NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin,
Group M CEO Irwin Gotlieb, writer/producer David E. Kelley and Judge Judy
Sheindlin--this year's recipients of the Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award--joined
B&C Editor-in-Chief Ben Grossman and B&C Executive Editor
Melissa Grego at the National Association of Television Program Executives
confab Jan. 26 to discuss such topics as NBC's primetime, the Olympics, 3D, the
upfronts, how to get started in the TV business and justice for all.
Fresh off a messy shake-up in NBC's late night that saw
Conan O'Brien exit as host of The Tonight Show, clearing the way for Jay
Leno to return to the franchise, Gaspin spoke of the need to make tough
decisions to start rebuilding NBC's primetime. (See related: NATPE
2010: Gaspin Aims for NBC Reset.)
"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," he said. The network has 20 pilots in development,
including shows from David E. Kelley and CSI's Jerry Bruckheimer and one
directed by Fringe's J.J. Abrams--by far the most in years.
Gaspin also addressed the company's expected $250 million
loss on the upcoming Vancouver Olympics, saying the Winter Games, whatever
their cost, provided a timely "cleansing moment" for NBC's schedule.
"We'll come out of the Olympics with a new 10 p.m. and a new
late night," he said. "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."
Gotlieb: Nielsen Hasn't Served TV Industry's Best
The losses NBC are likely to absorb on the Olympics is
likely a one-time scenario, according to GroupM's Gotlieb.
"A vehicle like the Olympics is very high profile," he told B&C's
Grossman. "In a number of sectors it would be considered politically incorrect
to spend the kind of money that financial institutions have traditionally spent
in the Olympics because these institutions have just been bailed out. Absent
some categories that traditionally have been major supporters, I think this is
an anomalous situation. I hope it is."
As head of Group M, which billed $80 billion last year,
Gotlieb's focused on the future, whether that's 3DTV, the forthcoming Apple
Tablet or addressable advertising. He also believes the way TV advertising is
measured is in need of a serious fix.
"Historically Nielsen hasn't served the best interests of
our industry because from time to time found it in their best interests to pin
one constituency in our business against another and in the process save some
money," Gotlieb told Grossman. "We need an industry group that determines
what's best for the industry, determines what the industry needs so we can
prosper, and manages the research community."
That group may be the newly formed Coalition for Media
Management (CIMM), of which Group M is a part.
"If you watch what CIMM is doing, they are agreeing on
definitions for terms. That's a really good start. What I call addressability
someone else can call versioning, and God knows what a set-top box is these
days. I think it's incumbent on the industry to sit down and agree on what kind
of measurement it wants, what kind of currency we want to use, and we need to
do this as a user group."
was mildly bullish on the upcoming upfront, although he warned not to put too
much stake if spending improves: "The total market is a better indicator
of the current health of our industry."
Kelley: "NBC is a good place to be right now"
When it comes to technology, Kelley is the complete opposite
of Gotlieb, still writing out his TV scripts long-hand on a legal pad.
"I can't type. I find the process is somewhat kinetic," he
told B&C's Grego. "When I sit down and write, something connects
with hand and mind that makes the process work better."
Kelley's next project, tentatively titled Kindreds,
is set up at NBC. While many are looking at NBC as a sinking ship right now,
Kelley says that's exactly why he wants to be there.
"NBC is good place to be right now because it's a place that
needs to take risks," he said.
Like his last show, ABC's Boston Legal, before it,
expect Kindreds tobe full of commentary about public affairs,
Kelley said: "I do love to use my series as a bit of a soap box for right or
wrong. I never used to; I used to think it was irresponsible for a producer to
use his series to convey a particular point of view. I'm no longer adamant
about giving both sides equal play.
"In the last eight years or so, my mindset changed a bit. I
no longer thought it was irresponsible for a producer to use his TV show as a
sounding off point, and I thought it could be irresponsible not to. For about
eight years, there was a real death of debate in this country. We went through
a period where it was considered unpatriotic to dissent. That's never been what
this country was about. Not to get on my soap box now, but at that point
I decided I was going to use this series to vent a little bit, and that series
was Boston Legal."
Watching people do stupid things
Like Kelley, Judge Judy Sheindlin is known for her love of
justice, although her form comes in a daily dose of reality.
Of the thousands of cases she's heard over her 14 years on
the TV bench, she says "the most troublesome are those involving lovely young
women who are trying to get ahead. Because of nature, they have a need to nest
that is far greater than their male counterparts. This allows them to pick very
inappropriate people. If you watch the show with any regularity you'll see a
great number of great-looking girls who walk into some bar, meet some loser and
then all of a sudden he's taken the car and the credit card. She's stuck. Then
she's dumb enough to get pregnant to make things better. Then she has two
babies. I see an awful lot of that."
Asked whether she ever "gets tired of watching people do
stupid things," Sheindlin responded: "Well, for them it's new."
Humor aside, Sheindlin avowed that she loves what she does
and is happy to continue for as long as audiences welcome her. If the show's
ratings started to seriously decline--as the ratings of the large majority of
TV shows do-she said, "I would do nothing except say good-bye. In any
profession, if you've enjoyed a rock â€˜em-sock â€˜em career, you should know when
to say good-bye."
Both Kelley and Sheindlin admitted their entrÃ©e to the
entertainment industry involved a fair amount of luck and both offered similar
advice to anyone wanting to get started: Be passionate. Work hard. Have a day
Summed up Kelley: "The road to success in this business is
extremely inexact: fortuitous, arbitrary, and not fair in many cases."