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Could Comcast's NBC Look Like CBS?

Tuning In: Brian Steinberg on the Changing TV Industry

By Published on . 1

NBCU's musical chairs: Anyone following the TV business is hearing lots of random details about which executive might be doing what at the new Comcast-led NBC Universal. All we hear are the letters C-B-S.

Nancy Tellem
Nancy Tellem Credit: CBS
Why? Depending on who you believe (check out stories from The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline.com and The Wrap), Comcast may have at the least considered veteran CBS honcho Nancy Tellem for a senior role; it may have been talking to former Showtime executive Bob Greenblatt about running the entertainment operations for the NBC broadcast network; and it may or may not see a role for current senior NBCU executive Jeff Gaspin.

The executive-changes story is, well, changing every day, but the picture's pretty clear for advertisers. NBCU has strong cable assets, a weak broadcast network and a variety of good venues for marketers' campaigns. Comcast's arrival could herald a new era in which the cable distributor tries to leverage NBCU's massive content to drive new couch-potato behavior that includes the embrace of more video on demand and new forms of interactive, high-tech advertising.

So why do we hear the tinkle of the Tiffany Network in the background? All the chatter about Mr. Greenblatt and Ms. Tellem suggests Comcast likes what CBS has done in terms of building a business in today's broadcast landscape. That means eschewing the sorts of narrowly targeted sitcoms and dramas that appeal to the modern urbanite (think "30 Rock" or "Friday Night Lights") in favor of big broad stuff that reels in the masses. Yes, it would be a shame to see some of NBC's smart and quirky programs bite the dust, but media companies have little room for error these days and NBC's broadcast plight has gone on so long that even the jokes on "30 Rock" and "Saturday Night Live" poking fun at the network have lost their zing, trading humor for a sort of sad resignation.

CBS has its own issues. The parent company, CBS Corp., is overly reliant on its broadcast network, without much ad-supported cable to help bear the load. So CBS has less incentive to allow underperforming programs to find their way, and tends to stick to proven entertainment concepts rather than throwing something at the wall to see if it will stick or not. It's true, it might have been nice to see how now-canceled programs like "Jericho" or "Swingtown" panned out if they were nursed along, but money is money, and these times don't allow for the least athletic kid in the pack to get a few more races to get in shape.

Bringing in CBS Corp. executives to focus on reviving the NBC broadcast network makes perfect sense. Acolytes of Leslie Moonves, CBS's chief executive, certainly know the playbook, and having that expertise at hand would allow Comcast to place more focus on weaving NBCU's Olympics and "Sunday Night Football" broadcasts into something more substantial on the sports-programming front, and, as we mentioned, bringing technology to bear on behaviors that could help drive advertising and subscription revenue over the long haul.

If any of these moves come to pass, perhaps we'll see shows on NBC like "Law & Order: CSI" or "Surivor: Apprentice" -- well-established formats with the widest appeal.

Lou Dobbs in an earlier appearance on Fox News Channel.
Lou Dobbs in an earlier appearance on Fox News Channel.
Lou Dobbs' return: In yet another breathless fit, the news media is all agog about Lou Dobbs' return to TV after leaving CNN about a year ago. This time Mr. Dobbs is surfacing on Fox Business Channel, and we pretty much expect him to keep on keeping on about the topics that made him such a flashpoint on CNN. The Time Warner news outlet is trying to distance itself from partisan remarks and hoping to make a business out of shooting down the middle, even as the Fox cable-news outlets and MSNBC make ratings hay by working the sidelines. For Fox Business, Mr. Dobbs brings a known quantity to a network that's still in startup mode.

Tuning In is an ongoing series of commentaries by Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg on the TV schedule, the ads it carries and changes within the industry. Follow him on Twitter.

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