Fox, NBC execs talk sked smack

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Fox Broadcasting Co. scheduling chief Preston Beckman took aim Wednesday at NBC's plans for a 52-week programming schedule, saying that it wasn't anything different than what Fox began to do five years ago with "American Idol" and "The O.C."

"I think what Jeff (Zucker) did was say, 'We want to be Fox,' " said Beckman, who was in charge of NBC scheduling until he joined Fox in 2000.

NBC said Wednesday that it won't hold a traditional upfront presentation and instead will announce a 52-week program schedule in April. After that it will spend weeks meeting with advertisers and media buyers before having an informal party in mid-May, when its rivals will unveil their schedules.

Beckman, who traditionally is outspoken on industry matters, said that his former network is "probably the most clueless" when it comes to fall scheduling, whereas the other networks, especially Fox and CBS, are more stable.

"It's the 'Deal or No Deal,' 'Law & Order' network," Beckman said of NBC.

Year-round scheduling isn't anything new. Many of the networks have talked about it, but Fox has been the most consistent in trying to implement it not only with reality but also with scripted series, starting with the August 2003 premiere of "The O.C."

NBC was reluctant to mix it up with its former executive and Fox, which is set to win the season in the key adults 18-49 demographic. But NBC co-chairman Marc Graboff took issue with Beckman's assertions.

"We attach no credence to the statement by a network that is essentially out of business until the first quarter of every year other than the NBC Universal-produced 'House,' " Graboff said, referring to Fox's traditional slow start of the season.

He said that NBC's plan is more than just about having a 52-week program schedule.

"We're not trying to put our flag into anything," Graboff said. "We're trying to change the process in a world where DVR penetration and audience fragmentation has made it more difficult for advertisers to get value out of putting clients' money into broadcast network programming. We're trying to make it a win-win for advertisers and the network."

Fox's Beckman also took a snipe at NBC's decision to scrap its traditional upfront presentation at Radio City Music Hall in New York. He said that his network would have dropped its annual showcase, but the Fox sales team found that there's still value in an upfront presentation, something that NBC Uni topper Zucker openly questioned last month in an address at NATPE in Las Vegas. Fox, along with ABC, CBS and the CW, last week affirmed their commitment to the upfront presentations in mid-May that NBC will eschew.

"I think (Zucker) found himself out there by himself on this whole notion that the upfront is archaic," Beckman said. A number of ad buyers have shared his sentiment privately.

However, NBC's Graboff said the network had heard from advertisers who said that they wanted changes to the traditional upfront, which is why the network put the plan into action.

"We decided the old upfront process is no longer viable. This is an opportunity to change it," he said. "Do we wish that the other networks are doing the same? Yes. But they're all waiting to see what happens with us. Hopefully, we will succeed."

The other networks were mum on their thoughts about the NBC announcement. CBS Corp.'s Leslie Moonves, who had scraps with NBC and Zucker in the past when both ran their respective networks, probably will have more to say about it Tuesday, when his company holds its quarterly earnings conference call.
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