Monday, 27 September 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #602: NBC: Now Burke's Channel

Welcome to the show folks...

It's official, Jeff Zucker, NBC-Universal's long time el jefe has been fired, effective as soon as the Comcast takeover is finalized, and replaced by Comcast's #2 Steve Burke.

There are two fundamental facts that I would like to say about Mr. Burke.

1. He cannot possibly do any worse.

2. He is going to have his work cut out for him.

Under Zucker's lack of leadership NBC went from being the #1 network and home to mega-hits like
Seinfeld and Friends to being beaten by the gardening channel, while Universal Studios suffered a severe slump with money burning mega-flops like Land of the Lost.

Some reports, like this one, say that he's tough, straightforward, willing to take carefully calculated risks, who dislikes sycophants, leaks, the sort of toxic office politics that distract from the business of running a successful company.

That can only mean that heads are going to roll at NBC, which has the reputation as one of Hollywood's most dysfunctional and treacherous corporate cultures. Remember, this is Hollywood we're talking about, so you can just imagine what kind of a snake-pit the place is.

So I'd like to take a moment, and lay out what Mr. Burke will probably have to do to get the network and the studio back on its feet.


1. Stop Zucker's Inane & Insane "Margin Game." One of the reasons Zucker was such a disaster was because he tried to take the audience out of the equation. He though that as long as the shows were cheap enough, had enough product placements, and no outside partners, he could somehow squeeze out a profit from shows that didn't have any viewers. That's insane. Unless a network is at least trying to be #1, it might as well be shut down.

2. Drop the illusion of "Synergy." Sure, every movie studi0/TV network conglomerate would love to be able to do everything in house in order to save money and hoard profits. Only it doesn't really work. To run a successful creative business, one must have regular infusions of fresh blood and the sort of energy that can only be created by friction. NBC must open its doors to more independent producers and even other studios to do more business with them than they did during the Zucker years.

3. Figure out how to sell their damn shows. Right now the biggest hurdle NBC has to jump is that fact that they are NBC. It will be hard to generate positive buzz for NBC's shows, and I think this season will be a washout for the network. I watched 5 minutes of NBC's flagship Friday night legal drama Outlaw, and thought that it was some elaborate act of revenge against the network by Conan O'Brien the owner of Conaco the show's co-producer.

4. See what USA Network is doing right. Right now NBC's cable stepchild the USA Network is doing pretty damn good with original shows winning viewers all over the country. Maybe they should take a look and see what they're doing in the hopes of bringing some of that good karma to the mother network.


1. Control costs. Feature films are literally being priced out of existence. Even Judd Apatow, who had a great run as Universal's reliable money machine, lost a small fortune on Funny People. Why? Because it cost too damn much. A studio can control costs when they--

2. Try to find the middle ground. During lean times Universal kept the wolves at bay by producing films that were a lot cheaper than their competition. Look to genres that aren't inherently expensive. I'm talking comedy, horror, and action-adventures done on a reasonable scale.

3. Forget the star system. The overwhelming majority of "Movie Stars" are way better at wasting your studio's money than putting ticket buying bums in seats. Don't make movie deals simply because the actor in question has a publicist that can get their mug on multiple magazine covers every month. That says more about the publicist than the actor.

4. Open the damn doors. Universal should start some sort of apprenticeship program for new filmmakers. Filmmakers that can be taught to do things in a cost effective manner and have some loyalty towards the studio because they know that they haven't been screwed over financially. This can be done with a low budget 'exploitation' label producing movies for Universal and NBC's theatrical, home video and cable markets, with an emphasis on good entertaining stories told in an entertaining way. If the filmmakers show real talent and fiscal responsibility, they can graduate to doing bigger films for the studio or TV shows for the network.

Then, maybe, two once great companies can be great again.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Furious D.
    Do you think a young Spielberg could get into Universal today or ever again ?
    Could Universal again give us TV fare such as Columbo or would he have to be a pretty boy teen star in smart designer product placement clothes and Ferrari ?
    It would be great if NBC and Universal became great again but it is needs to be wide open to new talented writers, new directors, producers and MAKE STARS not pay pensions to stars who have even forgotten what they did to deserve star salaries as the hits were so long ago....if ever. The studios confuse publicity for wearing dresses to other people's premieres with ticket sales to their own.