8:15am PT by James Hibberd
NBC executives pledge return to quality; defend late-night changes
NBC pledged a return to high-quality programming after two years marked by critically panned efforts under controversial former co-chair Ben Silverman.
While primetime entertainment president Angela Bromstad refused to criticize her former boss at NBC's press tour event in Pasadena and said there's been "a tremendous amount of continuity" since Silverman departed, she added that NBC's goal is to create "the best comedies, the best dramas" that could attract a broad audience and Emmys.
"I think we have fallen short in the past couple years," Bromstad said of the period marked by flashy escapist dramas such as "Knight Rider" and "My Own Worst Enemy." "It's our goal to bring back high-quality, sophisticated dramas, and a brand of alternative that falls into that."
Bromstad noted that her development budget is unchanged despite no longer having to program a 10 p.m. hour due to the upcoming debut of "The Jay Leno Show."
Taking the TCA stage with alternative head Paul Telegdy, the duo ran into some rough patches with critics.
When asked about Silverman's exit, Bromstad unintentionally drew laughter when she replied, "I think this has always been Ben's plan."
"It's always been Ben's plan to transition back to his entrepreneurial roots, so I don't think he was looking to be at NBC for a long-term thing," she said. "He brought Paul and I in, and I think that was part of putting everything in place and transitioning out."
Critics also had a tough time pinning down the executives about the network's late-night expectations.
During the CBS session earlier this week, entertainment president Nina Tassler said NBC will declare victory at 10 p.m. no matter what rating "The Jay Leno Show" receives. While NBC brass privately says that declaring a fall victory in the hour is exactly what CBS has already done, Bromstad and Telegdy initially attempted to defer questions about what constitutes a Leno victory to a later panel.
"We're sorry we keep asking questions that we're asking apparently to the wrong people," one critic said.
Bromstad explained that success for Leno will depend on several factors.
"What's going to be a success for Leno is the 52-week cumulative rating for the show and improving on our time slot and being competitive in that time slot," Bromstad said. "It's not going to be determined in the first five days of the show."
As for "The Tonight Show" ratings, which have fallen sharply under Conan O'Brien while maintaining a slight adult demo lead on CBS' "Late Show," the NBC brass defended calling O'Brien "The New King of Late-Night."
"I think having Conan start during the summer and get his rhythm for the show — I think the true test is going to come this fall," Bromstad said. "I think it's fair to say we're going to declare victories where we have them."
The NBC executives were also queried about Paula Abdul leaving "American Idol" and whether she might work on the network's summer hit "America's Got Talent."
"She's an exceptional piece of talent," Telegdy said. "We have no specific plans for her, but I wouldn't rule anything out."
After the panel, Telegdy added he thought it was a mistake for Fox to let Abdul go and that she was a major reason fans watched the show.
Bromstad also let drop a few pieces of news about current and upcoming series.
-- On apocalyptic midseason show "Day One," Bromstad said the program might only air a single season. "We've always looked at 'Day One' as a big event for us and not necessarily a show that would be ongoing [and] returning for a second season," and later elaborated that, "because their serialized nature, [genre shows become] tougher to sustain on broadcast."
-- On Bryan Fuller coming back to, then leaving, "Heroes": "I think he was there to get them back on track ... and everybody decided where they are going creatively. Our deal with Bryan now is in development. ... Bryan is looking forward to creating his own shows." Bromstad after the panel noted that the show's budget has cut $300,000 to $500,000 per episode next season.
-- On moving "Friday Night Lights" to summer: "It doesn't have the ratings we need it to have to justify it on the fall schedule ... so we plan to use it as a premier summer show."
-- On pushing "Chuck" to midseason: "It's not scheduled to come on until March. ... It's something we might allow to run over into our summer programming." After the panel, Bromstad said she hoped fan loyalty will help sustain the show's ratings, and explained that for fall, "We wanted to put on as many new shows as possible."
-- On the canceled "Kings," which Bromstad noted she rejected during her previous tenure at the network, she said, "It was an amazingly big swing and a great production, and Michael Green is a phenomenal writer. ... In a really crowded marketplace, people want to know what something is about. ... You have to sell something. ... ['Kings' was] too difficult to sell in a 30-second spot."
-- On "Southland," which has been moved to Friday nights this fall: Bromstad said the program will be less serialized and more focused on leads Ben McKenzie and Regina King: "We'll have to see come fall how it does. ... We've made some creative adjustments. I think they tried to do too much the first six episodes."