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Despite Some Cuts, No 'Major' Ones Seen At Nbc

November 19, 1986|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Although job cuts will be made at NBC News as part of a companywide streamlining effort, they won't be "major numbers." Nor will any of the division's news bureaus in the United States be closed, as has been rumored within the news division.

That's the word from NBC News President Lawrence K. Grossman. He declined to estimate how many staffers may get pink slips because his division still is working on its budget for 1987, he said.

"There will be some reduction of staff, but none of any major numbers," he said in an interview Monday.

NBC, whose parent, RCA, was taken over this year by cost-conscious General Electric, has been undergoing a companywide series of efficiency studies ordered by NBC board chairman Grant Tinker before he left the company in September.

NBC, which rebounded during Tinker's five-year reign and is leading in prime-time ratings, currently employs 8,000 persons.

Still, it and the two other major networks have cited lean economic times as a reason they must streamline themselves and cut costs.

NBC spokesmen say that there will be companywide layoffs but that these cuts, when totaled, probably will be in "the low hundreds," as one put it.

CBS and ABC already have made far larger job cuts--the largest has been at CBS, which has eliminated more than 1,800 jobs companywide since 1985--and the cuts have included their respective news divisions.

CBS News, acting in September, 1985, and last July, pink-slipped a total of 145 staff members and now has about 1,200 employees. ABC News, acting in September last year and in March, has laid off 140 employees and currently has a worldwide staff of 1,050, a spokesman said.

NBC News employs about 1,300 persons.

There had been speculation by some in the division last week that NBC--now run by former General Electric executive Robert C. Wright--was planning to close NBC News bureaus in Denver and Houston, and possibly Boston, as part of the company's cost-cutting drive.

"There are no such plans," Grossman said, referring not only to those bureaus but the eight other bureaus that NBC News maintains throughout the U.S.

NBC's news chief was among the network's top executives accompanying Wright to Laguna Niguel, Calif., last week for a three-day meeting with the network's 12-member affiliate advisory board.

One participant described the closed-door powwow as basically a get-acquainted session with NBC's new boss, who, although he ran Cox Cable Communication for three years, has no other broadcasting experience.

After the California meeting, rumors circulated within NBC News that Wright ran into vigorous protests from the affiliate executives who supposedly had read or heard reports that he was seeking sharp cuts in the news division.

There were no such protests, and there was no discussion of any cutbacks at NBC News, said Eric Bremner, chairman of the affiliate board's news committee and a vice-president at King Broadcasting Co. in Seattle, Wash.

However, he said in a recent phone interview, both he and James Lynagh, chairman of the affiliate board, emphasized to Wright their feeling that news is the "keystone" of a network and that "every affiliate in the room felt that way."

Although all recognized the need to control costs, Bremner said, "there was a lot of expression by the affiliates about the importance that (network) news plays . . ." in the affiliate-network relationship.

"I don't think that was a surprise to Bob Wright," he added, but he emphasized that there was no confrontation at all.

One executive who also attended the meeting but asked not to be identified said he felt that "what the affiliates were doing was testing him (Wright)," trying to learn his views on network news operations.

"So they came on very strong about public service and responsibility, and he asked a lot of questions about their interests, and things like, 'Is it (network news) a dinosaur?' and 'Is it important to spend all that money (on news)?'

"And the answer unanimously on their part was, 'Nothing is more important to us.' And his response was, 'Nothing is more important to me, either.' " The session on news, the source said, "wasn't confrontational at all.

"It was a terrific meeting."

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