Zucker Talks About NBC’s Ratings Woes

May 11, 2005  •  Post A Comment

NBC Universal Television Group President Jeffrey Zucker said when the Peacock Network makes its upfront presentation to advertisers Monday he personally will acknowledge “the reality” of NBC being in the rare position of fighting to get out of fourth place this season.

He also said NBC, which traditionally is the first network to announce its fall prime-time lineup, will not hesitate to make quick adjustments to the 2005-06 schedule if it sees reason to after other networks have made their announcements.

“If we want to change it, we’ll change it,” Mr. Zucker said at a breakfast Wednesday, scheduled to note the first anniversary of the merger that created NBC Universal. “You can’t be afraid to change.”

Mr. Zucker said NBC needs to improve its ratings position and sow shows that will contribute to future growth. But he asked, “Can you really do justice to both things … in one year?”

He said that “as the person ultimately responsible,” it’s logical that he address the stumbles and leave it to NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly to convey the optimism NBC feels about its new lineup.

If Mr. Zucker was feeling pessimistic about the near future, it was undetectable in his comments or his demeanor. He was cheerfully competitive and talkative, not combative or defensive.

He pointed out that as NBC considers its options for the fall lineup the network remains strong at 10 p.m. (“our issues are at 8”) and still has an enviably upscale audience.

He also said that while the network’s “Today” show clearly is facing an improved and more competitive “Good Morning America,” “Today” still has not just the larger audience but also the more upscale audience, which translates into a “tremendous, tremendous premium” the NBC morning show still can command from advertisers.

“That [demographic edge] is what we run our business on,” said Mr. Zucker, a former “Today” executive producer himself.

He reiterated his faith in the on-air ensemble of Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, Al Roker and Ann Curry, who have helped “Today” remain No. 1 in the mornings – a position no other show has managed to maintain for more than five years at a stretch. However, Mr. Zucker said that if the talent has become very familiar, the show needs to be freshened in other ways.

Ticking off the “Today” innovations that have been copied by other morning shows — from streetside studios and outdoor concerts to weddings — Mr. Zucker said, “I don’t have an issue with the talent. It’s the way you produce it.”