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TCA: NBC's Gaspin Vows To Improve

 NBC entertainment chief Jeff Gaspin struck a humble tone during a Q&A with reporters at his network's session of the Television Critics Association summer press tour July 30.

Gaspin said NBC's failings last season stemmed from making decisions from a position of weakness. And as he has since the Jay Leno/Conan O'Brien debacle earlier this year, he vowed to do better.

"I think we made too many changes too quickly from a position of weakness," he said. "So it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think that really jeopardized some of the decisions that we made."

Asked what kind of changes he's bracing for when the Comcast/NBC Universal merger goes through, as is expected, Gaspin said, "It's hard to speculate. I've known [Comcast COO] Steve [Burke] and [Comcast Chairman and CEO] Brian [Roberts] for many years."

In a reference to current owner GE's markedly different core business, Gaspin added having "other executives in the media space to have conversations with about what's going on and the way to approach the future, is valuable."

Gaspin also addressed rumors that former Showtime entertainment executive Bob Greenblatt may be talking to NBC about a role at the company. Gaspin said he has asked his bosses about whether they have had conversations with Greenblatt about coming to NBC and the answer was "No."
And while Conan O'Brian may be long gone from NBC, the erstwhile Tonight Show host may be back on the network in August for NBC's Emmy telecast, which is being hosted by Jimmy Fallon. O'Brien's Tonight Show has been nominated for an Emmy in the late night comedy/variety category, while The Tonight Show with Jay Leno has not. Gaspin said he has "no problem" with O'Brien appearing on the telecast as a presenter, adding "just not as a host."

Gaspin also good naturedly addressed questions about rumors of alleged impropriety against former ABC Entertainment president Steve McPherson, a story that has dominated chatter at this summer's press tour.

One critic asked Gaspin if sexual harassment was a common problem in the industry. "I've not had any experience with it personally and actually have not been involved in any cases of it," he said. "I don't believe [it's a problem], but I don't know."

NBC will launch multiple new dramas (Undercovers, Chase, The Event, Law & Order: Los Angeles, Outlaw) and one new comedy (Outsourced) next season, a hefty freshman class necessitated by the demise of the primetime Jay Leno experiment. And while the fourth-place network has its work cut out for it, Gaspin did note that the top-rated show on television, American Idol, may be vulnerable to competition next season.

"We don't have to be afraid necessarily to put what we think is a good show up against it," he said.

American Idol is in the throes of an overhaul in the wake of Simon Cowell's exit from the Fox show. The network is expected to announce that Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler are the new judging panel, a return to a three-judge format after multiple seasons with four judges that did not always mesh.

"I think the Idol situation poses an opportunity," said Gaspin, although not necessarily for another music show.

NBC will put considerable promotional push behind big-budget dramas Undercovers and serialized conspiracy thriller The Event, which poses some challenges in terms of keeping viewer eyeballs.

Angela Bromstad, head of NBC primetime, said the network has carefully plotted The Event's unfolding storyline in an effort to stem viewer ambivalence that has plagued similar shows including ABC's Flash Forward.

"We are going to do everything in our power to guard against a Flash Forward [situation]," she said. "We take those lessons really seriously. All I can tell you is that the audience and critics will be rightly skeptical and we're going to have to prove [ourselves].

"We accept and will have to deal with the skepticism in terms of returning to this genre," she added. "But if you can get something like this right - the risks are tremendous, but the rewards are compelling."