NBC U chief says cost issues driving shift

NBC Universal is putting its newly acquired U.K. shingle Carnival to work as it moves forward on the midseason skein “The Philanthropist.”

Show had been cast-contingent, depending on a star — but now that James Purefoy has been attached, “The Philanthropist” is a firm go for the spring.

NBC U purchased Carnival for $55.5 million last month with an eye toward producing more NBC U co-productions under the Angela Bromstad-led London banner.

NBC Universal topper Jeff Zucker confirmed “The Philanthropist” go-ahead Friday as part of his intention to shift some TV production away from the U.S. and to Europe as costs escalate.

“We are making ‘The Philanthropist’ in the U.K. In the past we would have made the show in the U.S.,” said Zucker who warned that “cost structures” must change.

He added: “Production in the U.K. is done at a much more efficient rate.”

Moving “The Philanthropist” to London also helped secure the acting services of Purefoy, who had been in talks to star in “The Philanthropist” for months — but wasn’t interested in moving to Los Angeles.

Now, “The Philanthropist” will shoot mostly in London beginning in November, with some production also taking place in South America.

“The Philanthropist” originated with Original Media and Charlie Corwin (through his deal with NBC U). Peacock had already planned to move “The Philanthropist” — directed by Peter Horton and written by David Eick (who replaced original exec producer Tom Fontana) — to the U.K. even before its purchase of Carnival.

“It’s an increasingly global marketplace for talent and important to have a studio that’s specifically geared toward providing programming for that marketplace,” Corwin said. “We’re going to shoot all over the world and have a truly international cast. This show will be a global show created specifically for an American audience.”

Zucker discussed his conglom’s international growth while giving a keynote address at the Royal Television Society’s London Intl. Conference.

The NBC U topper, who is attempting to save coin by abandoning some pilots, gave a mostly upbeat address as he explained how NBC’s coverage of the Olympics provided a model of what media consumption may be like in the future.

“Despite huge Web use, our TV ratings went through the roof,” Zucker said. “The Internet does not cannibalize TV viewing.”

However, Zucker acknowledged that while NBC made money from the Olympics overall, the online coverage failed to add coin to the bottom line.

“The Olympics was profitable but not wildly profitable,” he said. “We paid a fair price for the rights and were able to monetize the Games on TV.

“In terms of our digital coverage, we did not fully monetize that but we will learn from the experience.”

Zucker, who made a strong impression on the U.K. media leaders attending the London confab, was asked how the credit crunch may affect his business.

“We haven’t seen our advertising slow down as a national business, but obviously I am concerned about it,” he said. “If you are not concerned about it, you are in denial.”

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