Sizing Up Fall

Jeff Zucker touts NBC's new season, is mum about Trio's future and smacks down the Champ

Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal
Television Group, can exhale a little. Early results for NBC's new fall season
are encouraging. The much-hyped
Joeypremiered Sept. 9 to a sizable 18.6 million viewers, proving
Friendis enough to deliver big ratings.
Tycoon Donald Trump is still popular, drawing 14 million viewers for season two
of product-placement-crazed
The Apprentice.

The story isn't as rosy elsewhere, but it's
hardly time to press the panic button. After a respectable premiere Aug. 29,
Tuesday night's animated comedy
Father of the Pridefell steeply in its second week. Predictable cop
Hawaiiis struggling on Wednesdays.

Zucker can take comfort in LAX,
which landed better results. The airport drama,
starring Heather Locklear and Blair Underwood, welcomed 13 million viewers to
its Sept. 13 debut, a strong showing against ABC's
Monday Night
Football opener. And Friday night'sMedical
Investigationlooked lively, pulling in nearly 11
million. But
MI's real prognosis will come
when CBS introduces its medical drama,
Dr. Vegas, Sept. 24, with Rob Lowe and Joe Pantoliano in the same

Seeking a boost from the Olympics, NBC kicked
off its season before its rivals. This week, the competition begins in earnest
as ABC and CBS showcase their latest fare.

Zucker, who oversees NBC Universal's news and
entertainment divisions, talked to
Allison Romano about NBC's new shows, matchups to watch for and why his boxing
reality show
The Contenderknocks out
Next Great Champ.

How do you rate NBC's performance three weeks into
the new season?

I feel very optimistic. We're feeling good about the premiere of
Joey and Medical
and very positive about Father
of the Pride
. We are hopeful about Hawaii, though we understand 8 p.m. is a difficult
time slot for a drama. We're going to need to be patient.

How patient can you afford to be?

8 p.m. time periods are tough. The question is, can a drama work there?
There is no panic, but we'll have to keep a close eye on it.

Did The
debut deliver on your expectations?

Apprentice had a strong start behind
Joey. It was in the ballpark of where we
thought it would be. We knew it was against football. A show like this only

Thursday is such a critical night for NBC. How
confident are you about the new lineup?

Thursday night looks terrific, right about where we expected it to

Father of the
slipped about 15% in its second week. Is that

The fall in its second week was in line with virtually all the successes
of the last few years. According to Jim fell
19% in its second week, Alias fell 29%,
Hope and Faith fell 21% in its second week,
Two and a Half Men fell 15%,
24 fell 19% in its second week.
Father of the Pride is right in line with
the big successes of the last few years.

How do you think Medical
will fare against Dr.
on CBS?

Medical Investigation had a strong
airing Friday at 10 and has established itself in that time period.

Fox's Next Great
didn't pack a punch in its first week. What does that mean for
your boxing reality show The

After one airing, Next Great Champ's
ratings were dismal. It has no impact at all on The
because they are two totally different shows.
The Contender is a quality well-produced
program from Mark Burnett. They are as different as night and day. Fox ripped
off Burnett's idea but couldn't execute it.

How's the NBC and Universal merger

We are feeling good about the two companies' coming together, and we're
on target to hit everything we've promised. The cable entertainment
networks—USA Network, Sci Fi Channel, Bravo and Trio—are probably the
hottest thing going within the entire company.

Will you repurpose NBC dramas on USA this season?

We're considering that. In the next few weeks, you may see an

And what about Trio? Will it survive?

We are still looking at that. Nothing is imminent.

On the syndication side, The Jane Pauley Show has started out slow. What does
it need to do?

Like any daily show, it needs some time to find its legs and its
everyday rhythm. I was encouraged that its ratings the first week were a 1.6.
Last year, Ellen launched its first week
with a 1.2, and look at the success it's become. There is great promise for

MSNBC made some gains against CNN during the
Republican National Convention. Are we finally seeing life

MSNBC has had a good run, led by Chris Matthews' terrific performance on
Hardball. Its prime time lineup is gelling
with Matthews, [Keith] Olbermann, [Deborah] Norville and [Joe] Scarborough, and
it's now threatening CNN for sole ownership of second place. Maintaining that
momentum is the goal. MSNBC has CNN on the ropes. Consistency and patience are
key—and it's starting to pay off.

What new show on another network do you wish you

CSI: New York.

It's taking on Law &
on Wednesdays. How much will that hurt?

People have been throwing strong shows in there for a long time.
CSI is a strong and hot franchise. They will
both do well. Both shows can succeed and coexist. That's good for network