Wednesday (Aug. 5) morning's Television Critics Association press tour executive session for NBC was expected to be a bit heated.
After all, Angela Bromstad (President, Primetime Entertainment, NBC and Universal Media Studios) and Paul Telegdy (Executive Vice President, Alternative Programming and Production, NBC and Universal Media Studios) were in position to answer for the recent departure of Ben Silverman, the upcoming primetime sacrifice to Jay Leno, the drooping ratings for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and the prospect of another season in fourth place.
The questions were certainly all asked, but Bromstad and Telegdy approached the event with an interesting strategy: They didn't answer much of anything. They talked in circles. They hedged. And they frequently said that they were the wrong people to speak for network decisions, even if they were the sacrificial lambs put on the executive session panel by Jeff Zucker and newly crowned king Jeff Gaspin.
What follows after the break is a chronicle of unanswered questions...
What is the NBC brand these days? "I think, you know, 'Heroes' is on-brand. I think 'The Office,' '30 Rock,' 'SVU' ... I think that those are the shows, the returning shows that we have are – sort of live up to the legacy of what NBC has always stood for, and I think we have fallen short in the past couple of years, and it's our goal to bring back, you know, those high-quality, sophisticated dramas and comedies and a brand of alternative that fits into that, which I think 'The Biggest Loser' does, and I think 'The Apprentice' does as well," Bromstad says.
[COMMENTARY: So the NBC brand is the shows that have succeeded on NBC and the shows that aren't NBC's brand are the shows that failed. Or the shows Ben Silverman had anything do to with.]
What was behind Ben Silverman's departure from NBC? Bromstad answered, "Well, I think that Ben... I think that this has always been Ben's plan. I think that his..." [At this point, we interrupted with our laughter.] "I think — sorry, I didn't mean to elicit — but I think it has always been Ben's plan to transition back to his entrepreneurial roots, so I don't think he was looking to be at NBC for a long-term thing. He brought Paul and I back. And I think that was part of putting everything in place and him transitioning out."
[COMMENTARY: If you can find any indication in Ben Silverman's blustery interviews about revitalizing the network television model that he only viewed the NBC job as a temporary way-station to the way to occupying a job he previously held, please let me know. Part of Ben's plan? Come on.]
Is there a contingency plan for if Jay Leno fails? "We're always looking at contingency plans for everything. I mean, we're constantly looking at things. I think that, based on our information, based on the research, based on the numbers that we see, that this is going to be a long-term commitment for us and that we feel really good about the 10 o'clock alternative basically because for the viewers, it really does give them an alternative at 10 o'clock."
[COMMENTARY: So that's a "Yes, but no."]
How are you feeling about how Conan has been doing in light of recent declines? "Well, I mean, that is the key measurement by which we're measured night-by-night and hour-by-hour because of our business. And I think all but one night he's been on, which he tied, he has won in 18-to-49s. And that is our business," Paul Telegdy said, before Bromstad added, "And I really think having Conan start during the summer and get his rhythm for the show — I think the true test is going to come this fall."
[COMMENTARY: That's kinda an answer, but it has nothing to do with the dramatic drop in Conan's ratings relative to Letterman over the last month.]
Nina Tassler of CBS joked about how you guys keep declaring victory... How are you defining King of Late Night? After several minutes in which both Bromstad and Telegdy tried saying they couldn't answer the question, Telegdy added, "What I would say about what networks say in terms of declarations and victory and time slots and the specifics, this is what we're measured by hour-by-hour and day-by-day, and announcements are made, and you guys write what you will write, and to an extent we announce and manage perception of our own output." Bromstad added, "I think it's fair to say we're going to declare victories where we have them."
[COMMENTARY: This from the network that has been known to promote shows like "Southland" and "The Listener" as smash hits, weeks after anybody stopped watching them?]
Could you possibly have pushed "Parenthood" back without outing Maura Tierney's health concerns for the world? Bromstad responded quickly, "No. And, you know, I think that Maura — we made that announcement completely in sync with Maura and her people. I think that, you know, I want to respect Maura's privacy because being in that situation cannot be fun, and then to have to deal with the public nature of it on top of it. I will say that it was a very natural decision that we came to because, if any of you have seen 'Parenthood,' you know how amazing Maura is in that show. So it was simply this is something that happened. We have to deal with it. We have to allow her to deal with it."
[COMMENTARY: Actually, the first words out of her mouth were the answer. And, if you ask me, the true answer. NBC couldn't push "Parenthood" back without explanation, since the network can't afford any perception of creativity difficulty. But what did any of the rest of that mean?]
Any interest in bringing Paula Abdul over to NBC? Telegdy responded, " Paula's an exceptional piece of talent that I've been lucky enough to meet a couple of times. We've got no specific plans for her, but I read the breaking news last night and wouldn't rule anything out."
[COMMENTARY: None, really. There was no real answer he could have given.]
Might "Chuck" come on sooner than March and might there be a chance for more than 13 episodes? Bromstad says, "Well, the great thing with “Chuck” is that they are on a great track creatively. We've got, I think, three or four scripts in already, and so it is something that we can move around, but right now, it's not scheduled to come on until March. It's only got a 13-episode pickup. We have talked about, you know, is 'Chuck' something that we move into — you know, allow to run over into the summer and be part of our summer programming? Those are just discussions that we are going to continue to have."
[COMMENTARY: They weren't really going to have an answer to this one. But I wanted to add a little "Chuck" info for anybody making it this deep into the story.]