Coming off of two weeks of trying to resolve NBC's
late-night problems, NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff
Gaspin was resolute about the moves he made to restore Jay Leno to 11:35,
saying, "I had a set of business circumstances in front of me, and I had to
make a decision."
In an on-stage interview Jan. 26 with B&C
Editor-in-Chief Ben Grossman at the National Association of Television Program
Executives confab in Las Vegas,
Gaspin added, "Our affiliates were hurting. The fall off in the late local news
ratings was greater than we would have liked. We really wanted to keep both of
them, so I came up with the idea of moving [Tonight Show host] Conan
[O'Brien] back a half an hour. We took a reasonable shot at keeping both of
them in the late-night line-up and it didn't work."
Asked whether he expects to be competing against O'Brien
come fall, when many think he'll end up on Fox, Gaspin said: "I really don't
know, but my gut is, yes."
Gaspin admits that NBC has quite a way to go to reclaim its
former glory, but he seems prepared to do the work. The network has 20 pilots
in development - including shows from Kelley and CSI's Jerry Bruckheimer
and one directed by Fringe's J.J. Abrams -- by far the most in years.
"It's difficult when you have to put a lot of new shows on the air at any one
time, but we just want to start with one hit, then get two, and go from there,"
Although GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt recently updated
the amount NBC is expected to lose on the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver
to $250 million, Gaspin's glad the network has the event, particularly now.
"I look at it as a cleansing moment for NBC to reset its
schedule," he said. "We'll come out of the Olympics with a new 10 p.m. and a
new late night. We have the Olympics as a platform to promote these changes. We
have between now and March 1 to re-launch our schedule. It's great timing for
us. Whether that's worth $250 million - it is for me, it is for NBC."
Even at that price-tag, Gaspin says he would like to see the
Olympics stay at NBC when bids for future games come up later this year:
"I think there's great value to the Olympics. I would love to see us a part of
the process but it has to be for the right economics."
The Olympics is also one of the events that gives broadcast networks their unique value, and that will force cable operators to cough up retransmission consent fees for them down the road: "There's no cable channel that actually has all three: news, sports and entertainment. What distinguishes broadcast from cable is this idea that broadcast networks offer all three of these genres."