Confab off to noisy start with 'Burn Notice' stunt

Outgoing NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker addressed the NATPE aud in Miami on Monday on topics encompassing almost everything but Keith Olbermann, about which he declined to comment.

Zucker characterized NBC U as strong in the wake of the Comcast merger’s approval, and discussed the health of the broadcast biz as a whole.

“The model looks a little better now that it’s clear that retransmission fees are going to be paid to broadcast networks, which wasn’t clear two or three years ago,” Zucker said.

Asked how much NBC proper should get for retrans, Zucker said that though the net should be “at the high end of that rate card,” he admitted that it might be fairer if “maybe we don’t go to the top immediately, because we realize some of those fees in other ways.”

Zucker was also enthusiastic about the prospects for NBC U’s cable channels. “I think they just blew up the back of this hotel with ‘Burn Notice,’ which has been one of our most successful shows,” he said.

The subject of Hulu came up as well: Moderator Michael Nathanson asked Zucker whether the Web content distributor cannibalizes viewership. “When we first started Hulu, people were stealing our content,” Zucker replied. “We needed to deal with piracy, and I think we’ve done that.”

He admitted, however, that Netflix had replaced the backend syndication model for some of NBC U’s shows.

Indeed, NATPE kicked off its confab — relocated this year to Miami after many moons in Las Vegas — with a bang. Several bangs, actually, courtesy of USA Network’s skein “Burn Notice.”

Series creator Matt Nix asked stunt double Dean Grimes to demonstrate his ability to mimic star Jeffrey Donovan’s distinctive gait and then began explaining and lauding the performers’ ability to knock each other around as Grimes, a few other stunt performers and series star Gabrielle Anwar (also a Q&A participant) broke bottles over heads and snapped tables in two. Impromptu stunt show reached its apogee with a lengthy gunfight and a grenade tossed into the hedges, which exploded. Nix was intended to be gunned down at the climax of the show, but a sound tech accidentally set off his squib while trying to adjust a lapel mike during the non-incendiary section of the panel discussion.

“Aside from the snipers, Miami is very friendly to filmmaking,” quipped Nix.

Ben Silverman was at the confab to talk up his new production partnership with MTV alums Tony DiĀ­Santo and Liz Gateley. DiSanto and Gateley’s shingle DiGa inked a deal with Silverman’s Electus last fall just after they left their MTV posts. On Monday, the pair unveiled a number of DiGa development projects, including series gestating with Jimmy Kimmel’s Jackhole Industries banner, a comedy series with Nick Cannon and a fashion series with “Today Show” contributor Jill Martin.

The two also announced the appointment of Mike Powers, another MTV alum, as DiGa’s creative exec and Scott Silberman as exec in charge of production.

DiSanto led a Q&A with Silverman, which ranged from his career experiences to the future of content production.

Silverman said he foresaw a continuing boom in branded entertainment.

“You’re seeing little bits of it on television,” Silverman said. “But you’re seeing a huge flood of it on the Internet.”

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