Affiliates Applaud, Challenge Incoming NBC Management

More NBCU/Comcast Coverage

NBC affiliates mostly applaud Comcast's corporate announcements for NBC Thursday, appreciating the fact that the leadership in the departments they view as solid, such as news, were left in place, while those in need of fresh eyes, such as entertainment, will be getting just that.

"It looks like a fairly solid team," says WCNC Charlotte President/General Manager Tim Morrissey. "I don't think there were a lot of surprises there."

Amidst the inherent concern over a cable giant acquiring a broadcaster, the station partners appreciate that newly named executives, such as Ted Harbert and Robert Greenblatt, have strong broadcast backgrounds. (Harbert ran ABC's entertainment division years ago, while Greenblatt oversaw primetime for Fox.) They urge the new leaders to take bold steps to fix the still ailing primetime.

"As broadcasters, you like to hear the names of other broadcasters coming on board--people that have been affiliated with networks and stations before," said the GM at an NBC affiliate in a Top 20 market. "In the areas where they needed to do triage, I think they did."

NBC affiliates board chairman Brian Lawlor was not available for comment at presstime.

Several affiliates were reluctant to speak on the record, as the Comcast-NBC merger has not yet closed.

The announcements include Harbert as chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Greenblatt as chairman of NBC Entertainment. Dick Ebersol will continue to oversee sports and Steve Capus will continue to run news; both are very popular among affiliates, who have little quibble with the performance of those two divisions.

The announcement, from incoming CEO Steve Burke, says NBC Local Media President John Wallace will report to Harbert.

As has been reported, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker and NBC Universal Television President Jeff Gaspin are departing after the merger.

Despite a groundswell of optimism about NBC's prime going into the fall, new shows like The Event and Chase are failing to grab large audiences. Stations' prime numbers are up over last year's Leno-at-10 debacle, but the anticipated turnaround has not yet materialized, and holes are starting to pop up in the schedule again.

Affiliates hope Greenblatt's track record at Showtime, which has launched buzzy shows such as Dexter and Weeds, will carry over to NBC's prime. "Having somebody from a hot cable network bodes well," said one NBC affiliate GM. "I'd think someone coming out of Showtime would have good relationships with a lot of writers and producers in Hollywood."

Most affiliates are taking a wait-and-see attitude about what the merger will mean for their local affairs. Many say the Comcast brass, such as Burke, have very good reputations, but the affiliates are reluctant to issue judgment without having met them and hearing their strategy.

"I like the idea of the talented people coming from Comcast," says WJAR Providence VP/General Manager Lisa Churchville. "They've got very solid, intelligent people with rich backgrounds."

Indeed, the gut feelings on the affiliate side about the pending marriage seem to be mostly favorable. "Long term, I think it'll be good to be owned by a media company instead of an electric company," says a GM in a smaller southern market. "As of today, I think it's a good thing."

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.