NBC Primetime Chief Supports 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights and Studio 60
"We have a moment in time in our lifetime to turn our environment in a positive direction." NBC's Kevin Reilly
Let me admit it right upfront. I'm a fan of 30 Rock, Heroes, Friday Night Lights, Law & Order SVU, Law and Order, The
Office and, begrudgingly but admiringly, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I think I should again be watching My Name is Earl even though I cancelled my series recording feature on my DVR.
Whatever you might think about NBC Universal, NBC's primetime entertainment programming is no longer the
NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly is enthusiastic about the success of Heroes, the top rated new series on television this season. "It was our top bet and we scheduled it in our most fertile time period," he told Ed Martin and me last week at Michael's, where he
also alerted us NBC would order additional episodes of Studio 60 and that the network will air a clip show summarizing the Heroes season-to-date in advance of a special episode in January. He shared his personal enthusiasm for both 30 Rock and Friday
Night Lights. His commitment to extend Studio 60 for a full season is a vote of confidence for Aaron Sorkin, giving Sorkin carte blanche to find the right formula for the wayward series.
NBC's Kevin Reilly with Jack Myers at Michael's
Although his tenure at NBC has been a challenge as the network struggles to recover from the loss of several top rated programs, Reilly has a flair for recognizing winning TV series, starting with Saved By the Bell, which was originally developed as Good Morning Miss Bliss by
NBC Productions for the Disney Channel. Early in his career at NBC, Kevin was involved with Law & Order in its first season and developed ER. He admits NBC executives at the time were not enamored with the medical series or with dramatic series in general, leading him to accept a position with Brillstein Grey, where he developed The
Sopranos, NewsRadio, and Just Shoot Me. Before rejoining NBC in May 2004, he developed The Shield and Nip/Tuck for FX, and acquired the Denis Leary hit series Rescue Me for the network in what he calls his "parting shot."
Since returning to NBC, Kevin has had to suffer the slings and arrows of critics, advertisers and industry pundits who have had him leaving the network several times in the past two years. Dealing with critics and successfully overcoming obstacles has been somewhat of
a lifetime pattern for him. Although his dad, a Wall Street investment banker, was opposed to his involvement in the entertainment industry, Kevin went to work as a freelancer for a music video production company after graduating in 1984 from Cornell, where he "majored in journalism and fooling around."
"I always loved TV but my father didn't want me to major in communications. When I graduated I just said 'I'm doing it.'" Over a two-year period, Kevin worked on 150 commercials and music videos,
being promoted from cleaning out wardrobe closets to production manager. He laughs as he remembers the time the company CEO directed him to throw out the old clothes in the wardrobe closet, which he did not realizing he was also throwing away the CEO's expensive Burberry raincoat.
In 1986, Kevin visited Los Angeles on vacation and "learned more about the business in two weeks than I'd learned in two years. Everyone I spoke to told me to call for a job if I moved to L.A. I came back to New York, packed up my car and took off across the country with $800 in my
pocket." Kevin's first stop was Atlanta, where he stayed with a college friend, who gave him the name of a contact at Universal Studios. Once he arrived in Los Angeles, however, Kevin learned promises of jobs and support were gratuitous. After six months without work, he remembered the name at Universal his friend had given him.
He was offered a job in press and publicity at Universal Movie Studios he spent a year before realizing his "heart really wasn't into it" and that he really wanted to get back to the creative end of the business. Kevin was able to arrange a meeting with legendary NBC Entertainment
president Brandon Tartikoff, who was launching an in-house production unit at NBC. It took six months to get the job. "Brandon called and offered me a job as manager of creative affairs at NBC Productions probably a day before Universal fired me," Kevin laughs.
Kevin's early TV favorites flavor his programming tastes as he rebuilds the NBC network. He recalls as a child changing channels (manually on the TV set) and coming across a skit about testing leisure suits on rats on Fernwood 2Nite, the Martin Mull and Fred Willard late
night series. "It was the cult show of its time," Kevin recalls. He's also a fan of The Honeymooners, Monte Python's Flying Circus, All In the family and The Sopranos. Saturday Night Live and Miami Vice are also favorites.
Kevin's challenge rebuilding NBC's primetime schedule is compounded by market forces that are driving a company-wide commitment to change. "We need to get more interactive and realign our
resources," says Kevin. Commenting on criticism about NBC's announcement its 8 PM time period would be filled with reality and game shows in the future, Kevin pointed out "reality shows are interactive by nature."
As ABC's Barbara Walters chatted nearby at Michael's, Reilly shared details on his network's upcoming reality competition series about the search for the two leads in the new Broadway production of Grease.Grease: You're the One That I Want will cast the next Sandy
and Danny and will feature original stage producer Jim Jacobs as producer and judge. The series will run for nine weeks premiering in January after the Sunday Night Football season ends.
In addition to taking NBC back into the ratings lead, Kevin hopes to embrace environmental issues more proactively in his next chapter with NBC. "It's not a future issue," he insists. "We have a moment in time in our lifetime to turn our environment in a positive direction."
Kevin is on the board of the Environmental Media Association, which brings environmental awareness and responsibility to the media community. He is also involved with the LA Free Clinic, raising funds for a $14 million health care center that will offer free health care to children and families. He and his wife Cristan have three sons, eight year-old twins and a two year old.
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