Four months into their run as Co-Chairmen of NBC Entertainment, where they replaced Bob Greenblatt, George Cheeks and Paul Telegdy offered their first public comments about their roles and the TV landscape during a keynote session at NATPE.
While there were a few glancing mentions of newsy topics like streaming rights to The Office when its Netflix deal expires in 2021 (no update there) and the approach to the company’s new streaming effort (ditto), a more personal theme emerged.
Both executives described the process of harmonizing and dividing up the many tasks of a media chairman after replacing an eight-year run of a single boss.
“The complexity of everything that’s going on makes us incredibly glad to be in a co-chairmanship situation,” Cheeks said during the 30-minute talk moderated by producer and on-air host Soledad O’Brien. “We both bring different skills to the table and I think that makes us stronger collectively.”
Injecting a dose of self-aware humor that drew big laughs in the packed room, Cheeks sardonically elaborated, “We literally could not be more different. It’s like Casting 101: ‘Let’s cast this dude and that dude and they’re so different, they’re an odd couple.'”
As to the division of labor, he added, “It’s not really a question of ‘He’s the business guy, and I’m the creative guy.’ My first job in the business was in casting and he’s worked in business affairs before so it’s more holistic but we have different approaches and ways of looking at things. I think it yields better results and we built very quickly a rather seamless shorthand. Because we definitely have had those moments where we haven’t totally agreed and next we figure it out together. Four months in, we have a great dynamic.
Telegdy smiled and offered a dry, British-accented rejoinder, “We’re rolling out the new format, ‘90-Day Chairmen.'”
As to the business landscape, both executives acknowledged the intensity of the competition, but argued NBCU has several advantages. Cheeks initially deflected O’Brien’s crystal-ball question about the industry of the future, joking, “When people ask where it’s going to be five years ago? I’m like, ‘I don’t freakin’ know. If I did, I would have a much bigger job than this one.'”
Turning more serious, he went on, “There’s technology coming down that we haven’t even thought of yet that’s going to change whatever the TV experience is. … Great storytelling will win. We want to continue to double down on our studios.”
On the production front, Telegdy said, “We are platform agnostic as a studio …. but we can still make a virtue of the fact that we have mass and reach on a weekly basis, both for the promotion of the shows and really launching something, and also for the shows themselves.”
While streaming giants are backing up Brink’s trucks for talent and putting pressure on traditional players, Telegdy said, “I would partner with us if you want big checks over a long period of time.”
In terms of long-term commitments, he pointed to Kelly Clarkson’s forthcoming daily syndicated talk show, which is getting a big push at NATPE and which Telegdy said he hopes will run “for decades.” Clarkson, who was already in the NBC fold via The Voice, “doesn’t shrink at” the notion of the long term, he said. “Franchise management is something we understand as a company. We like things to last several decades, so that’s really when we come into our own.”
Asked why talent would choose NBC instead of Netflix or Amazon, Cheeks conceded, “There’s no question there’s an arms race for talent right now.” As digital players throw down the gauntlet, the NBCU response has multiple components. “Part of it is financial, and we really need to step up,” he said. “Part of it is [by emphasizing] the overall value proposition” of the “whole ecosystem” of NBCU, which now includes Sky along with broadcast, cable and OTT.
“I like our hand,” Cheeks said. “I know it’s challenging, the headwinds are overwhelming, but I really like our hand.”