Today, a TV quiz.
We ask the new president of NBC Entertainment, Kevin Reilly, six burning
questions about the network. The big stuff, really big stuff, and you know
exactly what we mean: Is the sitcom kaput? Is "Joey" a dead spin-off walking?
And is the Trumpster in this for the long haul?
Reilly and NBC - announcing the fall schedule Monday - are about to grapple
with what polite pundits might call a "transitional period" while the
not-so-polite have suggested that NBC's fall will look like the sequel to
"10.5." You want to face "American Idol" next season without a hit of the
magnitude of "Friends" in the house? Be my guest.
Before we proceed to the Q&A, a closer look at our contestant. The highly
regarded (they almost always are before they get into this mud- wrestling
contest) Reilly was born 41 years ago in Manhasset, grew up in Port Washington,
went to Chaminade High and then Cornell, where, as a major in communications
arts, he was hell-bent on getting a job in TV. As a kid, "my mother said I was
watching too much television and it would rob my brain," he says, explaining
this youthful compulsion.
After graduation, he headed to New York, where he began freelancing as a
production assistant, and later produced more than 150 music videos during the
landed a job in publicity at Universal (which - small world - was bought by NBC
just yesterday) and shortly thereafter was hired by the legendary Brandon
Tartikoff, who set Reilly up as manager of creative affairs at NBC.
Next up was this new Saturday morning show called "Saved by the Bell,"
which - for the benefit of those who had other things to do on Saturday
mornings during the early '90s - became a landmark teen program, and launched
the careers of Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Elizabeth Berkley and Mark-Paul
Reilly's too: He shortly segued into drama development, where he helped
nurture "Law & Order," "Homicide: Life on the Street" and "ER" before moving
over to Brad Grey Television, which was - and remains - a hot TV production
shop. As Grey TV president, Reilly fed the NBC pipeline with "NewsRadio" and
lesson of "The Sopranos" (which every network famously passed on)? "A lot of
lessons," he says, "but if it's good, stick with it."
In 2000, he joined FX, which was "then coasting off the fumes" of old 20th
Century Fox reruns (Fox owns the channel), according to an accurate Variety
assessment. FX's new entertainment boss (along with FX Networks president Peter
Ligouri) refocused FX as "the HBO of basic cable" by gluing "The Shield" to
Reilly returned to NBC last fall as conquering hero and president of
prime-time development - network code that meant he would ultimately replace
then-entertainment chief Jeff Zucker.
Now our quiz:
1. Is the sitcom dead?
"Absolutely not," says Reilly. "The entertainment business is cyclical and
we all sort of feast on one genre and things get into our collective
consciousness and then we get our fill and move on to the next thing. I don't
think reality [TV] is a fad, but it is the thing everyone" wants right now.
2. Is "Joey" (the Matt LeBlanc vehicle that will air Thursdays at 8) any
"I don't want to get into too much detail, [but] we shot the pilot and the
one thing that was crystal clear the night of the taping is that Matt LeBlanc
can center his own show. This is not a 'Friends' knockoff, but a brand-new show
that the audience is going to be happy with."
3. How much longer can "The Apprentice" last?
"This is a franchise like 'Survivor' - which had a phenomenal night Sunday
- and can last for many years."
4. How much reality is too much? (NBC could have as many as four hours of
reality on the schedule during parts of next season.)
"I don't care if the reality fever pitch were to get even more crazy than
it is today. We're not getting out of these businesses , but we're here to
entertain and give the public what they want. ... Some of the reality shows
over the last season or two have really tapped the culture. ... We're going to
balance it out and play to the public's appetite, but alongside that, I can
tell you we just did 13 comedy pilots, [so] we're working harder to crack
5. You're getting ready to launch a fourth edition of "L&O" just as ratings
for the mother show on Wednesdays are sliding south. What gives?
"The whole [Wednesday] night has, unfortunately, had trouble ... which has
pulled down the mother ship. But the fourth is the most distinctive one yet,
and is a trial-based show that goes from arraignment to verdict and got a
couple tricks up his sleeve, too."
6. Will Conan O'Brien stay (his contract is up later this year) or go?
"He's the best and we're gonna do everything we can [to keep him]. Conan is
a very bright and loyal guy, and he's not going to make any decision rashly or
out of emotion."