David E. Kelley cut his teeth as a writer-producer working on “L.A. Law,” a 10 o’clock drama on NBC. So he couldn’t resist celebrating a little over NBC’s decision to yank Jay Leno’s talk show out of that hour as he received the Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award at NATPE in Las Vegas on Monday evening.
Kelley, whose fellow recipients included ad man Irwin Gottlieb, Judge Judy Sheindlin and NBC Entertainment honcho Jeff Gaspin, said while the public unraveling of the Leno-Conan O’Brien mess was a tough week for Gaspin, the return of 10 p.m. to at least some scripted fare is “a good week and a good month for television.”
“Content matters,” he said.
Kelley also paid tribute to Tartikoff as an executive who loved television and the opportunity to “make little pieces of magic,” saying of the late executive, “He was in it for the same reason we [writers] all were. … It wasn’t about margins.” And while Kelley did point out that there are plenty of fine dramas around on cable — singling out “Breaking Bad,” “Dexter,” “Damages” and “Mad Men” — he said of the executive class, “It’s not that way today.”
The “margins” reference, lest anyone has forgotten, can be traced to former NBC Entertainment co-chair Ben Silverman’s statement that the network was “managing for margins,” an expression that made many in the creative community wince.
For his part, Gaspin opened his remarks by joking about his predicament as the exec at the center of NBC’s latenight succession storm, saying that he had wanted to push the NATPE event a half-hour later, and “It cost me $45 million.”
NBC announced that it has ordered a new pilot from Kelley earlier this month, as the network begins trying to rebuild its primetime lineup.