NBC Affil Chair Open To Primetime Give Back

Michael Fiorile on NBC scaling back primetime, Tribune's troubles and not counting out Sam Zell


Jay Leno Taking Over 10 P.M. On NBC

Michael Fiorile, chairman of the NBC affiliate association, says he, too, is open to the idea of NBC scaling back primetime if it means he gets to program shows that will do better in the ratings.

As Vice Chair and CEO of Dispatch Broadcast Group, responsible for both TV stations and its Columbus Dispatch newspaper, he also has definite ideas about Tribune's troubles, including not to count out Sam Zell.

He talked with B&C Monday about the big news of a week that had just gotten started.
How do you react to Jeff Zucker's suggestion Monday that NBC is having to rethink its programming strategy, including how much programming to put in primetime?

He raised that in a meeting [with affiliates] in June last year in Los Angeles. We've had a couple of meetings about it since. I think it is a good idea.

I don't think any decision has been made. If he is contemplating not filling the primetime schedule and allowing affiliates to sell a little bit of time ourselves and we can do better than some of the programming that they're scheduling, it's better for them; it's better for us. We'll be able to make more money, and we'll have a bigger audience. It's all good.
On the subject of doing better than NBC, I assume you would prefer some stronger 10-11 p.m. programming leading into local news?

That's the first choice, sure.
Do you see any of that forthcoming?

You know, we are going to meet with NBC on Wednesday of this week, and I will probably be better equipped to answer that after that, but prior to that, no, I don't see anything outstanding on the horizon.
Or on the schedule?

Does Hulu allow NBC to think more out of the box in terms of what it does with the linear channel?

I don't think so. I think they are different audiences.
Zucker was also talking about changing the affiliate/network relationship.

Yes, we've talked about that. We've come to no conclusions. We're just starting to talk about some ideas, with primetime progarmming being one of them.
What else?

We've had some preliminary discussions about being involved in the The Weather Channel.
Local cut-ins?

Zucker was talking about the network business needing to rethink. How is the local station business these days?

Our business is challenged like everybody else's. Most local stations derived almost a third of their revenue from the automotive industry. And unless you have been under a rock for the last month, you know that's a challenged industry.
We assume that makes it even more imperative there be a really strong show from 10-11 p.m. leading into news?

That would help for sure.
You own the Columbus Dispatch. What is your reaction to the news about Tribune?

I don't know that that news surprised a lot of people. They have a tremendous amount of debt. It was a very unconventional structuring when they did the deal, and they are not the only newspaper that is challenged. The industry is challenged even moreso than broadcasting. Believe me, I know it well. I am responsible for the paper here.
Would they have been better off not doing the deal and not having that billions in debt?

It's hard to say. But I, for one wouldn't count Sam Zell out. He has done more with less in the past, and mind you, I have no idea what they have in mind in terms of restructuring.
So you think he can find a way out of this?

You know, I do. If anybody can, he can.
Any advice?

None that he would need.