NATPE 2012: NBCU's Harbert Hopes Fix is in for NBC TV Stations - Broadcasting & Cable

NATPE 2012: NBCU's Harbert Hopes Fix is in for NBC TV Stations

Group is building newscasts, adding new syndie fare in a bid to grow ratings
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Complete Coverage: NATPE 2012

Ted Harbert, chairman of NBC Broadcasting at NBCUniversal, speaks
frankly when it comes to the owned-and-operated station business of which he's
now in charge.

"I don't
think It was a fantastic situation when I got there. The company that was in
place before us took away investment in those stations," Harbert told
panel moderator and NATPE President Rick Feldman on Monday at the
annual NATPE conference being held in Miami.

"When I
took this job, I did a lot of studying. I realized, boy, did I need some help.
I was lucky enough to hire Valari Staab from ABC's KGO San Francisco, which was
one of my best hires in my entire career. We took $20 million, hired 130
people, bought helicopters in New York and Los Angeles, and put a lot of
trucks on the ground. It's about how much news is on the air, what's in the
newscast, what enterprise journalism is going on, what you are out there
covering.

"Here's
an amusing but tragic story: there was a fire out in Queens and we couldn't get our
trucks out to the fire, because we were saving money by having them parked in New Jersey to save parking fees.
Really?

"We had
to give [our stations] some stuff. Now you can really see it on the air."

Some of the
so-called "stuff" that the NBC-owned stations will be getting in the
fall are two new syndicated daytime talk shows: NBCU's Steve
Harvey
, produced by Endemol, and CBS Television Distribution's Jeff
Probst.


"When it
first came down the path, we thought we were going to be the Katie Couric guys.
The previous management had decided they didn't like the daytime business very
much. Although there were very talented people in those positions, they were
told ‘don't really do anything. Put on repeats, don't lose any money.' But they
didn't make any money either.

"Now our
feeling is ‘Let's go get out there,' but we're going to do it reasonably,"
said Harbert. "We looked very carefully at the economics of the Katie Couric
deal - at what was in it for her, what was in it for us." NBCUniversal
ended up passing on doing a talk show with Katie Couric.

"Every
station needs a point of distinction, and we think Steve Harvey will be that
for us. Ellen does a fantastic job of doing an entertainment talk show, Dr.
Phil does a fantastic job of telling you how to fix your life. We've got a guy
who can do both. It's going to become a substantive advice show. That appealed
to me in a great way.

"Along
those lines, Jeff Probst came into my office and did a great job. This guy can
interview people, talk to them, and he really cares. Our competitors are all
doing the same things. So you ask the boss for some money, do the best you can,
and promote the hell out of it."

Promotion for
shows like Steve HarveyJeff
Probst
 and in
primetime, the upcoming Smashand Fashion
Star
, across Comcast NBCUniversal's sprawling assets holds the key
to the company's future success, says Harbert.

"Boy, do
we not have a circulation base right now. Even if you put on a good show -- and Prime
Suspect
wasn't
such a bad show that it deserved a 1.0 rating -- we have an issue with getting
the word out.

"We have
the ability through what we call ‘Project Symphony' to go spread the word, so
we're getting it on that barker on E!, running promos on Bravo, USA and all
over the Comcast systems.

"We are
going to go crazy on Smash -
starting right now, we'll go heavy until the premiere. There was a movie that
came out earlier this year from NBCU calledHop. The company went wild, and we made
$10 million more that weekend than we otherwise would have. We can really good
the word out and we have to. The structure of our schedule is such that it's
not allowing us [on its own] to get shows launched properly."

Besides
revamping NBC's struggling primetime schedule, Harbert -- who previously
oversaw Comcast's E! Entertainment, Style and G4 Networks - is looking for new
ways to produce shows.

"What I
really care about is the innovative ideas like [Lionsgate's Jon] Feltheimer's
idea with the Charlie Sheen show [that will be tested on FX]," he said.
"We don't need to stay in the exact same model of every drama is $3.3
million and every comedy is $2.2 million. We have to come up with way to cut
these costs and use different models."

One way to do
that is to scour foreign markets for creative new series and then re-format
them for the U.S. and other territories,
something with which Harbert's co-panelist Jeff Shell, president of
NBCUniversal International, has been tasked.

"Shows
aren't just going to come from the U.S. anymore," said
Shell. "As programming gets more local in each territory, a great idea may
emerge. When we find shows or formats that travel, we'll go talk to
[NBCUniversal Entertainment Chairman] Bob [Greenblatt] and Ted and see if we
can produce it for the U.S. audience."

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