NBC Keeps Focus on Digital, Dramas

Buyers, However, Seemed Underwhelmed

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Last year, NBC kicked off its upfront with a funny little sketch of Kevin Reilly going insane and about to lose his job as the network dropped from first place to fourth over the course of a season. This year, the network chose to focus on its strengths, trotting out the full cast from its only two bona fide new hits, "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office," to poke fun at themselves and the network management.
Jeff Zucker
Jeff Zucker Credit: AP

The closest anyone got to any Kevin Reilly jokes was when B.J. Novak, who plays temporary employee Ryan Howard on "The Office," called himself the "highest paid temp on television ... except for Kevin Reilly." Perhaps the joke hit a little too close to home though: Few in the audience laughed.

Radio city presentation
The presentation was unveiled per usual at Radio City Music Hall before advertisers made their way across the street to the garden at 30 Rock to sip on Scotch and snack on roast beef and turkey. The NBC crowd thinned around 7 p.m., when many made their way down 52nd Street to the Four Seasons restaurant for the William Morris Agency's bash, where Kevin Spacey and J.J. Abrams were among the guests.

A few of the NBC programs were well-received, although some media buyers who had attended the earlier development meetings in Los Angeles said the presentation lacked the excitement of that earlier unveiling. ("That's because at the development meetings they only showed their three best shows," one skeptic said.)

Other buyers grumbled that the network didn't reveal the scheduling until the end of the program, likely trying to keep the audience from prejudging the shows based on where NBC slotted them. (See full fall season schedule here.)

Poking fun at itself
NBC clearly is willing to poke fun at itself in a few of the new offerings. "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," by far the most hyped new series, is a behind-the-scenes soap opera about a live sketch-comedy show (think "Saturday Night Live"). The clip reel included a reference to a "psycho religious cult that gets positively horny at the sound of a boycott."

The program that NBC hasn't said a much about but appeared to get the most laughs was a new comedy from "SNL's" Tina Fey that's also a behind-the-scenes look at a sketch-comedy show. "30 Rock" stars Alec Baldwin, who plays the "East Coast vice president of television and microwave programming ovens" for "NBC GE Universal Kmart." (NBC is a division of NBC Universal, whose parent is General Electric Co. No word yet on a merger with Kmart.)

"Every once in awhile there comes along an idea that is so moving NBC only has two of them," Mr. Baldwin told the audience when he came out on stage to promote the show. The line was a reference to the similarities between "Studio 60" and "30 Rock." NBC maintains that "Studio 60" is a drama and "30 Rock" a comedy.

Some buyers thought the clips of "Studio 60" appeared confusing and that there was much better material in what they saw at the development meetings. Other well-regarded shows were "Kidnapped" and "The Black Donnellys," the latter created by "Crash" director Paul Haggis.

Shows too dark?
But buyers were concerned some of the shows might seem too dark.

"It was either comedy or dark,” said Andy Jung, Kellogg North America's senior director-advertising and marketing. Added Shari Cohen, co-president of broadcast at MindShare: "Prime-time programming is about copycats and right now it's about high-intensity dramas. There's only so many of those shows viewers can watch a week."

Toward the end of the two-hour presentation, Jeff Zucker spent a good 15 minutes unveiling NBC's "360-degree" digital strategy, including an announcement that each of NBC Universal's networks would be premiering its shows on a "First Look" franchise that lives at each of the network Web sites.

Praise for digital strategies
The digital strategies, which differed from show to show, won praise for being experimental, although some groused Mr. Zucker spent too much time talking about them.

"I thought the digital strategy was spot on," said Stacey Lynn Koerner, president-consumer experience, Interpublic Media. Matt Feinberg, who heads Zenith's interactive TV group, said NBC was "using digital as a Triple A farm league to develop talent. It's brilliant."

But another marketer was more cynical: "It's 358 degrees TV and 2 online."
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