What hurts a TV brand most? Not the obvious. NBC News' different entities were not affected by what everyone seemed to think would affect them.
A lot had been made of MSNBC's big time opinion-makers -- especially the former controversial host Keith Olbermann. But, according to former NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker, he and other MSNBC hosts/commentators didn't hurt the likes of "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams" or "The Today Show."
Say what you will about NBC in prime time or NBC in late night, other NBC assets did not get hurt under Jeff Zucker's reign. "Today" has been number one for 15 years, and Brian Williams has been in first place for a number of years as the best-rated early evening network news show.
Zucker says it wasn't a premeditative intention to "go left" with MSNBC. That just came out of what Olbermann was saying about Republicans and President Bush -- "We couldn't help but notice that," Zucker told a New York audience during the Promax/BDA television marketing conference. NBC decided to go with the flow.
Nice to know that television executives kind of let lightning-in-a-bottle happen, which should be lesson learned for the future as Zucker steers Katie Couric around syndication's afternoon turf. The lesson -- sometimes -- is to know when to let a TV brand breathe, and perhaps fumble along its way.
That said, letting things run with Olbermann wasn't much of concern. As Zucker said, MSNBC, as a cable network, "couldn't get arrested." So there was nothing to lose. In other dayparts, well known brands like "The Tonight Show" and NBC prime time had much more to lose.
TV executives are always looking for "complementary" assets -- all to help sell advertising and participate in cross-marketing/promotional efforts. But few back then would have ever thought that the now-outspoken hosts on MSNBC would ever complement traditional NBC journalistic traditions.
To paraphrase Zucker, trust the viewer.