NBC’s top programmer has acknowledged the challenges that his network faces in trying to rebound from a ratings slide and said that the recovery may not happen next season.
“OK, we’re in fourth place … what are we going to do about it?” NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said Sunday.
The network, which fell to fourth in the advertiser-favored young adult demographic in the 2004-05 season, is reinvigorating its creative spirit and getting rid of some viewer-unfriendly practices, such as starting and ending programs off the hour, he said.
“Last season for us was kind of like a colonic,” he said. “It wasn’t a lot of fun to go through at the time, but it’s going to be healthy in the long run. It literally took any residual sense of entitlement or complacency at our company and blew it out.”
When NBC was riding high on the strength of consistant hits such as “Friends” and “Frasier,” it had acquired a reputation among observers as verging on arrogant, some saying NBC stood for “Nothing But Cocky.”
But efforts to launch new sitcoms have either failed, as with the short-lived “Coupling,” or, have yet to catch on with fans, most notably in the case of “Friends” spinoff “Joey.”
Significant changes will be made to “Joey,” with Matt LeBlanc’s character making it big in Hollywood, Reilly said. The network also has high hopes for a new comedy, “My Name is Earl,” which NBC has bragged as testing exceptionally well with focus groups.
But while Reilly would not predict an abrupt turnaround in viewership next season, he said change will be evident.
“Odds are we’re not going to see a ratings difference. I’m pretty … sure you’re going to see a new tone coming out of this place,” he said, adding “that sense of entitlement of who we are is gone.”
Accustomed to success, the network had failed to recognize “underlying problems,” Reilly said. He took over as entertainment chief after his predecessor, Jeff Zucker, was promoted. Zucker now is NBC Universal Television Group president.
“We’re insane if we stay on the same track. That is the definition of insanity to keep making the same mistakes and doing things the same way,” Reilly said.
Zucker, who attended the session but did not join Reilly in fielding questions from reporters, took questions about Reilly’s assertion that serious mistakes were made before his arrival.
“I didn’t hear that, that NBC made serious mistakes,” Zucker told The Associated Press. “I thought he expressed the position that NBC is in. We’re in a rebuilding phase. Nobody’s in denial about that. NBC Entertainment is in a down cycle this year, and clearly I think everyone acknowledges that.”
NBC’s viewership dropped 11 percent this past year, according to Nielsen Media Research. The decline was 16 percent with viewers aged 18 to 49, while CBS, ABC and Fox were all up in that demographic.