Zucker: NBC has a lot of work to do

Prexy offers advertisers a little straight talk

NEW YORK — NBC Universal Television prexy Jeff Zucker said he plans some straight talk on the Peacock’s rough season when he comes face to face with advertisers Monday at the network’s presentation of its new fall sked.

“I will acknowledge upfront the reality of the situation. We’re not going to let the elephant sit in the room. I will handle that. Kevin (Reilly, NBC entertainment prexy) will look forward and be optimistic,” he said.

“I stood on that stage for five years and had a great story to tell. This is a tough story to tell. But that’s OK,” Zucker told reporters at a Gotham breakfast celebrating the first anniversary of the NBC-Universal merger.

NBC U chairman-CEO Bob Wright expressed a measure of pride in the combo of the two companies generally acknowledged to be a rather successful pact, since “50% of all marriages end in divorce.”

The split-up rate among media companies of late feels closer to 99.9%.

Ironically, the dip in NBC’s fortunes this season illustrates better than anything the strategic benefits — and fantastic timing — of the network’s merger with a giant Hollywood studio.

Zucker said the breathless, blanket coverage of NBC’s fall from the top of the ratings heap was “bigger because NBC has been so dominant in primetime, and so dominant in morning.”

“Still, psychologically and financially, you want to be on top,” he said.

“You can’t lose a show of the magnitude of ‘Friends’ and expect not to diminish your position,” he said. “We lost ‘Friends,’ we didn’t replenish the schedule with younger, fresher hits. Meanwhile, one of our competitors is doing very well.”

As for “Today,” it remains the top-rated morning show, although it’s been rapidly losing ground to ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“Today” has been “the most innovative morning show in America for the last decade,” Zucker said. But, “We haven’t really innovated in ‘Today’ for the last three to four years. The team (Katie Couric, Matt Lauer) has been together for eight years. When you don’t innovate, and you have the same people presenting it,” things slip, he said.

Plus, he added, “Good Morning America” is “a better show” now than it was.

In an April shakeup, NBC replaced “Today” exec producer Tom Touchet with Jim Bell. “It was better to make a move now from a position of strength,” Zucker said.

He thinks an effective producer can right the ship without changing the cast.

“It’s the way you produce them. The way you program the show. It’s enough for a new core of freshness,” he said.

He said, “In the history of television, where there’s been competition, no morning show has ever stayed on top for more than five years. The ‘Today’ show this summer will be on top for 10 years.”