Sizing Up Fall
Jeff Zucker touts NBC's new season, is mum about Trio's future and smacks down the Champ
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/19/2004 8:00:00 PM
Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal Television Group, can exhale a little. Early results for NBC's new fall season are encouraging. The much-hyped Joeypremiered Sept. 9 to a sizable 18.6 million viewers, proving oneFriendis enough to deliver big ratings. Tycoon Donald Trump is still popular, drawing 14 million viewers for season two of product-placement-crazedThe Apprentice.
The story isn't as rosy elsewhere, but it's hardly time to press the panic button. After a respectable premiere Aug. 29, Tuesday night's animated comedyFather of the Pridefell steeply in its second week. Predictable cop dramaHawaiiis struggling on Wednesdays.
Zucker can take comfort in LAX, which landed better results. The airport drama, starring Heather Locklear and Blair Underwood, welcomed 13 million viewers to its Sept. 13 debut, a strong showing against ABC'sMonday Night Football opener. And Friday night'sMedical Investigationlooked lively, pulling in nearly 11 million. ButMI's real prognosis will come when CBS introduces its medical drama, Dr. Vegas, Sept. 24, with Rob Lowe and Joe Pantoliano in the same slot.
Seeking a boost from the Olympics, NBC kicked off its season before its rivals. This week, the competition begins in earnest as ABC and CBS showcase their latest fare.
Zucker, who oversees NBC Universal's news and entertainment divisions, talked toB&C's Allison Romano about NBC's new shows, matchups to watch for and why his boxing reality showThe Contenderknocks out Fox'sNext Great Champ.
How do you rate NBC's performance three weeks into the new season?
I feel very optimistic. We're feeling good about the premiere of Joey and Medical Investigationsand very positive about Father of the Pride. We are hopeful about Hawaii, though we understand 8 p.m. is a difficult time slot for a drama. We're going to need to be patient.
How patient can you afford to be?
8 p.m. time periods are tough. The question is, can a drama work there? There is no panic, but we'll have to keep a close eye on it.
Did The Apprentice debut deliver on your expectations?
Apprentice had a strong start behind Joey. It was in the ballpark of where we thought it would be. We knew it was against football. A show like this only grows.
Thursday is such a critical night for NBC. How confident are you about the new lineup?
Thursday night looks terrific, right about where we expected it to be.
Father of the Pride slipped about 15% in its second week. Is that acceptable?
The fall in its second week was in line with virtually all the successes of the last few years. According to Jim fell 19% in its second week, Alias fell 29%, Hope and Faith fell 21% in its second week, Two and a Half Men fell 15%, 24 fell 19% in its second week. Father of the Pride is right in line with the big successes of the last few years.
How do you think Medical Investigation will fare against Dr. Vegas on CBS?
Medical Investigation had a strong airing Friday at 10 and has established itself in that time period.
Fox's Next Great Champdidn't pack a punch in its first week. What does that mean for your boxing reality show The Contender?
After one airing, Next Great Champ's ratings were dismal. It has no impact at all on The Contender because they are two totally different shows. The Contender is a quality well-produced program from Mark Burnett. They are as different as night and day. Fox ripped off Burnett's idea but couldn't execute it.
How's the NBC and Universal merger going?
We are feeling good about the two companies' coming together, and we're on target to hit everything we've promised. The cable entertainment networks—USA Network, Sci Fi Channel, Bravo and Trio—are probably the hottest thing going within the entire company.
Will you repurpose NBC dramas on USA this season?
We're considering that. In the next few weeks, you may see an announcement.
And what about Trio? Will it survive?
We are still looking at that. Nothing is imminent.
On the syndication side, The Jane Pauley Show has started out slow. What does it need to do?
Like any daily show, it needs some time to find its legs and its everyday rhythm. I was encouraged that its ratings the first week were a 1.6. Last year, Ellen launched its first week with a 1.2, and look at the success it's become. There is great promise for Jane.
MSNBC made some gains against CNN during the Republican National Convention. Are we finally seeing life there?
MSNBC has had a good run, led by Chris Matthews' terrific performance on Hardball. Its prime time lineup is gelling with Matthews, [Keith] Olbermann, [Deborah] Norville and [Joe] Scarborough, and it's now threatening CNN for sole ownership of second place. Maintaining that momentum is the goal. MSNBC has CNN on the ropes. Consistency and patience are key—and it's starting to pay off.
What new show on another network do you wish you had?
CSI: New York.
It's taking on Law & Order on Wednesdays. How much will that hurt?
People have been throwing strong shows in there for a long time. CSI is a strong and hot franchise. They will both do well. Both shows can succeed and coexist. That's good for network television.
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