Jitters mount as NBC, U approach the altar
They’d disappear for days, off to New York or Los Angeles for another round of inculcation in the GE way of doing things.
“Integration meetings,” execs high and low harrumphed. Lots of meetings. Perhaps meetings about meetings.
Even Ron Meyer, prexy of Universal Pictures, has been practically living in New York over the last few months. And his area, the film studio, will be the least affected by the merger.
The NBC Universal deal isnow expected to close on May 11, complete with a gala press conference in Gotham and the unveiling of a top-secret corporate logo overlaying the Peacock onto the U globe.
In any case, this latest conglom combo has sparked the most extensive call for integration since Brown v. the Board of Education.
But as NBC execs know well, and Universal staffers are quickly learning, that’s the General Electric way.
You don’t become one of the world’s largest congloms, selling everything from MRI machines and jet engines to “Will & Grace,” by doing things half-assed.
Which is why it stunned many when — despite the months of meetings, the carefully organized succession plans and the beautifully designed flow charts — the Peacock’s plan to merge oversight of NBC’s and U’s TV syndication units hit a snag.
NBC Enterprises chief Ed Wilson had been favored to get the top NBC U syndie gig. Universal Domestic TV topper Steve Rosenberg, on the other hand, was told he wouldn’t get the primo job.
Wilson reversed course over his new reporting lines and decided not only to leave NBC, but quit syndication altogether. Rosenberg, upset that he wasn’t offered the job in the first place, declined to take it when Wilson left.
The result? NBC suddenly finds itself scrambling inside and outside the company for a new syndie topper.
Execs with both companies concede that the situation was badly botched, but insist there will be no more such blunders.
“It’s never easy and obviously that was a big hiccup,” a U exec says.
Even before the syndie snag, the upcoming merger had been causing jitters, particularly within U’s television stable — where there’s considerable overlap with NBC.
Layoffs in the combined TV group are expected to number 300 to 400, with the biggest cuts in sales, back-office cable operations and legal and business affairs.
U’s cable (USA, Sci-Fi, etc.), network production (home of Dick Wolf) and domestic distribution (Jerry Springer’s crib) divisions have the most at stake in terms of management shakeup and layoffs.
(As for how the merger will affect the creative relationships U has around town, and indeed its philosophy of dealmaking, is still anyone’s guess. Uber-producer Wolf, for example, soon will find himself talking to one entity rather than two separate ones in doing his future deals.)
Meanwhile, GE’s methodical and organized integration approach has been something of a relief for U’s feature studio, which has been through three dizzying mergers in the last 14 years.
“It has been a very process-driven exercise,” one U exec says. “This is a hands-on operating company coming in and working with us. Which is great, because we are used to always just feeling like the step-children.”
But in TV land, few facts have been confirmed.
Confirmed: Jeff Zucker has been crowned king of the Universe, with NBC U’s combined entertainment, news and cable operations all reporting to him. NBC Television Network group prexy Randy Falco is Wright’s other anointed top lieutenant in the new company.
Otherwise, everything else is speculation, as NBC refuses to even hint at its new structure before the May 11 wedding day. In a clear nod to anxious U TV staffers, Wright and his entourage will hold a town hall meeting in Los Angeles on May 13.
NBC exec VP/Bravo prexy Jeff Gaspin will almost certainly head up the Peacock’s cable webs, including newcomers USA and Sci-Fi. And execs Bonnie Hammer, head of Sci Fi Channel, and Lauren Zalaznick, president of Trio, will likely emerge as the top execs of the newly restructured cable group.
Hammer will take the helm of both Sci Fi and USA, with Zalaznick running Bravo.
On the studio side, Universal Network TV topper David Kissinger is now expected to share oversight of production along with NBC Studios exec VP Angela Bromstead.
Leading the list of execs already gone – or about to leave – are Universal’s Michael Jackson, who lately has rarely been seen in his office.
USA Networks prexy Doug Herzog earlier made plans to ankle and return to Comedy Central.
NBC U will be the country’s fifth largest media company, bringing it nearer in market cap to Time Warner, Viacom, Walt Disney and News Corp. The combined company would be worth $43 billion, with $13 billion in annual revenue.
Wall Street remains bullish on the merger, but is anxious to hear GE vice chairman and NBC chairman/CEO Bob Wright describe his plans for streamlining costs.
The May 11 press conference will feature plenty of pomp and circumstance, as NBC U employees everywhere will watch the event via a special television feed.
One of the crowning moments will come when Wright and others unveil the new corporate logo. It will be a corporate symbol only: Individual Peacock and U properties will keep their own logos.
But the impact of that new logo will be broad: Wright’s wife Suzanne is well known for her collection of jeweled Peacock pins, one of which she never fails to wear. It’s almost certain she’s asked for pins reflecting the new corporate logo.
Some jewelry designer — not to mention a horde of NBC and U execs — are about to get very busy.
(Meredith Amdur in New York and Denise Martin in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)