Friday, February 05, 2010

NATPE: Jeff Gaspin, Chairman, NBC Universal Television Entertainment

Conan O'Brien Vs NBC was on everyone's mind at NATPE. It was a constant opener in discussions, and more than one punchline. Jeff Gaspin had no hope of avoiding the topic of that $45 million for nothing to Conan, especially on the heels of the announcement just before the conference that NBC would lose $250 million on the Olympics.  Let's have a look at who this guy is. The following comes straight off the NBC Universal executive bio pages:

Jeff Gaspin, who was promoted to Chairman, NBC Universal Television Entertainment in July 2009, oversees all business, creative, production, distribution and marketing aspects of NBC Universal's wide-ranging entertainment television operations. 
Among the businesses he's responsible for are NBC Entertainment (home of critically acclaimed and popular shows including "30 Rock," "The Office," "Heroes," "The Apprentice," "The Tonight Show," "Saturday Night Live," "Days of our Lives," and the "Law & Order" franchise); cable's top-rated USA Network and buzz-generating, growing channels Syfy, Bravo, Oxygen, Chiller, Sleuth, and Universal HD; Spanish language outlets Telemundo and Mun2; TV production companies Universal Media Studios (which produces dozens of top shows, including "House" and "30 Rock") and Universal Cable Productions...
And on and on and on and on... I appreciate Jeff Gaspin's apparent candor, but I fear he may be out of a job in the next year.

The absolute best line of the entire conference came when Gaspin was asked about how NBC could possibly justify/be optimistic about the prospect of losing $250 million on the Olympics. From his perspective, the Olympics "will be a cleansing moment" for the network before relaunching their schedule March 1. $250 million buys one helluva shower. Or is the "cleansing" more of an enema? I apologize, but the guy asked for it.

Other Gaspin nuggets: He admitted that he was surprised that Conan was "so emotional" about the scheduling situation. Gaspin just shrugged, and said repeatedly that he thought they had come up with a plan to keep both Leno and O'Brien...and also admitted that they goal that started all this to begin with was wanting to keep Jay in the first place.

Jay! Jay! Jay! Always Jay! At some point I will pontificate on the nut-so scheduling choice of stripping Leno during primetime--which goes against typical network programming strategies regardless of the personalities involved, by taking late-night programming and throwing it in primetime. But I'll save that rant for later.

Asked whether the network now had an image problem, Gaspin tried to shrug it off. "What hurts us is not having enough hits on the air." Which, I guess, is true. What can I say. After he loses this job, he has a future in politics. "The economy is bad because not enough people have jobs." Etc. Etc. Later he admitted that the bottom line was NBC did have an image problem IF the creative community was alienated from the network.

Gaspin admitted that he thought the company had taken too much out of the broadcast business with its emphasis on cable (USA especially), a move which made sense for the company, but not the network.

On the optimistic tip, Gaspin pointed out NBC's aggressive program development: 20 pilots will be done this year. Later, admitting that 55% of those would be produced by NBC. "I really just want to get the best shows on the air," he said. He admitted that he might use a hit as a loss leader, pointing out that he liked how FOX uses House (produced by NBC) to launch other shows. "Broadcasting" equals network + studio according to Gaspin, and those two together are still a good business model. The upfronts would be "a time to celebrate broadcasting" presumably meaning not just what NBC had on the air, but what it was producing for other broadcasters.

Asked whether the Comcast deals was affecting NBC currently he said they couldn't at all because they aren't allowed to participate in any decisions until regulatory approval. So he didn't offer any suggestions about how anyone might be forward-thinking about this new ownership model, how it might change what NBC does. Actually, listening to him, I believe he probably doesn't have much of that "vision thing" to offer.

Finally, Gaspin was asked what he had learned in his time as chairman at NBC. He took a nice long time coming up with an answer. Finally, he said he had underestimated the emotions involved, particularly those of Conan, and thought he had simply presented a logical plan for keeping both onboard.  He also said he was surprised by the speed of the public discussion--and even recognized that people were bloggering/twittering what he was saying then.

Well, took me another week, actually.


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