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Ten Ways NBC Can Save Itself


Armchair advice on behalf of all couch potatoes.

When the announcement came in last December, the peacock started looking like a buzzard.

Seated firmly in fourth place, NBC (GE) pulled a move that had analysts scratching their heads and viewers rolling their eyes. A foolish, albeit bold, move that smacked of cost-effectiveness at the expense of taste and good reason. An attempt to save face by cracking an egg over it.

Jay Leno. Five nights a week. 10 p.m. EST.

Admittedly, NBC Universal Chief Jeff Zucker didn't want to lose Leno to a competing network when his contract was up the following May, but under the circumstances, the alternative came at a greater cost. While NBC insiders claim it's still too early to call the deal a disaster, many other analysts are willing to admit the obvious.

Not only has Leno's new show failed to bring in the numbers that scripted shows garnered last season -- none of Leno's third week episodes surpassed 60th in the Nielsen's -- it's impacted the numbers of surrounding programming. James Poniewozik at referenced the 10% to 30% drop local news has suffered since Leno's prime time premiere -- increasing the possibility of affiliates airing their news in Leno's place. Bill Carter of The New York Times mentions the ratings dip that Leno's brethren Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon have earned from having a weaker lead-in. Even Law and Order: SVU has taken a hit since being pushed from the 10 p.m. slot.

With no new breakout hits this fall and five fewer hours of scripted entertainment per week, NBC is almost guaranteed to trail ABC (DIS), CBS (CBS), and Fox (NWS) for the remainder of the season -- a certainty that doesn't seem to bother Zucker.

Back in March of this year, Zucker had the audacity to admit, "I don't think we'll ever be able to say, 'NBC is number one in prime time,' " during a presentation to the McGraw Hill Media Summit. He added, "What does number one in prime time mean anymore?"

Apparently nothing to Zucker: His network has gone from number one to number four under his leadership.

This mixture of bad luck and gross mismanagement has General Electric looking to unload its property -- likely onto Comcast (CMCSA). Talks have progressed and an announcement of a changeover could come at any moment.

Whether or not a deal takes place, NBC is in desperate need of a new direction. Despite Zucker's comments, the network can drag itself out of the doldrums and emerge as the place of fantastic programming that it once was. It might take some pretty big steps, but in the end, it could usher in a new era of television -- one that even its competitors would want to emulate.
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