NBC Boss on 'America's Got Talent' Investigation: "We Will Put New Practices in Place, If That's What's Necessary"

NBC entertainment chief Paul Telegdy spoke publicly for the first time since Gabrielle Union's messy 'America's Got Talent' departure prompted an investigation into culture on the series.
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Gabrielle Union

A month and a half after his biggest reality franchise became embroiled in a very public debate over workplace culture and racial sensitivity, NBC boss Paul Telegdy faced questions about America’s Got Talent on Saturday morning.

The NBC Entertainment chairman, speaking publicly for the first time since complaints from fired panelist Gabrielle Union prompted an investigation into the show, told the assembled press that his network is taking the allegations seriously and said results of the investigation would likely be revealed by the end of the month.

"I'm confident if we learn from this investigation, we'll put new practices in place, if that's what's necessary," Telegdy told reporters during NBC's time at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour. "We take the investigation very seriously."

In December, after meeting with Union, the network launched an investigation into her complaints of racial insensitivity and toxic culture during her brief tenure on AGT. As for an end to the investigation, one that spans the network, producers, production company Fremantle and creator-judge Simon Cowell's Syco Media, Telegdy said the results would be coming in a few weeks. The executive, who repeatedly stressed that he was "transparent and candid" multiple times during his nearly 40 minutes before reporters, noted he couldn't say more given the ongoing investigation.

"We also embrace the notion we can always be a better workplace," Telegdy said during his somewhat scattered Q&A with press. "We want to always go after the truth. That's our culture here. … I promise you this is being taken very seriously."

America’s Got Talent is a show close to the exec. Before inheriting the broadcast network, Telegdy spent years as NBC’s reality czar — overseeing AGT, The Voice and the rest of the broadcast network’s robust unscripted slate.

Union was not the only panelist departure from AGT. The series also parted ways with Julianne Hough after the most recent season, leaving two vacant slots alongside Cowell and Howie Mandel. Sofia Vergara is among those to have met with the network about taking the job, but no decisions have been made. Telegdy would not speak about casting on Saturday morning, but stressed the show is really about the contestants.

The current season of AGT spinoff Champions was banked before the scandal broke. Still, it returned on Jan. 6 to middling ratings — at least by franchise standards — a 1.3 among adults 18-49 and 8.1 million viewers.

As for the upcoming 15th cycle of the original, there is still some breathing room on casting. Production isn’t set to begin until March.

Telegdy, who came armed with a slew of news announcements — Tina Fey and Amy Poehler returning to host the Golden Globes, a new comedy starring Dwayne Johnson, a nature show called The New World to air after the 2024 Paris Olympics and renewals for New Amsterdam and Making It among them — also addressed the Saturday Night Live debacle that saw comedian Shane Gillis hired and fired in less than a week after homophobic slurs in a podcast surfaced.

"We acted fast, [executive producer] Lorne [Michaels] did the right thing," said the exec, calling the flap a "learning issue" and noting that the variety show's producers will better vet future castmembers. 

Here are other highlights from Telegdy's remarks Saturday: 

Live Musical Update
After scrapping Hair Live, Telegdy — who was the first NBC chairman to hold an exec session at TCA in years — noted that the network remains committed to live musicals, but it doesn't currently have any in the works. "We're going to find the right thing and come back to you," he said of the genre that became a staple at the network under his predecessor, Bob Greenblatt. NBC also scrapped live productions of Jennifer Lopez's Bye Bye Birdie and Alec Baldwin in A Few Good Men from Aaron Sorkin.

Peacock Pride
Telegdy opened his remarks by stressing the larger reach of NBC, noting that The Office is a hit on Netflix (before it moves to his company's streamer, Peacock), Brooklyn Nine-Nine is one of Hulu's top programs and SNL is TV's No. 1 comedy for the first time in its 45-season history. As for the forthcoming streamer, Peacock, which is set to launch in April, more details are to come Thursday during NBCUniversal's investor day. "We’ve been working in partnership with them," said the exec, calling the service the "future of our digital distribution for a lot of what we do here." That would imply that the network and its studios' programming would no longer be sold to outside streamers but instead reserved for Peacock, where it will remain part of the corporate ecosystem. Telegdy, like ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke, reiterated his belief in the power of broadcast. "At NBC, our vision is clear," he said. "We are the mainstream." 

Kenan Show Delay 
Picked up to series last May, The Kenan Show, the Michaels-produced comedy starring SNL's Kenan Thompson, was originally poised to be part of the network's 2019-20 broadcast season. It was left off both NBC's fall and midseason schedule and, at the time, sources said it would be earmarked to run after the summer Olympics this year. Telegdy revealed Saturday that the show has been pushed to the 2020-21 broadcast season to allow Thompson — who also hosts NBC's Bring the Funny — to develop the series and work on other projects. Andy Garcia co-stars in the comedy, whose pilot was directed by Chris Rock.

Pilot Season Update
Telegdy stressed NBC would never give up the traditional pilot season insanity, where between 60 to 80 comedies and dramas are cast, produced and filmed in a span of four to five months, but he noted his network is open to "multiple pathways to success." The exec singled out the upcoming Ted Danson L.A. mayoral comedy from Tina Fey — which was picked up off-cycle — as an example. (It's also worth noting that NBC's mega-hit This Is Us was developed and cast off-cycle.)