As he meets with the nation’s top media buyers this morning, NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly is in for a different reception than the one he got a year ago.
The buyers — in town this week for the annual flurry of network development presentations — were still questioning the possibility of an NBC ratings recovery last year, when Reilly gave them the first glimpse at shows such as “Heroes” and “Friday Night Lights.”
“The advertisers last year looked at us as really sucking wind,” Reilly said. “I think they went in with not much evidence that we knew what we were doing.”
But Reilly said the network was starting to feel a bit of “a perceptual turnaround.”
“I came out of the meeting with the first indication that they gave us credit for showing some life, that NBC was back in the game,” he said.
Jump ahead a year: “Heroes” turned into the year’s top-rated frosh scripted series, while “Friday Night Lights” and “30 Rock” earned some of the year’s highest critical praise. More recently, Reilly renewed his contract at the net, providing some stability in the top programming chair.
Add that to the premiere of “Sunday Night Football” and the strength of returnees such as “Deal or No Deal” and “The Office,” and Reilly will have a few more things to brag about as media buyers snack on muffins on the “Deal or No Deal” set in Culver City.
“NBC had a bit of a breakout year,” said PHD U.S. managing director John Swift. “The key thing we’re looking for them in year two of the rebuilding process is that they’re continuing to take chances. NBC last year put a lot of thought into their development and a lot of strategy and they brought a lot of pieces that could be built into their slate.”
The Peacock still has a long way to go — the network is still in fourth place, after all — and Reilly said he’s realistic about NBC’s slow rebuild.
“In the fall we were strong, but it’s been a tougher second half, in part because of events like the Oscars, the Super Bowl and ‘American Idol,'” he said. “We’re going to need more pieces to sustain it through the whole season. It feels like we’re a cycle away from those pieces.”
Reilly now needs to show media buyers that this season’s successes weren’t flukes — and that NBC will begin to see better ratings points to match its critical notices.
“Going into last year, it felt like a blank canvas,” Reilly said. “So much so that we had to reset the entire schedule. It was really an unknown what our Thursday night would be comprised of. We really had very few tentpoles to hold on to.”
This year, Reilly knew to develop shows that might be compatible with fare like “Heroes” or its growing stable of single-camera comedies. The net also knows it has a Sunday platform to promote a certain audience out of. The Peacock has also made clear that it has a mandate to air low-cost, mostly unscripted fare in the 8 p.m. hour.
“We’re starting to get some pockets here where we can work a little bit around,” he said.
With much left to be filmed, projects already getting early buzz include the femme drama “Lipstick Jungle,” based on the Candace Bushnell novel, and the new take on “The Bionic Woman,” while early talk on the comedy side includes the quirky alien-themed “Area 57.”
Several projects boast female leads, which Reilly said was intentional.
“We tried to broaden out in female appeal this year,” he said. “Women do control the dial and have been at the core of ABC’s success.”
On the comedy side, whether intentionally or not, most of the projects revolve around work or an office setting (a la “The Office”), such as “Area 57,” “Business Class,” “The IT Crowd” and “Wildlife.”
Given its 8 p.m. mandate, Peacock is also aggressively pursuing additional nonscripted fare — “We’re going to up our reality commitment,” Reilly said.
Thursday’s presentation to media buyers will also include an update on the network’s new-media initiatives.
As for the net’s overall performance, Reilly continues to make use of Grant Tinker’s famous quote, “First be best, then be first.”
“The advertisers have acknowledged that they like what we’re up to, but that we’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “But no one’s saying, ‘We don’t know what you’re doing,’ or ‘We don’t believe in what you’re doing.’ There’s more receptivity there. I feel like I’m no longer on the hot seat, that we got through the first round of auditions.”