On a mildly cool day this past December, after the deal with Comcast closed, Jeff Zucker spoke about the future of NBC. He was calm, composed and articulate. He spoke with the confidence of a man with a billion-dollar cushion. In that well prepared statement, Mr. Zucker confessed something to his audience, "When you're on top, you stay with things too long, you don't invest enough [in new programming]...and we [NBC] made all of those cyclical mistakes." This admission, while not exactly a mea culpa, was a step in the right direction. For NBC to once again become a haven for good television, it needs to purge its soul. It must come clean with the viewing public that buys its advertiser’s products and the creative community that generates all the content that sells that advertising. It would be a tremendous mistake if their PR machine tried to spin gold out of the straw-failures of the last ten years.
Today, Jeff Gaspin, the current NBC fall guy, told us about the demise of the Jay Leno experiment. The future of Jay, Conan and Jimmy will fall out of place in the next few weeks. The death of Jay at 10 pm was inevitable. Everyone knew it… including Jay. It was like watching a fat man run the marathon. You can cheer for him, pray for a miracle, but ultimately you know he’ll end up in a puddle of his own puke at the two mile marker. So NBC will go back to a mix of dramas, reality and magazine news at ten. I’m sure they will throw a lot of money and talent at the problem and have as much success as the other talent and money heavers. But the bigger question is not whether the network can regain its glory; it’s whether it can regain its dignity. The peacock has been brutally ass-raped and the feathers are broken, stained and may never be free of the stench of Ben Silverman’s reality juice.
For the record, I love the National Broadcast Company. I grew up on it. Johnny Carson put me and my scotch-damp mother to bed every night. Its shows made me want to be a writer… and a drinker. I want nothing more than for the network to rise up from the asses, once again a beautiful bird filled with wonder, intrigue and amusement. But to do this it must first exercise deep and thoughtful contrition. I know that for myself, the only way I can heal and recover from my pain and loss is to be completely honest and make reparations. So I've taken it upon myself to draft an amends list for NBC. Mr. Zucker, the following list is my service to you. Please don’t seek me out to thank or praise me, it’s not truly service unless it’s done unselfishly, without expectation of reward.
It’s a brief, incomplete collection, but I believe it will get the honesty ball rolling. I’m sure once you are gripped by the spirit of truth, the ecstasy of repentance will overtake you and the following list will grow exponentially. I strongly suggest you buy several hour blocks out of your prime time schedule to read the list to the world. I promise you, the rewards will come back to you threefold.
Forgive me maker, for I have sinned. It’s been a thousand cycles since my last confession…
To Kevin Reilly:
Hiring you was probably one of my best decisions. You were instrumental in developing our few successes, Heroes, 30 Rock, Deal or No Deal. Firing you was definitely one of my worst mistakes. Quite frankly, your admiration for creatives terrified the accountants. For this I am truly sorry.
To Ben Silverman:
Yes, you were a narcissistic, over-adrenalized, used-idea salesman, but the fact that I handed over control of a network to an inexperienced, talent-light party boy is absolutely insane. Your failure is not only my burden, it’s my fault. For this I am truly sorry.
To Jeff Gaspin:
I’ve given you an impossible task. You will inevitable become just another tipped King in my never-ending, always-losing chess game. Nine months from now, I will fire you and hire another. Eleven months from that appointment, I will fire him. You see the pattern. I stay, they go, we never improve. For this I am truly sorry.
To Jay Leno:
Your blue collar work ethic should be an inspiration to all of us executives who get paid ridiculous amounts of money for churning rhetoric and dry-humping statistics. You owned 11:30. Cutting you loose was the single biggest fuck-up on my incredibly long list of fuck-ups. I sucked you dry, dumped you, whispered sweet promises in your ear, coaxed you back into the bedroom, then sucked and dumped you again. Now I’d like a big “do-over”. Can’t we just go back to the way it was? Please? For this I am truly sorry.
To Conan O’Brien:
Your quirky, self-deprecating humility should be an inspiration to all us egomaniacal, fear-based executives who get paid ridiculous amounts of money for spending the entire day measuring our dicks. You owned 12:30. Cutting you loose was the second biggest fuck-up on my incredibly long list of fuck-ups. I whispered sweet promises in your ear, gave you the brass ring, then dumped you for last year’s model. Now I’d like a big “do-over”. Can’t we just go back to the way it was? Please? For this I am truly sorry.
To Jimmy Fallon:
You’re charming and you’re gone. For this I am truly sorry.
To Carson Daly:
Are you still on my network? Really? For that I am truly sorry.
To New Media:
I am trying to embrace the internet as a viable outlet for television, but my opinion of it changes daily. My head is so far up my Hulu, I can’t tell if I’m trading analog dollars for digital pennies, dimes, quarters, marbles or feathers? For this I am truly sorry.
To GE Shareholders:
You renewed my contract for three more years. Have you been living in a fucking cave? For this I am truly sorry.
To Writers, Directors, Actors, Producers and Crew:
For the longest time I searched and searched for a way to do television without you. But apparently viewers enjoy complex characters, good story and moving performances. Boy, my R&D people are a little embarrassed. Who knew that by taking away thousands of jobs, I was going to disappoint millions of viewers. For this I am truly sorry.
Specifically To John Wells and Graham Yost:
Boomtown and Southland… What can I say? Honestly, I think it was self sabotage. I was suffering from extreme self-loathing and I just felt I wasn’t worthy of having brilliant shows. For this I am truly sorry.
To our viewing audience:
I deeply, deeply regret all the above and especially -- the XFL, Knight Rider remake, Crusoe, Kings, My Own Worst Enemy, Kath & Kim, Chopping Block, you get the idea… I admit, I’ve made some very bad choices and quite frankly, I didn’t give a shit about you. To me, you were all just a statistic, the unwashed masses that keep Wal-Mart in business. But now I see, I was wrong. Your needs are my future. We cannot be the National Broadcast Company without a nation. You are my spice and I am your sugar. For these and all of my sins, please forgive me. I am truly sorry.”