AN INTERVIEW WITH NBC'S ENTERTAINMENT PRESIDENT

Kevin Reilly Assesses the Network's Fall Season Prospects

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It’s nail-biting time for the TV network entertainment presidents.

The fall season officially kicks off in three weeks, their marketing machines have done just about all they

Kevin Reilly, president of NBC Entertainment, assesses the upcoming fall season.
can to whet the public's appetite and soon the Nielsen ratings will be making careers and breaking hearts.

Fox, which ended last season on top in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic, is first out of the gate with Prison Break, debuting today. The show has seen the most positive buzz of all the new-season debuts, according to media agency Initiative’s research of consumer-generated online comment.

ABC must continue the momentum it achieved last season, while CBS wants to keep its Thursday-night dominance going. Industry eyes, however, will be on NBC, and whether it can dig out from fourth place. Advertising Age reporter Claire Atkinson interviewed NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly about his challenges for the upcoming season. A transcript begins below.


Kevin Reilly Interview

Q: What is mission No. 1 this season?
A: Our first mission is to stabilize. First we’ll look for stability and put the building blocks in place and on the comedy side get some brand driving shows.

Q: What’s your most challenging time period?
A: Thursday. Trying to maintain stability and maintaining strong ratings when more networks are programming against us. UPN’s Everybody Hates Chris has had a lot of buzz at 8pm. It’s a good show and I would expect it to get good sampling early on. But what we have in Joey and Will and Grace are the incumbents. One hour of Joey can still do 4.2 rating, that’s still a number to contend with. I don’t see any new show on Thursday that will single-handedly cause a headache. Just a lot of shows picking at the young demo, The O.C. and Alias, but that has never been much of a ratings play.

Q: How do you think the two Apprentices will do?
A: The Apprentice last season was a mixed bag, the next round is quiet strong, having seen the first The Apprentice: Martha. We are really delivering the goods. We were excited and relieved; there will be a lot of curiosity to tune in. You are tuning in for The Apprentice, but the tone and feel of Martha’s show is very different. The way she conducts herself, she’s completely involved. She’s a woman in control. You understand how she became a self-made billionaire. It’s an intense competition and she’s directing the tasks and observing the action. That’s what makes it a bit different.

Q: What do you say to people who think it was a mistake to leave Thursday unchanged?
A: We were a little bit damned if we do and damned if we don’t. When you are in rebuild, stability is a good thing. When CBS was rebuilding, it left the sexiest shows alone and it proved a good move. Maybe there were a lot of shots taken at Joey, but there is an audience for that and for Will & Grace, which won’t just dry up and go away. It will have Alec Baldwin [and] Harry Connick Jr. this season. The Apprentice wins a 6 rating at 9:30 p.m. and that’s against CBS’ CSI. This is a very strong TV show. ER remains a phenomenon. There are three comedies on the bench and we’ll be making some more changes and will try out other shows as the year goes on.

Q: Which do you think will perform better for you: the fall schedule or mid-season?
A: Well, in fall we’re looking for spark and resiliency. This fall compared to last fall on a number of time periods we won’t look that strong year-to-year. It’s going to be about growth, and last spring is when we lost momentum. We need stability, shows that seem like they’re going to stick as building blocks.

I would take any of our shows, Earl, Surface and E-Ring, even though it’s going against ABC’s Lost. E-Ring is going to be a little different from the pilot. We’ve changed his personal situation. Many women wanted to see [Benjamin Bratt's character] single. There’s a new woman at the workplace and it will feed in to the predominantly female appeal of The Apprentice: Martha, which should make it very strong against unimpressive comedy elsewhere. We’re also hoping that men willl gravitate to it. Lost, however will pick up more steam in the 9 p.m. slot. [It previously aired at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays.]

Q: What are your hopes for The Office?
A: The Office is a terrific show, but it needs help. I hope we’ll have 22 episodes on air this season. We’re looking at The 40 Year Old Virgin and its tracking is strong. That would be a big break for Steve Carell [the star of The Office] if it pops and its a Universal movie. The Office is lead-in dependent on My Name Is Earl.

Q: What’s your favorite cable show?
A: I was avid viewer of Chappelle’s Show, I’m completely addicted to The Shield and Rescue Me on FX [where he was formerly president-of entertainment.]

Q: Best TV show of all time?
A: The Honeymooners is where it all began, with four characters and flimsy sets. All in the Family, Saturday Night Live, Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Q: The most bizarre pitch made to you?
A: Rodney Dangerfield called out of the blue, and I thought it was a joke. He pitched a show called Midget Hotel and said, “Everyone loves midgets, they’re funny.” After 40 minutes he was still pitching.

Q: Most thrilling perk of the job?
A: There are so many perks available and no time to take advantage. I’d say the ying and yang of life, the fact that the pace and challenge of it go hand-in-hand. It’s a thrilling ride when it comes together. There’s a purity of something said in your office as a one-liner and when it hits and creates a cultural event it’s a pretty magical thing.

Q: Anything you’re thinking about for the 2007 development?
A: That’s when things will be in a better. We have a very aggressive mid-season slate, “Book of Daniel,” several new comedies and one or two new dramas from January and March and right through. But it has not been a good summer for network. We didn’t have any spark this summer. We’ll program scripted shows, its going to be a process of rebuilding time periods.

Q: What about trends for 2007?
A: I never like to make proclamations, audiences likes to be surprised and see new things. When they see something they like, they like to gorge on it for a while. When you think that’s it, the audience goes the other way. Last year was supposed to be the year of the procedural, but CSI: New York, we know where it ended up. Serve up something that feels fresh.

Q: What has ABC’s surprise success taught you?
A: Never count anybody out. Their managerial and marketing challenges were well documented and desperation breeds inspiration. They did a number of things right, I’m not envious but give credit where it’s due. I feel like the desperation that got into NBC is really healthy and the inspiration has percolated.

Q: How would you change the upfront?
A: I wouldn’t go first. We were very exposed going in the spring with no momentum. [The upfront] is a curious process and a pack mentality. No one walked out of ABC in 2004 saying they’re on a roll. But this year Marc Cherry [creator of Desperate Housewives] walks out and gets a top hat. The press was documenting our slippage deservedly so, but we put out a competitive schedule with promising shows and by most accounts, after the presentation, the reaction was very good. Then over the course of the next four days there was a lot of jumping on the bandwagon. [Critical] pieces were written by journalists who hadn’t even gone to the upfront, they were reporting on hearsay.

Q: Can you change the fact that you always go first?
A: It always has been that way because we’ve been the market leader and when you’re ahead you put your stake in the ground. Its hard when you’re in a disadvantaged position. The upfronts are booked way in advance. I imagine we’ll be going first again next year. I want the spark to be here that we’re playing to their [the advertisers’ brand] and creating some exciting programming. We came across as flat and not. There were shows that were well received by Madison Avenue, The Apprentice and Martha.

Q: What are you doing on the promotional front that goes beyond traditional marketing?
A: More often we’ve lead the way creatively. We got a little complacent and got used to winning -- you cut the spots and everyone shows up. We have a different view now. The creative on this year’s material is very exciting and feels like we’re back on our game. Our strategy has been altered since we had the most dominant airwaves. We have to be more creative. You’re going to see some new things. The network machine was traditionally geared for volume business, you put it all out there, you get your TV Guide blitz, promos and do a little radio. Cable companies needed to make noise with a much smaller platform. We were scrappier and spent more, in terms of overall campaigns. In that sense the network is realizing it is increasingly a more competitive environment. There’s going to be more focus and how we promote and more creative ways of getting to the consumer. We’ll have to start thinking about talking to the consumer. The goal is not to settle for traditional, static two heads on a one sheet. NBC Universal’s audience has been upscale and forward thinking, we’re competing with broadcast and cable in terms of maintaining and recruiting back. That’s our brand mission right now.

Q: What will you be doing a year from now?
A: The challenge no matter how good you are and how strong you seem to be, you wake up with a pit in your stomach asking do we have the best product: Are we reaching the message with 20 hours of originals a week? You put on hits and keep on hoping the hits will maintain. The feeling of sitting back and being secure is what we’re trying to shake or was shaken of us.

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