, which I'm sure is the reason why he's staying in charge through the transition. But once things are established and going smoothly, it's time for another voice.

If you don't have the heart to fire him, bump him up to a more of an executive position. I'm sure his business acumen can translate to Comcast's other ventures. Heck, if he can somehow figure out how to make money and provide me an HD DVR for less than twenty bucks a month, I might actually like him again.

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but the bad will that it's fostering with viewers is sapping viewers away from the rest of the network. If they want to get some of that goodwill back, they need to re-invest in programming.

Is there really any loss of "goodwill" related to the Jay Leno show? I mean, if you don't care of Leno in the first place that much you'll watch something else. If you do like him, you'll watch it. Where exactly are they losing the goodwill?

I'm trying to wonder if anyone outside the TV industry (and the ancillary TV blogging/reporting industry) actually cares one way or the other. It's gotten a good deal of publicity but it really strikes me as a lot of naval gazing - an industry reporting on itself and reporting how itself is perceiving and reacting to it. While there are certainly a lot of people in showbiz and the entertainment news industry, they're a drop in the bucket of the vast # of regular Joes (and Joans) out there watching TV at night, that when 10pm EST rolls around they go, "Hm, what's on TV? Ok..." (and make a choice) but they don't go - "Hey - this new Jay Leno show is so bad it makes me revise my estimate of NBC, it business decisions, the direction of the network, the parentage of its executives and how deep a pit to drop Jeff Zucker into. Bring back Brandon Tartikoff!"

I just think we're the only ones who give a darn one way or the other, and the rest of the 300 million Americans could care less...

December 04 2009 at 4:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Barry's comment
Todd LeBaron

Just one problem...Brandon Tartikoff died years ago.

December 09 2009 at 7:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I know - I was being sarcastic.

December 09 2009 at 9:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There was a misprint in the article. NBC/Comcast should give the 10 P.M. hour back to the affiliates. There is no way they are going to invest money in dramas at 10 no matter how bad Leno does. Turn it over to the locals and let them figure out what to do with it.

December 04 2009 at 4:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to miller980's comment

No misprint. They were referring to 10 am. That's why they mentioned the Today Show.

December 05 2009 at 12:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Give the SciFi... oh wait... forgot the drastic change.. "ScyFy" channel back to someone who cares about scifi!! And PLEASE take your wrestling somewhere else??

December 04 2009 at 2:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is a pretty fantastic list of ideas Joel. Nice job. NBC would do well to listen up.

December 03 2009 at 6:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've bee saying it for almost three years now.

"Fire Zucker, Save the Network."

The depths of NBC's collapse on his watch is shameful.

Give Leno Saturday night - let him do an Americanized edition of SABADO GIGANTE. Drop the various L&O's and USA encores in at 10/9c for now.

For Pete's sake, TRY!

December 03 2009 at 5:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to hessian's comment

I love this idea.

December 04 2009 at 12:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would make it a law that there will be no more cop, medical, or lawyer shows on the networks for at least 3 years. Give people with original ideas a chance to shine. That is what made USA shows so successful.

I would also move all first run episodes of the most successful USA shows like Psych, Burn Notice, Royal Pains, and White Collar over to NBC.

December 03 2009 at 4:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

See also: "Five Changes the Nazis Should Make to France" and "Five Changes the Empire Should Make to Alderaan".

December 03 2009 at 4:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is a great list. Maybe add a mention about calling up Tina Fey and working on a hilarious script for the major change in ownership for 30 Rock.

December 03 2009 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I really enjoy The Biggest Loser but it would be just as good in 1 hour. At two hours long it has become a "leave it on in the background while doing other things" type of show.

December 03 2009 at 4:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I hate The Biggest Loser but it isn't going anywhere. It's one of NBC's most watched shows.

They should dump Heroes, Jay Leno, and community.

December 03 2009 at 3:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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