The ghost of Ben Silverman lingered on at NBC’s portion of the TV Critics Assn. summer press tour Wednesday, with NBC Primetime Entertainment president Angela Bromstad doing her best to outline a post-Ben vision for the Peacock.
Bromstad, appearing on stage with unscripted chief Paul Telegdy, was peppered with questions about Silverman’s last months in office, his strategy of acquiring international co-productions and the impact stripping Jay Leno five nights a week will have on the network’s ratings and development strategy.
The bottom line message Bromstad attempted to deliver: NBC has started to turn the corner and now has a stable executive team — and strategy — in place.
"There’s tremendous continuity and calm," Bromstad said. "We’re moving in the right direction."
Bromstad also tried to squeeze in a declaration about production costs, arguing it was a fundamental problem for all broadcasters — and Hollywood in general.
"We’ve just allowed shows to become far too expensive," she said. "We’ve allowed it on the feature side and in TV. We’ve got to get it under control."
Bromstad added that it would be "naive to think we can keep doing business the way we have been."
The executive said NBC has already found ways to make shows more cost-effective, citing "Heroes" as a key example. "We’ve cut $300,000 or $400,000 from that budget," she said.
As for the internal dramas at NBC, Bromstad noted that she and Telegdy have been running NBC’s day-to-day affairs since December, lessening the shockwaves from Silverman’s exit. Bromstad unintentionally provoked laughter, however, when answering a question about why Silverman left.
"This has always been Ben’s plan," she said, clarifying that Silverman had always seemed determined to get back to his "entrepreneurial roots."
Bromstad spent a big chunk of her press conference addressing concerns over both the upcoming Leno show and Conan O’Brien’s performance as host of "The Tonight Show."
O’Brien remains on top in the key adult demos, but he’s slipped behind David Letterman in overall viewers.
Critics, referencing remarks by CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler earlier this week, demanded to know if NBC would "declare victory" at 10 p.m. no matter what.
Some took issue with a press release the network issued calling O’Brien "the new king of late-night" after just a week of ratings.
"We’re going to declare victories where we have them," she said, adding that NBC wouldn’t judge Leno’s success or failure after just a week on the air.
"We’re not going to declare (success based on) a specific rating," she said. "There are a lot of things that will mean success for the show."
Bromstad also made a strong case for why the Leno 10 p.m. move makes sense.
"We really needed to change up the 10 p.m. hour," she said, noting the three networks’ declining audience share in the hour.
"It’s so clear we went with our strengths" by keeping Leno on NBC, she said. "We would have been crazy to let him go. We would have been absolutely crazy."
She also said that planned changes to Leno format, along with tweaks O’Brien has made to "Tonight," should ease any concerns that NBC will be programming too much evening comedy.
"There will be even less repetitiveness than there had been," she said.
While agents and others in the creative community initially reacted with shock to the decision to lose five hours of scripted fare, Bromstad said NBC hasn’t suffered any negative consequences in its ability to develop top-notch fare.
"We’re getting all the pitches," she said. "People still want to be on NBC because of what it stands for."
What’s more, having a narrower development focus– and fewer needs– has made it easier to focus on finding successful projects. "It’s still not easy to get a hit comedy or drama but it does help," she said.
While Silverman and his team had already started work on this season’s shows when Bromstad arrived, Bromstad said she feels as if she has ownership of NBC’s fall schedule.
"It’s a hybrid" of her and Silverman’s efforts, she said, adding that in "terms of casting and director," she feels the schedule is hers.
"And I’m very proud of it," she added.
Bromstad admitted that NBC has "fallen short in the past couple of years" developing shows that fit in with the network’s legacy series, such as "The Office" and "Law & Order."
"It’s our goal to bring back those high-quality, sophisticated brand of comedies and dramas," she said.
So how will Bromstad judge her success or failure a year from now?
"We want to move forward," she said. "We have to move forward. I’d like to have one or two (of NBC’s new shows) return. I’d like to get a full season on a show; two seasons would be great. And I’d like a successful fall launch and a successful midseason launch."