NBC spending the bucks for new shows this time around


Jeff Gaspin, NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman, has gotten the attention of The NY Times, which writes about his task of pulling NBC’s primetime schedule out of its long slide. It should be interesting how buyers react in the upfront.

“This is the first year in quite some time that we’re being realistic,” he told the paper. “We’re being realistic about how much we need to spend. We’re being realistic about what our margin should be, or what our amount of loss should be. We’re being realistic about what it actually takes.”

In July, Gaspin added NBC’s entertainment division to a portfolio that also includes USA, Bravo and Telemundo. He said that soon after he took up the job, he gave NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker, a simple message:

“We’re going to have to pay.”

NBC had for several years been contracting, part of a stated strategy to rewrite the financial rules of television. Last spring, the network ordered only 10 pilots for new series; this year, it almost doubled that number.

“You can only manage through cost cuts for a short period of time,” Gaspin said. “And we’ve been doing it for five years.”

Even as it is being examined for all its flaws by Comcast, its prospective new owner, NBC has multiple holes in its schedule and few continuing hits, noted The Times. It has also just come through a ferocious PR battering over Conan O’Brien and the Jay Leno mess.

Gaspin’s fixes include the schedule he put together at 10 p.m. this winter. NBC has been up over 40% in the 18-49 demo, with shows like “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Parenthood” in Leno’s old time slot.

That rebound has been critical after what Gaspin conceded were years of turmoil at NBC. “We want to be a calming force in the company. We can’t look like we’re flailing.” He added, “We have to look like we know what we’re doing, and we have things under control — which I think we do.”

One big step was opening itself to the best program ideas available, no matter where they came from. NBC is in no position to be picky. “Our goal right now is to find those shows that are the tent poles of your schedule,” Gaspin said. “I don’t care where they come from. I don’t care whether we own them or not.”

This has played nicely into the hands of the Warner Brothers studio, which has delivered some of the potential new shows to NBC, including dramas developed by prominent creators like J. J. Abrams (“Lost”) and Jerry Bruckheimer (“CSI”). Bruce Rosenblum, the president of Warner Brothers Television Group, said the studio had “a lot tied up” in an NBC comeback. Abrams’s new show, “Under Covers,” was expensive to acquire, and the pilot may have cost as much as $10 million to produce (Abrams directing). Bruckheimer’s “The Chase,” is another intense police drama.

Some other prospective shows that are building talk for NBC include a new law-based hour from David E. Kelley (“Ally McBeal”) called “Kindreds”; a remake of the classic series “The Rockford Files,” from David Shore, the creator of “House”; and a romantic comedy hour, “Love Bites,” from Cindy Chupack, a writer on “Sex and the City.”

Gaspin, who said he would also like to find several new comedies to give himself a chance to open a second comedy night beyond Thursdays, says he’s “cautiously optimistic” about NBC’s development slate.

The key, he said in the interview, is to begin to rebuild NBC’s brand, which he set at a high bar. “We’re a network of quality, sophisticated content.”