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Paul Telegdy, president of NBC Entertainment’s Alternative and Reality Group, on Friday discussed the importance of nurturing key talent, such as Amy Poehler, the possible Comcast deal for Sky, fake news, the secret sauce of NBC’s shows and how Law & Order: Special Victims Unit put women’s rights in the spotlight well before the emergence of the #MeToo movement.
Speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival in a wide-ranging “Worldview Address,” he said the veteran comedy show Saturday Night Live was like NBCUniversal in the sense that it was about focusing on talent and people, as well as innovation.
Calling it “an institution,” he said the show has in the digital and social media age become “a multi-platform ratings titan” that continues to evolve as it is heading into its fifth decade.
Telegdy mentioned SNL and Parks and Recreation alum Amy Poehler, who now has Making It on NBC with the sitcom I Feel Bad coming up, in addition to a Netflix movie, as an example of how the company approaches and “nourishes” talent. “We are future-proofing our organization by focusing on the brand of our people as much as our shows,” said the exec.
Asked about the secret sauce of NBC shows, Telegdy said they “are about humans, real people.” He added: “Very rarely does NBC [go] into big imagined worlds. … All of our shows seem to have this very uplifting, upbeat feel to them. And it’s unapologetic. You come to the U.K. and people are cynical about the tone of some of these things. We are relentlessly positive.”
Telegdy also said that accountability is key for the company, citing Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which is in its 20th season: “Decades before the #MeToo movement became everyday conversation, this show was teaching people every week about women’s rights, victims’ rights [and more].”
The bigger industry trend of deals and acquisitions was also in focus during Telegdy’s appearance on Friday. NBCUniversal parent Comcast stands to possibly gain from current industry consolidation, with the cable giant currently having the highest bid for European pay TV powerhouse Sky, topping of an offer from 21st Century Fox, which already owns a 39 percent stake in Sky. Fox, which has agreed to sell a big part of its business to Walt Disney for $71.3 billion, has until Sept. 22 to sweeten its bid.
Telegdy was asked about Comcast’s interest in Sky on Friday and what drove it. “Comcast has DNA as a technology company,” he said. “So [chairman and CEO] Brian [Roberts] absolutely loves the platform and set-top box. … He was very drawn to Sky’s world-class technology platform.” He added: “That’s the story of how he got interested in Sky. I think the story is still being written.”
Telegdy also spoke of his experience with Comcast’s NBCUniversal acquisition and being integrated into the cable giant, saying it brought “management and leadership that really wanted to invest and wasn’t managing us in decline, but wanted to dive in and pile in.” He concluded: “We found we were part of a great company at the end of the process. So if we are lucky enough or if this goes through, It think it will be a good thing for everyone involved.”
What kind of show on a rival network would he like to have had? Telegdy mentioned Shark Tank as a show that would have worked well for NBC.
“The truth is under attack in a profound and truly astonishing way,” the executive also said. “And so anyone who considers themselves in any way connected to the truth has an additional and specific responsibility, and I think that’s a theme that people are picking up globally — what’s fake, what’s real.”
Telegdy said that people in the entertainment and creative industry have “an additional responsibility” these days to communicate truth and be accountable. “It’s a very important junction point in the creative industry,” the exec said.
He also said about NBCUniversal: “We approach all of our content with diligence, a commitment to truth. … We are not censors, we are editors and curators. And if anyone at our company was profiting from fake news, they would encounter an army of people working against him.” And in terms of unscripted shows, “we won’t make any shows that we wouldn’t be proud to have a close family member appear in or work on,” he added.
Telegdy’s role was created specifically for him in June 2016. That year, he launched Universal Television Alternative Studios, appointing Meredith Ahr as president. Early this year, he added to his purview oversight of first-run syndication, as well as business affairs and production for unscripted and specials programming.
Earlier this summer, Telegdy predicted more industry consolidation. “Buckle up and we’ll watch what happens next,” he said at the Banff World Media Festival. “It’s an increasingly exciting time. What happens over the next several months is equivalent to what’s happened over the last 30 years.”
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