Not Just The Wrongs But The Rights At NBC, Along With Finger-Pointing
We know the bad stuff: hiring Ben Silverman; offering Conan O'Brien five years of promissory notes to prevent him from going elsewhere; trying to eliminate upfront presentations; looking to reinvent 8 p.m. family hour with reality shows, to save money; and -- the big one -- looking to reinvent the 10 p.m. hour with Leno, to save money.
But if you can stand it, let's look at the distant memory of the good stuff:
Three seasons in a row of begging the stars of "Friends" to return to the NBC lineup probably added hundreds of million of dollars in upfront advertising the network wouldn't have otherwise received.
In addition, all the marketing spin around "Friends" also helped keep NBC on top -- if artificially. The downside, is those millions spent on rehiring the "Friends" cast could have been used for long-term program development.
Keeping "Friends" together kept ratings up in the 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. half-hour on Thursday in hope of launching a new 8:30 p.m. show. That, of course, didn't happen.
A short-term positive? Grabbing "The Apprentice" quickly for Thursday night, giving NBC two strongly rated seasons.
"Fear Factor" was an unsung hero, a profitable show running from June 2001 to September 2006. Unlike other reality shows, "Factor" was a self-contained series, one where episodes could be reaired, and which got decent ratings. According to sources, it earned NBC $600 million in advertising revenue.
A couple of other positive notes: Harvey Weinstein credited Zucker with green-lighting "Project Runway" for Bravo after other NBC Universal executives dismissed it. (Of course, later on Weinstein took it away from NBC Universal in a high-profile legal tussle and placed it on Lifetime).
Jim Cramer credited Zucker with starting up "Mad Money" on CNBC. Zucker also made a push for Hulu.com, a critics' fave.
Individual cable franchises don't get all the glare of NBC prime time or late night -- and surely not all the money and goodwill from drop-at-a-hat, testy affiliates.
Still, the bad can overwhelm the good. Putting "Leno" on at 10 p.m. may cost the network some $200 million in lost advertising dollars, as well as new development costs NBC will need to get back on track with.
What's the score? Right now, you'd say Zucker is playing well below .500, with little chance of making the playoffs. Then again, the New York Jets are playing in the AFC championship game next week.
Winning football, like TV, can come out of nowhere.