CANNES – Onstage at MipTV in Cannes, Paul Telegdy, president of NBC Entertainment’s Alternative and Reality Group, and Meredith Ahr, president of Universal Television Alternative Studio at NBC Entertainment, spoke about how they were developing a slate of original unscripted content in partnership with top-tier talent like Jennifer Lopez and Amy Poehler.
“One of the mantras of our owners, Comcast…is to think like owners, not like renters. Think for the long term,” Telegdy explained. The objective was to create “original formats, in which we have a greater stake, financially and creatively,” he said. Ahr added: “We needed to set ourselves apart and make a name for ourselves.”
The studio has started to do this with shows like “The Wall,” hosted by “Talking Dead’s” Chris Hardwick, and “Better Late Than Never,” starring Henry Winkler and William Shatner. Its upcoming series include “World of Dance,” executive produced by Lopez; “The Handmade Project,” a crafting competition developed and executive produced by Poehler, who will serve as host alongside Nick Offerman; and “The Awesome Show,” which will be hosted by Hardwick, and is produced in partnership with Mark Burnett.
There were three key areas that they wanted to focus on, Ahr said. “First, we wanted to establish ourselves as a place where great original content and formats can come from, so we doubled down on developments. You’re nothing without that IP.
“Second, we wanted to establish ourselves as a premier partner for production, so that we would pull off shows across all genres.
“And the third was to attract and develop top-tier talent, whether it was behind or in front of the camera.”
The talent attached to the show are not “just sticking their name on the project. They are rolling up their sleeves and creatively getting involved to help us crack these formats,” Ahr said.
Speaking about Lopez’s involvement in “World of Dance,” Ahr said: “Anybody that takes this format in their market and makes their localized version are going to have the benefit of the fact that she helped us with this scoring system in order to turn this into a sport.”
Ahr emphasized that developing great shows takes time. “I have a poster in my office that producers always appreciate when they come in. It says: Nothing great is created suddenly,” she explained. “It takes 18 months to two years to get it right….We are trying to create things that are familiar yet delight you in a different way. There are a lot of nuances. There’s a lot of tender loving care needs to be applied to all these shows.”
The studio will also make shows for other networks, and Comcast would be comfortable with that, Telegdy said. “They count money as the performance metric, so if Meredith is in the process of building a business that makes an exciting amount of money they won’t mind if it’s a hit on another network.”