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WEB EXCLUSIVE : Q+A with NBC's Kevin Reilly

On the heels of last week’s major “NBC U 2.0” announcement, NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly spoke with B&C’s Ben Grossman about how the announcement will affect his division, whether NBC is truly getting out of the scripted business at 8 p.m. and what lies ahead for NBC in primetime.

What’s going to be the fallout from the decision to make this public announcement?

I think short term it is probably going to create a lot more anxiety and questions than ultimately will be warranted. This community, will it mean, “Oh my god they are going out of the scripted business, there are going to be less time slots, they are spending less money.” That will be their reaction, but I don’t think it will be warranted come May (when they define the fall schedule).There will not be a drastic departure.What it means now is beefing up our reality programming and playing with the mix a little bit.

So why make the announcement about 8 p.m. when you could have just done it and no one would have noticed?

Exactly right.To a certain extent we and the industry are doing it already, so why proclaim it?I  think it’s wrong for the community to take a very narrow view of primetime, this is really company wide. Some of our competitors will try and fan the flames and say its some sort of a retreat or the rumor mill could build it up to a place where it signals a departure from our quality, but it wont be the case.So why declare it?I think to galvanize and focus the entire company, because there are going to be some personnel cuts, and that’s the main reason why.

So how frustrating is this announcement for you?

It is frustrating for me in that I am going to have to try and explain it, where as if it were unsaid, it would just be under the head of evolving business.We have just started the rebuild and are finally getting traction, that’s why I don’t want this to be a signal that we are going to come off the gas.

Will there be direct effects on development?

Where traditionally we would do those last 3-4 comedy pilots, now those funds will be diverted to reality, where frankly the batting average has been much higher and it is more feasible to experiment with digital interactive elements and advertising integration. But we are virtually closed for this year’s development and we have already bought very aggressively and we will make about as many pilots as we made last year.

How will the changes impact the primetime lineup?

Ultimately we are talking about cost measures and more of a dedication of resources to interactive and reality.When you really boil it down, that’s all it is at the network.It comes under a bigger headline of other stuff company-wide that may have a bigger impact right now.But, if we come to May and we only have a couple new shows on the air and the mix has drastically changed, then I’ll have a lot of explaining to do.

Where will this hit you the hardest?

Cost has been an issue here for several years as we ran into tough times, so we’ve already been doing the belt tightening and fancy footwork.Frankly, as for the reality part of it, we’ve already increased our budget accordingly and moved some money and resources around.We have been planning on this, so most of our stuff is already in motion.

But there are now 5-7 less slots for scripted programming?

There may or may not be. In order to try things like Studio 60, we are also going to do 1 vs 100, which costs a fraction and frankly has done a bigger premiere with no marketing budget than 95% of shows on any network.

So there will be no new scripted on at

I don’t think I can say that, because there are certain timeslots where we will have to program a scripted show to counter a reality hit.So I can’t preclude that from happening.There may be shows at 8 that are smaller rated, but based on costs and loyal audiences and ancillaries may make it a very viable success, and that is one of the things we will look at in the future.

When will this 8 pm initiative take place?

It will evolve.This is not a light-switch situation. While we have been doing reality, it probably has not been as big a priority at the network and it now is.