The honeymoon is over. A year after NBC Universal employees were greeted with gift boxes on the day the Comcast-NBCU merger became official, some of them are getting pink slips.
The latest case that has been getting a lot of attention since Nikki Finke broke the story last night, is the “downsizing” at NBC’s The Tonight Show, in which 20 staffers lost their jobs and host Jay Leno took what is being described by sources as a “tremendous” pay cut to “save as many people’s jobs as he could”.
This is the latest in a string of layoffs and budget-trimming at NBC. Insiders say that virtually every department of the network has been affected by the wave of company-wide cost-cutting, which started in January. In February, NBC’s marketing and PR departments shed about 10 employees each in downsizing, including a 26-year veteran, EVP and creative director of marketing Jim Vescera. There have been cuts among NBC programming executives too, including the quiet departure of VP drama Lourdes Diaz a couple of months ago.
The move resembles the now infamous NBC 2.0 plan implemented by Steve Burke’s predecessor Jeff Zucker in 2006. But while NBC Universal at the time announced the cuts beforehand, setting a goal of $750 million in savings that included reducing NBC’s work force by 5%, the cost-cutting under the new Comcast leadership is being done quietly, often under the disguise of corporate restructuring.
With help from Sunday Night Football and the Super Bowl, NBC finally emerged from the bottom of the ratings last season to squeak past ABC for third place among adults 18-49. But the network continues to be a sore spot on Comcast’s balance sheet, with its ratings weakness again listed by Comcast as partially responsible for NBCUniversal’s soft financial performance during the most recent quarter.
In addition to trimming personnel and budgets of departments and existing shows, the network also is expected to spend less on development this season after forking around $40 million on scripts last year when it drove the prices up with aggressive bidding for what was described as one the wildest buying seasons in recent memory. So far, it has ordered an off-cycle pilot, the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced drama The Secret Lives Of Husbands And Wives, and has handed out put pilot commitments to a Cleopatra drama produced by Lorenzo Di Bonaventura and a Rand Ravich drama. The network also is close to landing the new Michael J. Fox comedy with a major commitment.