NBC News is winding down Peacock Productions, an in-house unscripted production unit that has had a hand over the years in everything from true-crime serials to one of daredevil Nik Wallenda’s high-wire walks.
“NBC News is shuttering Peacock Productions, effective March 2. NBC News is shifting its documentary strategy to an entirely new model, consistent with industry trends, and unfortunately the existing operation is no longer viable,” NBC News said in a statement provided to Variety. “We are working with affected employees to help find positions around NBC Universal.”
Approximately 32 people who work for Peacock Productions or MSNBC’s long-form unit will be affected, according to a person familiar with the matter. The staffers were notified Friday.
Some of the employees may find new roles in other NBC News businesses, this person says, including NBC News Now, the unit’s live-streaming operation, or two daily newscasts that NBC News has agreed to produce for Quibi, the mobile subscription TV service backed by media executive Jeffrey Katzenberg.
The shutdown was sparked by changes in the production business spurred by the rise of streaming-video, the person familiar with the matter says. Peacock’s main business in recent years has been producing a high volume of non-fiction series and one-off specials for general-entertainment cable networks. But the ability of those networks to order those properties has been affected by the move of customers to on-demand video viewing, this person says.
NBC News is likely to shift its ambitions in the field to premium documentaries and docu-series and higher-quality productions, this person says. The unit may well seek out partnerships with filmmakers and other production companies. And while some clients of Peacock Productions have been NBCU-owned cable outlets, it’s possible NBC News could produce some of its new works for Peacock, the NBCUniversal streaming-video outlet slated to launch later in 2020.
The demand for documentaries has swelled in recent years, as more networks try to lure viewers with stories about current events and real-life drama. AT&T’s HBO has won plaudits for documentaries like “The Jinx,” a docu-series about Robert Durst, a New York real-estate heir and accused murderer. CNN has ramped up its licensing and commission of documentary films about subjects such as Linda Ronstadt or Glen Campbell. Documentaries about the origins of country music or the Civil War from filmmaker Ken Burns have been among the most popular offerings on PBS.
Over the years, Peacock Productions has been involved in projects ranging from an Investigation Discovery series anchored by Tamron Hall to a special broadcast of Nik Wallenda traversing a high-wire above the Chicago skyline. In recent months, its efforts have included Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly: The Impact” and MSNBC’s “American Swamp,” a series anchored by NBC News’ Katy Tur and Jacob Soboroff.