If NBC Universal is going to work as more than a typographical marriage on new letterhead, it will have to find a way to make its disparate collection of broadcast and cable nets work together.
Actually, the "it" is NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker.
After three years in Hollywood, Zucker gets knocked for failing to deliver the "next big hit." But he also has a knack for getting the most out of what he has—NBC, Telemundo, Bravo—through effective cross-promotion and selective repurposing.
"There are two great chess players in television," Katz TV's Bill Carroll, "[CBS Chairman] Leslie Moonves and Jeff Zucker."
Zucker seems to be looking forward to adding his new pieces—Vivendi Universal Entertainment's USA Network, Sci Fi and Trio—to the board, although he is guarding strategy like a grand master.
"We think that there's a natural fit of these properties," he says, "and we think, once we get the power of the NBC network behind them, we can have even more success across a number of new properties."
But, he adds, "you have to be conscious of managing all your properties smartly. It's knowing that something can't just exist on NBC alone anymore or on any network alone anymore. And you have to be smart about how you manage a show."
Although Zucker wouldn't comment on how he would integrate the new networks, he would likely take some time to get to know them, as he did when he arrived at NBC Entertainment.
After that get-acquainted period, however, the melding of Bravo into the mix could well be the blueprint for integrating the VUE nets.
When Queer Eye for the Straight Guy
got off to a fast start on Bravo, Zucker immediately recognized that exposure on NBC would do both networks some good.
"In the case of Bravo, we felt we had a real program there with Queer Eye," says Vince Manze, co-president and creative director of The NBC Agency, the network's in-house ad agency.
When Queer Eye hit Bravo on July 15, it was an immediate smash. The show, which airs at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays and then frequently throughout the week, turned Bravo into the No. 2 cable network during the hour, up from No. 38.
Its success encouraged Zucker to air the show on NBC, in ER's Thursday 10 p.m. spot throughout August, a move that likely helped boost its Bravo numbers. At the end of August, it still was breaking Bravo ratings records.
NBC also used Bravo to repurpose Cher's Farewell Concert and The Golden Globes and to give some extra promotion to series in need of a boost, such as Boomtown and Kingpin, although Kingpin
ultimately was not renewed and Boomtown is still struggling.
There has been less cross-promotion for Telemundo, although this month NBC for the first time aired promos for two of Telemundo's new Spanish-language programs. The promos ran in Fear Factor and For Love or Money 2, the two NBC shows with the highest Hispanic viewership.
"Promoting those shows on NBC may not have driven viewers to Telemundo directly, but it did drive press coverage. We hope that will boost the shows on Telemundo," says Jon Miller, co-president and COO of The NBC Agency.
If the NBC Universal deal is consummated, NBC watchers expect Zucker to move back to New York, where his family lives. Prior to taking over Hollywood operations for NBC, he had been executive producer for Today, which he helped turn into a huge profit center. Zucker started his career at NBC as an intern fresh out of Harvard and was running the Today show at age 26.
Taking on additional corporate responsibilities, he would likely hand off many of his West Coast programming responsibilities to Kevin Reilly, who starts his new job as president of programming Sept. 15.
Reilly takes over at the end of a summer in which NBC's schedule won 14 consecutive weeks in adults 18-49, the sixth-longest winning streak since 1987. "I think what the summer has done," Zucker says, "is keep the lights on and give us a promotional platform for the fall."