NBC West Coast prez Don Ohlmeyer reiterated his desire to shake up the way his network does business over the next two to three years, calling the current development process “destructive” and the accepted practice of ordering one-hour series in May for airing in September “suicide.”
Addressing visiting TV critics Wednesday, NBC also took a hit regarding some of its recent fact-based movies while announcing an extremely high-profile project — representing Barbra Streisand’s producing debut for TV — linked to the politically charged issue of gays in the military.
Streisand and Glenn Close will exec produce “The Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer Story,” a movie starring Close that is targeted to air in fall 1994 about the highest-ranking woman in the armed forces who was expelled from the Army for acknowledging that she’s a lesbian. Streisand, who has been extremely active in gay rights, said in a statement that the story “throws light on one of the most important issues of our time.” Cis Corman, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron will produce the TriStar TV project.
Ohlmeyer, following NBC Entertainment prez Warren Littlefield in separate Q&A sessions, said he was “one of those guys who bitched about television for 20 years” and now had a chance to do something about it. In fact, he cited an NBC series he made during his previous life as a producer, “Life-stories,” as an example of what’s wrong with the process.
NBC will “start with the premise that the process is broken,” Ohlmeyer said, and reexamine all aspects of how it does business. One of those changes, according to sources, could be a consolidation of the development and current programming departments in a way to encourage more cooperation between those areas — a tactic ABC has taken steps toward, putting first-year series under the aegis of its development chief, exec VP Stu Bloomberg.
A relaxed Ohlmeyer also weighed in on the issue of TV violence. He said there’s a real danger if advertisers engage in blanket pullouts from labeled shows that the networks will “bland themselves” by avoiding such programs.
“We are kind of getting into the encroachment of the ‘thought police’ here,” Ohlmeyer said, adding that there were already numerous safeguards regarding TV content, including advertisers and standards and practices departments.
Webs can’t produce shows advertisers won’t support, Ohlmeyer noted, saying, “We won’t be in business very long if we do that.”
A first step
Ohlmeyer said he was all for television taking a leadership position on violence if it’s “a first step toward the country doing something” about societal violence.
The exec added that viewers have indicated what they want from TV: cathartic thrills and adventure without gratuitous violence, and “to learn, without being taught” via relatable, situational comedy. “Your program diet (is) not all chocolate,” he said, a theme he reiterated in regard to fact-based movies, which NBC said only accounts for about one-fourth of its longform mix.
Littlefield, who stood before the critics alone in January during the maelstrom of the David Letterman exit, echoed NBC prez Bob Wright by saying it’s “essential for a corporation to protect the properties that we own” regarding Letterman taking patented elements of “Late Night” to CBS.
“They need to come to us and get them. They cannot just take them away,” Littlefield noted, though he acknowledged that at this point in the increasingly heated dispute they are not for license either.
Littlefield confirmed that Bob Hope has signed to do a minimum of three specials for NBC next season, after public grumbling that a deal hadn’t been put in place, representing the comic’s 55th year of association with the network. NBC scored big in May with its three-hour Hope birthday tribute.
NBC also continues to talk with Johnny Carson about his return for long-promised specials, though thus far the former “Tonight Show” host hasn’t found material of sufficient interest to bring him back to TV. There had been talk of election-themed specials last fall, but those fizzled.
Littlefield, who is reportedly in talks to extend his deal with the web despite the recent exits of exec VP Perry Simon and movie and miniseries senior VP Ruth Slawson, said Ohlmeyer has indicated that he wants him to stay. Pressed on how their “relationship” worked, Littlefield quipped, “We’re dating.”