NEW YORK – NBC's (search) top programmer on Sunday acknowledged the challenges that the network faces in trying to rebound from a ratings slide and said that recovery may not happen in the coming season.
"OK, we're in fourth place ... what are we going to do about it?" NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly (search) said in an appearance before the Television Critics Association.
The network, which fell behind CBS, ABC and FOX in the advertiser-favored young adult demographic in the 2004-05 season, is reinvigorating its creative spirit and discarding some viewer-unfriendly practices, such as starting and ending programs off the hour, he said.
"Last season for us was kind of like a colonic," he said. "It wasn't a lot of fun to go through at the time, but it's going to be healthy in the long run. It literally took any residual sense of entitlement or complacency at our company and blew it out."
When NBC was riding high on the strength of now-departed comedies including "Friends" (search) and "Frasier," (search) it had acquired a reputation among observers as verging on arrogant — wags said NBC stood for "Nothing But Cocky."
But efforts to launch new sitcoms have either foundered, as with the short-lived "Coupling," or, have yet to catch ratings fire, most notably in the case of "Friends" spinoff "Joey."
Significant changes will be made to "Joey," (search) with Matt LeBlanc's character finally making it in Hollywood, Reilly said. The network also has high hopes for a new comedy, "My Name is Earl," (search) which NBC has touted as testing exceptionally well with focus groups.
But while Reilly refrained from predicting an abrupt turnaround in viewership next season, he said change would likely be evident.
"Odds are we're not going to see a ratings difference. I'm pretty ... sure you're going to see a new tone coming out of this place," he said, adding "that sense of entitlement of who we are is gone."
Accustomed to success, the network had failed to recognize "underlying problems," Reilly said. He took over as entertainment chief after his predecessor, Jeff Zucker, was promoted. Zucker now is NBC Universal Television Group president.
"We're insane if we stay on the same track. That is the definition of insanity to keep making the same mistakes and doing things the same way," Reilly said.
Zucker, who attended the session but did not join Reilly in fielding questions from reporters, was asked afterward to respond to Reilly's reference to serious network errors.
"I didn't hear that, that NBC made serious mistakes," Zucker told The Associated Press. "I thought he expressed the position that NBC is in. We're in a rebuilding phase. Nobody's in denial about that. NBC Entertainment is in a down cycle this year, and clearly I think everyone acknowledges that."
NBC's viewership dropped 11 percent this past year, according to Nielsen Media Research. The decline was 16 percent with viewers aged 18 to 49, while CBS, ABC and Fox were all up in that demographic. Ratings among those young viewers is what NBC uses to set advertising prices.
Looking ahead to fall, Reilly said the network plans a traditional start to the new season, with most series rolling out during the week of Sept. 19.