Network Chiefs: It's The Most Creative Time in Television

Network entertainment chiefs claimed that TV is in its halcyon days and looked ahead to possible weekend programming upgrades at a conference in NYC earlier this week.

The top programmers gathered for an event sponsored by the International Radio & Television Society Foundation. They said that despite several spin-offs and reality-based shows that seem to have saturated the networks within the past year or two, it’s probably the most creative time ever for network television.

‘Network programming today is better than it’s ever been,’ said Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Entertainment. Zucker pointed to programs like ‘American Dreams,’ ‘The West Wing’ and ‘Alias’ as examples of television’s creativity. FOX’s Gail Berman added ‘24’ as another example of the cutting edge of television creativity. She said FOX wasn’t planning any spin-offs or reworkings in the future but wouldn’t rule it out ‘if we thought it could bring an audience.’

ABC’s Susan Lyne pointed out that some of the best TV, like ‘Laverne and Shirley’ and ‘Maude,’ were spin-offs of other successful shows. ‘There’s a long history of good programming coming out of good programming,’ she said. UPN’s Dawn Ostroff said with a spin-off or reworking of a quality show, there’s even more pressure to live up to its standards.

CBS’ Nancy Tellem said shows like ‘Survivor,’ ‘Big Brother’ and even the dramatic series ‘Robbery Homicide Division’ were risks but ‘you can’t build your schedule around these risks. You have to have others.’ The executives disagreed with the perception that the networks have moved from counter-programming to ‘in your face’ tactics designed more to hurt the competition. Lyne said that while ABC and CBS had medical dramas at 10 p.m. Wednesday slot, they weren’t placed to run up against each other and both aren’t performing to the networks’ expectations.

Berman said Sunday’s FOX comedies were an answer to what other networks were doing. ‘We felt that putting another drama into the mix might not be appropriate,’ she said.

Zucker hinted that NBC might try to boost its ratings on Saturday nights, which has seen some pressure from the cable TV home-improvement show ‘Trading Spaces.’ He said NBC is running films acquired ‘in a different time’ in that time period now. ABC is also running films on Saturday night, although she said it was gathering good ratings for the network. As for one of TV’s million-dollar questions if ‘Friends’ doesn’t return for another season, Zucker backed off of his previously announced concerns about moving ‘Will and Grace’ to 8 p.m. Thursdays. He said the show is playing well in syndication in time slots before 8 p.m., perhaps setting up the high-rated NBC sitcom to move ahead an hour and a half.

‘Certainly Will and Grace could play earlier. I’m not say that we’re going to go that way, but it’s something to talk about,’ Zucker said.