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NBC weighs restructuring in Burbank

The company is said to be considering putting one executive in charge of TV programming.

November 29, 2006|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

Two weeks after a major management shake-up at NBC Universal's New York headquarters, Jeff Zucker, the company's top television executive, is considering a reorganization of the entertainment division in Burbank, three executives close to the situation said Tuesday.

One scenario under consideration: elevating Jeff Gaspin over all of the company's TV content, according to two executives who asked not to be identified because the discussions were confidential. Currently Gaspin is in charge of the programming of NBC Universal's entertainment cable channels and digital entertainment. Another proposal would consolidate all cable operations, including advertising, sales and distribution, under Gaspin.

Zucker, who is expected to succeed NBC Universal Chairman Bob Wright in the coming months, has been preparing for the transition, figuring out which executives will make up his team and how to best organize the company's vast assets.

Gaspin, long an ally of Zucker's, "is going to play a key role," one executive said Tuesday.

NBC Universal executives stressed that the discussions were preliminary and that several proposals were on the table. "No final decisions have been made," said an NBC Universal spokesperson. Gaspin and Zucker declined to comment.

Putting Gaspin in charge of NBC Universal's television properties, including the broadcast network, the TV studio and entertainment cable channels, could be risky. Gaspin, who now oversees such channels as USA, Bravo and Sci Fi, has little experience in broadcast programming. Among his successes is broadening the appeal of Bravo with such programs as "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

In addition, the move would catapult Gaspin over respected programmer Kevin Reilly, the NBC entertainment president who has helped revive the broadcast network with such popular shows as "The Office," "Heroes" and "Deal or No Deal."

Although Reilly is popular with Hollywood producers, writers and agents, he has come under criticism internally for spending heavily on such high-profile disappointments as Aaron Sorkin's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" and "Kidnapped." He also has alienated some key executives, including NBC Universal Television Studio President Angela Bromstad.

Reilly declined to comment.

The idea of creating a new position with responsibility for all television content comes amid increasing turmoil in the executive suites of the legendary broadcasting company. NBC Universal executives have been anxious to learn when Wright, who has run NBC for 20 years, will step down, and whether Zucker, who has been considered the heir apparent, will indeed replace him. During Zucker's tenure as NBC's top TV executive, the network has fallen from its longtime perch at the top of the ratings chart.

At the same time, the company recently announced plans to cut jobs and streamline operations as part of a restructuring plan aimed at saving $750 million over the next two years.

Two high-level defections this month are forcing NBC Universal to accelerate its reorganization of the upper ranks.

Two weeks ago, Zucker's second in command, Randy Falco, left to run AOL for Time Warner Inc. A 31-year NBC veteran, Falco had handled most of NBC's business functions and high-profile deals, including its acquisition of Universal Studios' entertainment properties as well as the network's agreements with the International Olympic Committee. As part of the overhaul, Falco's longtime lieutenant and NBC's top advertising sales executive, Keith Turner, is expected to be replaced by someone from parent company General Electric Co.

The same week, David Zaslav, an up-and-coming NBC Universal executive under Falco who had been in charge of cable distribution, was named chief executive of Discovery Communications Inc., the owner of channels such as Discovery, TLC and Animal Planet.

The unexpected loss of Zaslav has created an opportunity to put the cable operations under one executive. As a result, Zucker has been mulling over whether to put Gaspin in that role, which some NBC insiders said was the more probable scenario given the pressing need.

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