Reilly downplays Zucker's 'reality at 8' mandate

NBC Universal isn’t the first media company to slash costs, and it won’t be the last, Peacock entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly warned Thursday.

Reilly also downplayed earlier statements by NBC U TV honcho Jeff Zucker that the net would get out of the scripted game altogether in the 8 p.m. hour. For one thing, that would mean moving “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office” out of their Thursday night slots, which Reilly isn’t prepared to do.

“You can’t be exclusive with reality at 8,” he told a crowd gathered in Beverly Hills at the Hollywood Radio and TV Society luncheon. “You have to be in the scripted business. It’s not an absolute.”

Reilly explained that Thursday’s massive cuts at NBC U were necessary due to the economic pressures, such as escalating program costs, that are “impacting our business today and will continue to impact our business.”

But as for the impact on on-air programming, Reilly said NBC had already made many of its primetime cuts before Thursday’s announcement.

“There won’t be much visible to the naked eye” going forward, Reilly said. “We’ve already done a lot of the hefty lifting in terms of economics.”

Citing recent belt-tightening at Disney and Warner Bros., Reilly said, “You’ve seen hard decisions made around town. There’s more coming.”

Alluding to a more pronounced mandate to reduce the number of pricey scripted skeins on NBC’s air, Reilly turned to MyNetworkTV’s Jack Abernethy — whose weblet airs just two shows, stripped through the week and produced at a bargain-basement price — and quipped, “The important thing is next year, Jack and I will have the same amount of programs on our air. How much do those telenovelas cost? $25,000? Perfect.”

Reilly admitted that the latest round of bloodletting at NBC appeared “fairly drastic right now,” but in a few years, he said, “It will be considered forward-thinking.” Given the necessity of slashing costs, Reilly said he believed people would look back on Thursday’s announcement and say, “Oh, I understand what they meant.”

CBS Entertainment prexy Nina Tassler, however, warned against reading the NBC U cuts as evidence that network TV is in decline.

“Broadcast TV is in good shape,” she said. “Revenues are up.”

Reilly responded, “It’s not about the broadcast network but about the entire company.”

The entire panel of network toppers admitted that they still struggle to manage and contain programming costs.

“We pour amazing amounts of money into these incredible shows,” said ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson. “We have to find a way to produce things at a lower level.”

Fox entertainment prexy Peter Liguori said his net found a way to free up more programming money by cutting back in marketing.

“We’d rather spend money on content and create assets in the long term than spend money off air,” he said.

Meanwhile, with talk of a writers strike continuing to percolate, Reilly said the industry should “tread carefully.”

“We’re on thin ice as an industry,” he said. “A strike can take us right through that ice.”

Reilly said he agreed that talent must be properly compensated — “They’re the lifeblood. We’re all for that. But we’re all trying to get a piece of a (new media) model that’s very unclear.”

In other news, Liguori teetered on whether Fox would make a long-rumored “American Idol” move to Thursday night. Speculation has gone on for so many years that Reilly even called Liguori out, saying, “They’re playing that same game again.” Eventually Liguori admitted that the net would likely stick with other programming (such as its comedy “‘Til Death”) and “The OC” on the night.

CW entertainment topper Dawn Ostroff said she was pleased so far with the perf of her baby network given the “huge task” of putting a brand new web on the air in nine months.

And MyNet’s Abernethy, who serves as Fox TV Stations CEO, admitted that his “ratings were not what we want them to be.”

“I was joking that I’d have a hard time qualifying for the cable heads luncheon,” he said. Abernethy said MyNet remained committed to its telenovelas — but that “if something better comes along, we’ll consider it.”

On the hot topic of digital, Tassler argued that “it behooves us all to get content on different platforms. We have to watch viewer habits, anticipate their needs and be there.”

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