Should one aspire to a legacy in television? Only as much as one should pursue business and ethics, or military and intelligence.
Kevin Reilly had some "legacy," as Jeff Zucker, president/CEO of NBC Universal described it, in reference to Reilly's departure as the president of entertainment at NBC. Zucker said Reilly's legacy included shows such as "The Office," "Friday Night Lights" and "Heroes."
But let's face it. Legacy is a pompous word -- and doesn't seem to affix itself to television in any meaningfully social way. We all need to snap out of it.
Legacy? Maybe Albert Einstein had one. Genius is another word that tends to be misused in the land of TV programming executives. Possibly Einstein could be fitted with this descriptor, but not many others.
Will we remember Reilly's programming legacy any more than that of other executives? Is that really the point?
It's television. A couple of laughs, a stirring moment, and then we're off to sleep, work, or putting the baby to bed.
When it comes to media ad executives, legacy means very little. At this point in the upfront process -- for the 2007-2008 broadcast season -- it's all about picking those knucklehead-type successes where, seven months from now, you slap yourself on the head and say, "Who knew 'The Singing Bee' would be such a hit?"
There's your legacy.
Three years for any programming executive seems about average -- which was the length of Reilly's stay. In the land of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, Reilly always seemed a little hamstrung -- not just from having Jeff Zucker as his predecessor and boss, but from seemingly being unable to spend a whole lot of money on developing new shows -- and, of course, doing things the GE way.
"Legacy" sounds like a big word when you consider NBC is the network that in recent years brought you "Fear Factor" and, more recently, "Deal or No Deal." Game show and reality shows are a necessary evil not just for NBC but for all networks.
Not happy with that word? How about another loaded word, "quality," that NBC still tries to bring in during the upfront proceedings? The word might mean good writing -- but not necessarily a lot of viewers.
The real question is: What legacy was left when Reilly started? We can only think of a No. 1 network, long past its prime and on the way down. His humble approach was to maximize what little chess pieces were left on the prime-time board that he was allowed to play with.