I usually don’t live-blog Television Critics Association press tour panels except when they’re likely to be spectacularly newsworthy, spectacularly funny, spectacularly stupid or spectacularly awkward.
No fair guessing which of those four I’m expecting from Sunday (Jan. 10) morning’s NBC Executive Session featuring Jeff Gaspin (Chairman NBC Universal Television Entertainment) and Angela Bromstad (President, Primetime Entertainment, NBC and Universal Media Studios).
I do, however, expect Jay Leno to be mentioned once or twice. Follow along! [And click through…]
9:46 a.m. Pacific. The Olympics Panel, via satellite from Dallas’s new football stadium, ends promptly and two comfortable chairs are set up center stage at the Langham in Pasadena. The chairs are very close together, presumably in case Gaspin and Bromstad need to huddle close…
10:01 a.m. We’re getting close now. It’s a fair warning that these things are almost always anti-climactic and the odds of any actual Leno/Conan announces are close to zero. “The News Is Fake, But The Squirming Is Real.”
10:06 a.m. Jeff Gaspin confirms that as of February 12, “The Jay Leno Show” will no longer air in primetime. They want to keep Jay, Conan and Jimmy, but he can’t announce anything formally. The ideal plan for NBC is, as has been previously reported, Jay Leno at 11:35, Conan O’Brien at 12:05 and Jimmy Fallon following there-after.
10: 07 a.m. Preview of “The Marriage Ref” will air after the closing ceremony of the Olympics. And NBC is giving up the in-front process.
10:06 a.m. J.J. Abrams will be directed his new NBC pilot. NBC has also picked up a pilot for “Prime Suspect,” David E. Kelley’s “Kindreds” and a Bruckheimer show. Also, Rockford files and several other pilots. On the comedy side, it’s just Adam Corolla for now.
10:09 a.m. Gaspin says that he hopes the late night situation will be clarified by the start of the Olympics.
10:10 a.m. “I think that that was really, really overstated and not what we’ve found to be the case at all,” Bromstad says of the fear that the creative community might revolt.
10:10 a.m. “We’re working on that now…” Gaspin says of how the 10 p.m. hour will be programmed, vowing to work until the very last second before announcing. He says that they’ll be adding at least two drama hours, an hour of unscripted and a couple other hours.
10:11 a.m. “Look, I would have liked nothing more than to give this a 52-week try,” Gaspin says. He claims affiliates started complaining in early November, that some affiliates fell from No. 1 to No. 3 in news ratings largely because of Leno. He emphasizes that “The Jay Leno Show” did better in December, often coming in second. But the smaller affiliates started getting November numbers and in the middle of December, the drum-beating began, along with “the possibility of preemption.” Gaspin insists that, for NBC, “The Jay Leno Show” was still doing OK.
10:14 a.m. “This was not an issue for the network, really. It was an issue for the affiliates.”
10:14 a.m. “The proposal I made was for Conan to host ‘The Tonight Show’ starting at 12:05,” Gaspin says, adding that it’s “a fluid situation” and “everybody has the weekend to think about it.”
10:15 a.m. “It was working at acceptable levels at 10 o’clock,” Gaspin says, still swearing that if “The Jay Leno Show had been given time, it might have grown. “For the network, it was not yet a wrong decision.”
10:16 a.m. Why didn’t they attempt to tinker with “The Jay Leno Show.” Gaspin says, “In all honesty, I did not think there was that much more they could do. They were doing the show Jay felt comfortable doing.”
10:17 a.m. They’ll be seeing a first cut of “Rex is Not Your Lawyer” tomorrow and “Rex” could be ready for late spring or early fall “theoretically.”
10:17 a.m. “I think people just have a lot of choice at 10 o’clock,” Gaspin explains of the failure. NBC’s aspiration was really only to finish second, but it turns out there was competition at 10 p.m. Was this not the case before NBC made this decision?
10:18 a.m. “Friday Night Lights” is available as soon as March 1. Repeats of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” could go on now and the new season will have to wait until after it airs on USA.
10:20 a.m. “Both Jay and Conan and Jimmy were incredibly gracious and professional and they all said they understood the difficult position I was in,” Gaspin says, regarding the reaction of his late-night trio to this developing news.
10:21 a.m. Gaspin admits that going back to basics is probably their best bet for now. He points out that even though NBC handed the other networks a big chunk of available ratings at 10 p.m. but that other networks are still down, which to his mind implies that the model is still broken in some way.
10:22 a.m. “I have full confidence that you will see one of the best development slates from this network that you’ve seen in the past couple years,” Gaspin declares. Wow. Better than the year we got “Knight Rider”?
10:23 a.m. Bromstad notes that some shows would work on NBC cable networks because they’re on those brands, but they wouldn’t work on NBC, even as short-term fill-ins. “Right now we’re feeling very very positive,” Bromstad says of the network’s own development, which is 50-50 between NBC Universal Media Studios and outside studios.
10:24 a.m. Gaspin won’t say if *any* of the three late-night guys have agreed to what has been proposed. They have the weekend to think about it.
10:24 a.m. A critic tells Gaspin that *we* all saw this coming and wrote articles about how this wouldn’t work. Why didn’t *they* see this coming? Apparently there were two sets of research that said this had a good shot of working, sets of research that the affiliates saw as well.
10:26 a.m. Gaspin acknowledges that Conan has taken some time to adjust to his new environment, but they didn’t have the time to give him all of the time he needed. It has to do with a pre-conceived notion of that “The Tonight Show” needs to be and Gaspin hopes 12:05 might feel more familiar for Conan.
10:27 a.m. How quick a recovery can we expect? “I almost don’t care how quickly it happens, as long as it happens. I want to see progress with our schedule. I want to see progress with our ratings,” Gaspin says, saying he just wants to see ratings going up.
10:28 a.m. “Carson is going to be part of NBC, regardless of what happens,” Gaspin promises, though Carson Daly probably won’t be pushed all the way back to 2:05.
10:28 a.m. Gaspin can’t say what the format will be for a half-hour “The Jay Leno Show,” but Jay’s people are thinking about it.
10:29 a.m. “We are No. 1 in news. The ‘Today Show’ is an incredibly strong franchise,” Gaspin says. That’s how NBC is selling itself at this point. They also have the NFL and the Olympics. “Everyone knows we’re struggling in primetime,” Gaspin adds, though he praises “The Biggest Loser” and the NBC Thursday comedies. He also praises the “Law & Order” franchises and the quality of “Mercy.” No mention of “Chuck.”
10:31 a.m. “I don’t think it’s wrong to take chances… We might have been too early on this one.” Gaspin adds that NBC may be in position to take new scheduling chances again by fall. “We don’t have enough supply to meet demand,” Gaspin says, regarding the health of the advertising marketplace.
10:33 a.m. A David Hasselhoff question!!! Gaspin is beyond relieved. Howie Mandell will be replacing The Hoff.
10: 34 a.m. Bromstad says that the network will sit down with Tim Kring in the next few weeks. “It’s been performing very strongly in its 8 p.m. time slot,” Bromstad says, confusingly. No, it hasn’t. But it turns out that the fate of “Heroes” won’t be determined until NBC has seen its other pilots. Shocking.
10:35 a.m. “‘Southland,’ it was a tough decision,” Bromstad says, noting that “Southland” *was* launched at 10 p.m. “If we had it now, would it potentially be coming back on? Maybe,” Bromstad adds, saying that “Southland” probably found a better home on cable.
10:37 a.m. What is Conan’s motivation to stay? He mostly cares about the “Tonight Show” brand and he’ll still have that at 12:05.
10:38 a.m. They pitched Dick Wolf on doing a Los Angeles-based “Law & Order” and he’s thinking of doing it. He jokingly calls it “LOLA.”
10:39 a.m. So whose fault is this? “That’s an awesome question,” Gaspin says. Bromstad says that the fault isn’t just to be placed on one person. It sure sounds, though, as if Bromstad is happier now the way she is.
10:41 a.m. A last question. Does Conan have a right to be worried that NBC will backslide again and change the rules up on him? Why should he trust NBC? Gaspin calls this “a unique set of circumstances.” “I don’t expect another upheaval like we’ve had in the last year,” Gaspin says.
10:42 a.m. Credit where credit is due: NBC probably, under these circumstances, could not have done anything better than what Gaspin and Bromstad just did.
10:45 a.m. Thanks for following along, readers. There’s a lot of information here and we’ll probably grab a well-distilled AP story to sum it up.